By 90Min
July 03, 2019

The thought of Lionel Messi no longer playing professional football is a rather unpleasant one. La Pulga has seemingly been decimating defenders for eternity, treating football as his own personal playground and redefining the very concept of being a footballer. 

However, the image of a devastated 32-year-old Messi, standing hand on hips as Argentina crashed out of yet another Copa America on Wednesday, very starkly reminded the world that he will not be around forever.

Messi will be 34 at the time of the 2022 World Cup and while his magical powers may be capable of masking the effects of age for a time, Argentina must begin to plan for life without the greatest player in footballing history. 

Here are the players who are most likely to try and step into the void that Messi's departure from the international the game would definitely leave behind.


Lautaro Martínez

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This summer's Copa America may be remembered as the moment that Lautaro Martínez loudly announced his arrival into the upper echelons of world football. 


Being included in the squad over the man that he spent season playing second fiddle to at Inter: Mauro Icardi, Martínez has been extremely impressive in the tournament. 


The 21-year-old centre forward scored twice for La Albiceleste en route to the semi-finals and his fine form has reignited Barcelona's interest in him

Blessed with the exceptional close control and predatory instincts, Martínez would be able to offset some of the damage caused by Messi's absence for the Argentina team.


Giovani Lo Celso

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A player more suited to filling the creative void left by Messi, is Tottenham target Giovani Lo Celso. In possession of a magical left foot, not unlike his compatriot, Lo Celso was the heartbeat of an impressive Real Betis side last season.

Internationally, his contribution so far has been considerable, despite making his debut for Argentina less than a year ago. In this summer's Copa America, Lo Celso has received significant minutes, starting the first two games of the competition before being unfairly dropped for Argentina's knockout games against Venezuela and Brazil.

Lo Celso is confident taking up both withdrawn and advanced midfield positions, and demonstrated his aptitude for finishing while playing for Real Betis last season, scoring 16 goals in all competitions. The 23-year-old's Midas touch in front of goal, combined with his creativity, will prove invaluable for Argentina in a Messi-less future.  


Paulo Dybala

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Despite performing well since joining Juventus in 2015, Paulo Dybala has struggled to replicate this form for Argentina. The 25-year-old has often been a victim of Messi's brilliance, being forced to play in positions he is ill-suited to, in order to maximise La Pulga's usefulness to the team. 


In many ways, Dybala invites comparisons with the man who has often kept him out of the Argentina side. An elegant, intelligent and nimble supporting striker, the Juventus man is evasive in a similar way to Messi, and also works hard for the team defensively. 


His talents have caught the eye of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with Manchester United very keen in pursuing a move for the attacker. If he signs, Dybala would likely become the attacking focal point of United's increasingly young side. This level of responsibility could facilitate his development from a rotational option, to a replacement for Messi in his national side.


Mauro Icardi

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Although he is probably the most controversial figure in Argentinian football, there is no doubting Mauro Icardi's skills on the pitch. His composure in front of goal, impressive movement and improved work rate, equip him with the perfect skill set with which the fill the goal drought that may be caused by Messi's absence from the Argentina team. 

Icardi's performances will no doubt be helped by his imminent departure from Inter, finally putting to an end the off-field circus that plagued his goalscoring form last season. 

It is easy to forget amongst all of this controversy that Icardi was once the most revered striker in world football. 29 Serie A goals during the 2017-2018 season, attracted interest from across Europe, though Manchester United now appear most likely to secure his signature.

If the Argentinian management team are able to put their issues with Icardi behind them, they will be able to harness his ability and lessen the blow of Messi's imminent departure.  

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