Lionel Messi is one of the best players to have graced the beautiful game. During an illustrious, nearly two-decade-long career for club and country, he has scored goals and won trophies and laurels galore.
One of the last vestiges of the true one-club man, Messi is now a free agent after his Barcelona contract ran out this summer. But considering his exploits for the club - over 1000 goal contributions and two continental trebles - the Copa America 2021 winner is expected to remain with the Blaugrana.
The soft-spoken Messi, who can weave magic on the field of play, is adored worldwide. That is evident in his tally of over 200 million followers on Instagram, which is second only to Cristiano Ronaldo among football players.
It should come as no surprise that many big-name football players also idolize Lionel Messi. On that note, here's a look at five such players:
#5 Frenkie de Jong
Frenkie de Jong was one of the standout players for Ajax in their fairy-tale run from qualifying to the 2018-19 Champions League semi-finals.
Soon thereafter, the young Dutchman was snapped up by Barcelona, for whom he has played close to 100 games in two seasons and has become a key player in their midfield.
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.”
In another interview, De Jong added:
" 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."
De Jong has struck a promising partnership with Messi, which he would hope to continue with the Argentine come the 2021-22 season if the latter signs a contract extension with the Blaugrana.
#4 Alphonso Davies
Alphonso Davies is the classic rags-to-riches story. Born to Ghanian refugee parents in Canada, Davies impressed with his footballing skills and was soon spotted by European giants Bayern Munich.
The youngster was one of the standout performers in the Bavarian giants' treble-winning campaign in 2019-20. In an interview ahead of Bayern Munich's Champions League clash with Barcelona, Davies recalled how he found time to watch his favorite player Lionel Messi while at school:
"It was amazing, and now being able to play in the Champions League, against one of my favourite players in the world, it's incredible. Honestly, I'm lost for words - a dream come true."
Davies wishes to captain Bayern Munich and emulate his idol Messi and win the Ballon d'Or award, saying:
"To be Bayern captain would be unbelievable, but I have a lot still to learn, I have to play consistently to a top level. I've learned a lot already in terms of being a leader, but there's still more - I'm working on it. I'd also like to be a Ballon d'Or contender."