The Dawn of a New Rivalry

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the greatest to ever play soccer, but two young stars, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé, show promise to match and potentially even surpass the careers of their predecessors.

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have dominated soccer around the world for the last 15 years. However, as legendary as they are, they are both nearing the ends of their careers. As their ages slowly start to show and their performances decline, two young superstars have begun to shine bright. Erling Haaland, a 20-year-old striker for Borussia Dortmund, and Kylian Mbappé, a 22-year-old forward for Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), are taking over the thrones of Messi and Ronaldo. Though it is very early on in their careers, they both just might have what it takes to surpass Messi and Ronaldo’s legacy.

Mbappé introduced himself to the world stage in the 2016-2017 season, when he helped take AS Monaco FC to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League. He scored six goals in that campaign and put up incredible performances against Manchester City. The following season, he was signed by PSG, and in 2018, he shocked the world again by winning the World Cup with France at the age of 19. On the way to winning the tournament, he encountered an Argentina side led by Messi, and he put up a legendary performance to help France win 4-3. Mbappé and Messi had another encounter in a recent Champions League game featuring FC Barcelona and PSG. Mbappé once again put on a masterful performance and scored a hat trick to beat Barcelona 4-1. In the third showdown between him and Messi, Mbappé scored a penalty to help PSG close out any chance of a comeback from Barcelona. Though one might say that Mbappé was playing with better teammates in these encounters against Messi, his prolific scoring in both those games proved that he can easily compete with the very best.

In response to Mbappé’s heroics against Barcelona, Haaland also had one of the most impressive games of his career. In a Champions League match against Sevilla FC, Haaland scored two goals and produced an assist to push Dortmund past Sevilla in a 3-2 win. In an interview after the match, Haaland said, “When I saw Mbappé score the hat trick, I got free motivation, so thanks to him.” In the second leg, Haaland scored another two goals, which made him the fastest player ever to reach 20 goals in the history of the Champions League. Mbappé and Haaland are pushing each other to their very best, and the start of a new rivalry is brewing.

Both Ronaldo and Messi have been knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16, the first time this has happened since 2005. However, as the saying goes, there are no ends, only new beginnings. The careers of Haaland and Mbappé will definitely soften the gradual decline of Messi and Ronaldo. The rise of Haaland and Mbappé begs the question: will they one day surpass their predecessors? Mbappé already has the World Cup that eluded Messi and Ronaldo for their entire careers. Despite being 20 years old, Haaland has scored 20 goals in 14 games in the Champions League. In comparison, it took Ronaldo 30 games to get his first goal, and as of right now, he is the highest scorer in the history of the competition. It took Messi 40 games to reach 20 goals in the Champions League, and Haaland did it more than twice as quickly. It took Haaland and Mbappé 146 games and 180 games to reach 100 goals, respectively, whereas it took Messi and Ronaldo 210 games and 301 games, respectively. Haaland and Mbappé have had a better start to their careers than Messi and Ronaldo, and if they continue to grow, the sky's the limit for their potential.

Unlike Haaland, Ronaldo started his career as a winger, which naturally made it harder to score. Ronaldo’s goal-scoring really started to pick up after he gravitated toward central positions, eventually turning into a striker. Haaland has the advantage of starting his career as a poacher, meaning that he will probably have an easier time getting goals than Ronaldo did at the same age. Assuming Haaland can maintain his incredible goal-scoring ratio, he will be on track to surpass Ronaldo as the top scorer of all time.

Mbappé also has exciting potential. If he wins the Champions League within the next few years, he would essentially complete a full career. He has nothing left to prove at the international level because he already won the World Cup. Success at the club level is the only thing he has left to accomplish. Even though he won several domestic trophies with PSG, many soccer fans argue that they don’t hold very much weight since PSG is typically dominant in domestic competitions. However, a win in the Champions League would silence the critics. He got close to winning the Champions League in the 2019-2020 season but fell short with a 1-0 loss against FC Bayern Munich in the final. With ample time remaining in his career to continue winning trophies, Mbappé may become one of the most accomplished players in history.

The next decade of soccer will be very interesting to watch. What Ronaldo and Messi have accomplished in their careers is simply remarkable. They have set extremely high standards for Mbappé and Haaland. The recent struggles in their careers take nothing away from their overall legacy. However, Haaland and Mbappé have shown that they can match, and occasionally surpass, some of the accomplishments of Messi and Ronaldo. Nevertheless, merely having the potential to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen. To consistently compete at the highest level for years and years is no easy task. The longevity of Haaland and Mbappé’s success is ultimately unknown. Many questions remain, but one thing is certain: the future of soccer is in good hands.