Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are no longer the best players in the world, according to former Manchester United full-back Gary Neville.
Red Devils striker Ronaldo and Paris Saint-Germain attacker Messi have been football’s two biggest stars for well over a decade, splitting 12 Ballons d’Or between the pair.
With both players now in their mid-30s, however, Neville feels that neither player is playing at the level they used to operate at. Neither has won the Champions League since Ronaldo did so with Real Madrid in 2017-18.
What did Neville say about Ronaldo & Messi?
“We may see cameos or little swansongs here and there, but there is no doubt that Ronaldo and Messi are coming to the end of their careers,” Neville told Sky Sports.
“Declining seems like the wrong word when talking about two great players, but there is no doubt they are declining forces.
“At this moment in time, for the first time in years, if you asked people which player in the world they would sign if I could only pick one, no one would say Messi or Ronaldo, they would likely say [Kylian] Mbappe, Erling Haaland, Mohamed Salah, Robert Lewandowski.
“You would be naming players other than Ronaldo and Messi, and that is the clearest sign that, while these two are still operating at the highest level, they are fading from the levels they were at before. They are no longer the best players in the world.”
PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino, however, doesn’t quite agree.
“I think Lionel Messi is the best player in the world with his seven Ballons d’Or,” Pochettino said prior to the second leg of PSG’s Champions League match against Real Madrid. “Then we have players like Kylian Mbappe who are challenging to be the best in the world. Kylian Mbappe is one of the best players in the world.”
Mbappe next in line for the throne
Unlike Pochettino, Neville reserved special praise for Messi’s PSG team-mate Mbappe, stating that he feels the French striker has everything required to succeed Messi and Ronaldo as the best in the world.
“In terms of excitement, in terms of thrill, in terms of speed, Mbappe is absolutely sensational,” he said. “He reminds me of Thierry Henry, but he’s also got a bit of Cristiano Ronaldo in him – he is ruthless.
“He needs to win the Champions League with PSG this season, that would be the ultimate thing for him. The Champions League, and another World Cup, would be the crowning glory for Mbappe to succeed Ronaldo and Messi.”
Mbappe and PSG crashed out of the Champions League with a shocking 3-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Round of 16.
“I’m not saying he needs to win those trophies to become the best player in the world, but it cements your position if you play for the teams that win either of those trophies. For Mbappe, he knows silverware and honors go with that greatness.
“Mbappe’s last-minute goal against Real Madrid in the Champions League [first-leg] was absolutely sensational. The great players win tournaments, they win big competitions, they are influential in big competitions. Mbappe is at that level now.”