Barcelona's Lamine Yamal is among the names he's mentioned

No Bellingham? The four players Lionel Messi namechecked to fight for the Ballon d’Or

Lionel Messi responded with four names when he was asked who he thinks will succeed him in lifting the Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious individual accolade in football.

The Inter Miami superstar is the current holder of the Ballon d’Or, having picked up a record-extending eighth last year – in large part due to his heroics at the 2022 World Cup, in which he captained Argentina to the last major prize he was missing.

Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham is among the favourites for this year’s award, but Messi didn’t mention the England international by name in his l’Equipe interview – though he did state that there will be “many young players competing for the Ballon d’Or” alongside the quartet he did namecheck.

Here are the four players that Messi explicitly mentioned when it comes to the Ballon d’Or in the coming years.

Erling Haaland

The first name out of Messi’s mouth was the man that finished runner-up to Messi last year. The Norwegian striker was wildly prolific in his debut season at Manchester City, which ended with him winning a historic treble.

In almost any other year, that would have almost certainly have been enough to get his hands on the Ballon d’Or – but he found himself overshadowed by Messi’s World Cup fairytale.

Haaland hasn’t been quite as potent in front of goal this year and will almost certainly have his European Golden Shoe taken by Harry Kane, although he is the top scorer in the Premier League and approaches the run-in with every chance of a second successive treble.

Kylian Mbappe

The only player that Messi’s played alongside, it only appears a matter of time before Mbappe gets his hands on the Ballon d’Or. In fact, the major surprise is that he hasn’t yet at the age of 25.

Having scored a hat-trick in the World Cup final against Argentina, you imagine he might’ve beaten Messi to it last year had Les Bleus emerged victorious in the penalty shootout.

A move to Real Madrid this summer is now all but confirmed, and having Florentino Perez and the Spanish media lobbying for the club’s new Galactico ought to make his case stronger.

Mbappe is enjoying a sensational final season with PSG and faces some potentially legacy-defining months ahead – the Champions League and European Championships still elude him but he’s capable of firing both his club and country to glory.

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Vinicius Junior

The third name that immediately sprang to Messi’s mind when asked about the Ballon d’Or. Real Madrid’s Brazilian superstar just seems to get better with every passing year and has now grown into one of Los Blancos’ best and most important players.

He’s stepped into Karim Benzema’s shoes as their talisman, and that’s a status that automatically puts you in the conversation for the Ballon d’Or.

Madrid have already all but wrapped up the La Liga title, while Vinicius shoulders massive responsibility for both his club and Brazil when it comes to the Champions League and Copa America in the coming months.

Inter Miami's and Argentina's national team player Lionel Messi receives the 2023 Ballon d'Or trophy during the 67th Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) award ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, France, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023.

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Lamine Yamal

“I also think that Lamine Yamal, who is still very young and now plays for Barcelona, ​​will play a prominent role and fight for it in the future too, and certainly there will be others competing for it, new players that we do not know will appear, because there are always new players, and I think it will be a very beautiful era to enjoy.”

It’s worth remembering that Yamal is just 16 years old and is enjoying a breakthrough season with Barcelona. He’s already drawn comparisons to Messi, so it shouldn’t come as a shop that the La Masia wonderkid has appeared on the Argentinian’s radar.

Yamal is nowhere near as established as any of the other names on this list but he’s among the leading lights of the next generation. He’s arguably already established himself as an undisputed starter for both Barcelona and Spain and it will be fascinating to see whether he can reach his full potential in the coming years.

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