Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have, between them, scooped up every single World Player of the Year award since 2008. The former won it in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015, while the latter won it in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 and now 2017.
However, both players – while still unstoppable stars for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively – are approaching the latter stages of their outstanding careers. And lying in wait to take their place are a group of highly gifted youngsters.
Here, Football Whispers considers seven talents who could be heirs to Messi and Ronaldo’s shared throne.
A sophisticated Argentine with a wand of a left foot, exceptional close control and intelligent movement, Dybala has – rather predictably – been labelled the new Messi in recent years.
The label also came about as a result of his form for Italian champions Juventus, with whom he has spent the last two seasons.
Last term, he hit 19 goals and set up a further seven for team-mates across all competitions, helping the club to a sixth successive league title and a Champions League final.
He’s been a Barcelona transfer target in the past but having recently signed a new contract with no buyout clause, he is unlikely to move on in the neat future.
In 2016/17, Mbappé broke out as football’s latest sensation. At the tender age of just 18, he seared holes through opposition defences in France and on the continent, playing with a speed and awareness reserved only for the greats.
He scored 26 goals for Monaco in 46 outings, aiding them to a Ligue 1 title and the semi-finals of the Champions League, where he failed to penetrate a famously stout Juventus defence.
Mbappé’s incredible rise continued with a call-up to the France squad, for whom he’s now made eight appearances, and in the summer PSG beat Real Madrid to the striker’s signing.
The teenager joined the Parisians on a season-long loan deal but will join the club permanently next summer for an astonishing £166million.
Despite early criticisms of his performances, Pogba had a strong first season back in the Premier League with Manchester United.
After becoming the world’s most expensive footballer, he initially struggled to flourish within the shackles of José Mourinho’s midfield and defensive tactics, but gradually he asserted himself with showings full of creativity and artistry.
A bedding in period was inevitable and his second season in England began impressively, Pogba scored twice and assisted two goals in United’s opening four Premier League games before he suffered a hamstring injury which has halted his campaign.
However, at just 24 years of age, he still has plenty of potential left to fulfil. Ultimately, how far he goes will depend on Manchester United’s transfer activity and Mourinho’s tactics in the coming years.
Pogba played his best football for Juventus on the left of a midfield three, but the Red Devils boss has operated with a midfield two since taking over the club in the summer of 2016.
However, the signing of Nemanja Matic has taken much of the defensive responsibility off the Frenchman and United are likely to see the best of Pogba when he returns from injury.
With 18 goals and seven assists in 37 Premier League appearances, he established himself as one of the most important players in a title-challenging team and attracted interest from the likes of Real Madrid.
A specialist in finding and exploiting space, Alli is highly rated by Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino, who said of the 21-year-old: “I think Dele Alli has a different personality to Neymar, but I think he’s a special player too.
“I don’t know if he’s at this level yet but the potential will be like him (Neymar) or better.”
After a stunning 2015/16 campaign with Rennes, Dembélé attracted interest from several of Europe’s top clubs. He was a Manchester United target, but he ended up joining German giants Borussia Dortmund.
In Germany, the 20-year-old was the most impressive member of a thrilling young cast, one that also featured Julian Weigl and Christian Pulisic. Two-footed and fast; creative and clinical – he has all it takes to grow into one of the game’s most effective attackers.
This was hinted at in a 2016/17 campaign that saw him score eight times and set up 18 in Bundesliga and Champions League action. So when Barcelona lost Neymar to PSG, they turned to Deméblé.
The Frenchman joined the Catalan giants this summer in a deal that could be worth up to £135million. However, just four games into his Barcelona career, Deméblé suffered a thigh injury that will keep him out until the new year.
Gabriel Jesus was under pressure to perform from the moment he touched down in English football. Manchester City had to wait for his arrival, as following the announcement of his signature last summer he eventually joined in January.
But, despite the long wait and expectations, he got down to business with startling immediacy. Remarkably, in his first six months in the Premier League, he scored seven goals and set up four in 10 appearances.
The Brazilian is seen as the long-term successor to Sergio Agüero atop Manchester City’s front line, and his pace, energy and movement make him an ideal candidate to fire Pep Guardiola’s side to success in the future.
Manchester City are spoiled for quality prospects. As well as the aforementioned Jesus, they can look forward to the continued growth of Sané.
The pacey German wide man joined from Schalke in the summer of 2016 and settled well to the Premier League.
With five goals and three assists to his name in league action last term, his productivity wasn’t overly impressive. But the German’s all-round displays were – he combined dizzying speed and athleticism with genuine dribbling skill and a desire to attack any space given to him.
With one full year of English football under his belt, Sané was expected to go up a level this season and the Germany international has disappointed.
The winger has seven goals and four assists in just 13 games in all competitions. His star is most definitely on the rise and, at 21 years old, he is only going to get better under the guidance of Guardiola.