16 top players who idolise Lionel Messi: Neymar, Pogba, Sterling…

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Lionel Messi and Neymar celebrate a PSG goal against Manchester City, Etihad Stadium, November 2021.

Lionel Messi has been among the world’s best footballers for so long that players’ entire careers have came and went during his Barcelona stint.

It must be weird to look up to a player when you’re still a kid dreaming of playing football, then turn pro and find out, several years into your career, that he’s still better than you.

Here’s a selection of genuinely great footballers talking about how they idolised Messi. Maybe one day we’ll be treated to a player even better than him.

Isco

“I named my dog ‘Messi’ because Messi is the best in the world, and so is my dog,” Isco told Goal in 2013.

Frenkie de Jong

In an interview shortly before his move to Camp Nou, De Jong said that Messi was the reason he chose Barcelona as his next destination, saying:

“Messi is one of the reasons why I moved to Barcelona. Messi has been the best in the world for 15 years. He was the best when I was a 12-year-old.”

And, when appearing on Dutch TV show Veronica Inside in 2019, De Jong said: “I have admired Messi since my childhood.

“It’s special to be on the pitch with him. Sometimes he does a few things…and then you also enjoy yourself on the pitch.”

Julian Alvarez

“Messi has been my idol since I was a child,” Alvarez told Manchester City’s official website in 2022. “He is my family’s idol, the idol of my brothers too.

“Messi is a hero for me. Playing for my country is a dream come true. I dreamed as a child to play in the national team with Messi. To have achieved this at the age of 22 obviously makes me feel very proud, happy, and I have to keep going for more success.”

Alphonso Davies

Messi is Davies’ footballing idol and, before the Champions League quarter-final between Bayern Munich and Barcelona in 2020, he spoke about his disbelief about his dream coming true.

Speaking to UEFA at the time, Davies said: “My mum called me yesterday and then my dad hopped on the phone, and he was like: ‘So you’re playing against your favourite player, I see.’

“And I went: ‘Yeah.’ And then we both started laughing on the phone. And, honestly, we couldn’t even believe it because he knows that I looked up to Messi when I was younger, and now playing against him, it’s really nice.”

Christian Pulisic

“Nothing against Ronaldo because I’ve seen it first hand, he’s an unbelievable player,” Pulisic told ESPN in 2018 when asked whether Cristiano Ronaldo was better than Messi.

“It’s not an easy one [who is better], but I would say Messi because growing up he was always my favourite.”

Florian Wirtz

My first jersey was Messi’s Argentina jersey,” Wirtz revealed in an interview with Sky Sports Germany in April 2022.

“When I was little, he was the best player there was at the time in the world. I watched videos of him, was a fan of his – I wanted to be as good as him.”

Barcelona's Henrik Larsson celebrates scoring agaisnt Werder Bremen the Champions League. Camp Nou, November 2005.

READ: The 14 Barca players who made their debut in the same season as Messi

Raheem Sterling

“I look at the biggest players in the world and try to see what they’ve all got,” Sterling told The Guardian back in 2015.

“I don’t like to compare myself with people. I try to learn as much as I can from everyone around me. Definitely Messi and Ronaldo. They basically just set their lives to play football.”

Lautaro Martinez

“For us Argentines, Leo is as important as Maradona was,” Martinez told Goal in 2019.

It’s something that goes beyond football. He is the best in the world; playing with him in the national team is a privilege.

“He is generous; he shows me his movements, he teaches me to find spaces that apparently do not exist.”

Ansu Fati

“Playing with Messi is a dream I had since I was a child and now I am living it,” Fati told reporters soon after his Barcelona debut in 2019.

“He gives me a lot of advice, he helps me a lot on the pitch and in training, but away from it too, and that makes me very happy.”

Emile Smith Rowe

“When I was kid I looked up to Messi and Iniesta,” Arsenal midfielder Smith Rowe informed Goal in 2021.

Watching them play for Barcelona inspired me so much. The link-ups they had and the goals they scored and created were amazing.”

Neymar

Despite the heartbreak of losing the 2021 Copa America final to Argentina, Neymar took the time to congratulate his former team-mate.

Taking to social media, the PSG and Brazil star wrote: “Losing hurts me, it hurts me… it’s something I haven’t learned to live with yet. When I lost, I went to give a hug to the biggest and best in history that I saw playing.

“My friend and brother MESSI, I was sad and I told him: ‘You beat me.’ I’m very sad for having lost. But this guy is awesome! I have great respect for what he has done for football and especially for me.”

READ: ‘A phenomenon’ – What Lionel Messi and Neymar have said about each other

Paul Pogba

“Messi and football are two things that go together,” Pogba told Goal in 2021.

“I enjoy watching him, he does things that nobody does. He has a stature that nobody has, something special for him, everything is special. He’s a player who has football inside him, who feels it, it’s incredible.”

Thiago Alcantara

“There’s nothing new I can say,” Thiago told The Guardian during his time with Bayern Munich.

“He’s spectacular, incredible. He’s playing further from goal and he’s still scored 40 in the league. If he played in goal he’d score 25. There’s no comparison; he’s the best, a competitive animal.”

Mario Gotze

“Messi has proven his entire career at Barcelona that he is at another level. You simply cannot compare me to Messi,” Gotze was quoted as saying by Sport Bild in 2015.

“He has achieved so many things and has set the bar so high that it is nearly impossible to reach his level for anyone. Messi is something special and simply an amazing player.

Mario Balotelli

“There’s only one that is a little stronger than me: Messi,” Balotelli said after winning the 2010 Golden Boy award.

“All the others are behind me.”

Lucas Moura

“He has always been my idol,” Moura told AS back in 2015.

“For some time I’ve been obsessed with his way of playing. I think he’s the best player in the world, above all the rest.

“Of course, there is always a rivalry between Brazil and Argentina but we are a football country. We must be realistic and Messi is the best.”


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