Lionel Messi will go down as, quite possibly, the greatest footballer to ever exist.
His 2021/22 debut season at Paris Saint-Germain proved that he was in fact human, underwhelming following a move away from Barcelona, but there is no denying his unworldly talent. The man has seven Ballon d’Or awards, after all.
What is so mesmerizing about Messi is the way he reads and analyzes the game in real time. It’s a big part of why he’s so effective in producing magical moment upon magical moment. He understands the game like no other.
To get an insight into how his footballing brain works would be fascinating.
And while we’ll never be able to replicate the superhuman levels of greatness he has consistently produced throughout his career, we can look forward to the next bunch of young talents who will take the mantle when the sad day comes that is Messi’s retirement.
In 2015, though, we did get that rare glimpse into how Messi sees football, as he worked with adidas to launch the ‘Backed by Messi’ campaign.
The campaign ran alongside the launch of the Messi15 football boot that was unveiled at the time, with the idea being that Messi picked out 10 young footballers who he thought were destined to reach world class levels, who would then wear the new Messi15 boot.
Fofana talks advance (Football Terrace)
It is easy to suggest that Messi had no choice in picking the 10 players who joined the project, but reports at the time did state that the legendary Argentine did actually weigh in with his opinions and did make his own choices on who would join.
Seven years have passed since he chose those 10 players, and it becomes more and more intriguing to look back on that exclusive list every time, because the names that Messi highlighted have gone on to endure a real mix of fortunes.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 wonderkids that Messi singled out for greatness back in 2015, and what they’re up to right now.
Where was he in 2015? Rennes (on loan from Chelsea)
Where is he now? Atalanta
The midfielder, now 25, left Chelsea permanently in 2018 after a series of loan spells and found his feet in Serie A with Sassuolo.
Now an established international for the Ivory Coast, his form earned him a loan move to Atalanta in January 2022, which was made a permanent deal this summer. Boga is just entering his best years, and is one to keep an eye on going forward.
Where was he in 2015? Palermo
Where is he now? To you Stabia
Playing for Palermo at the same time in which Paulo Dybala was at the club, Bentivegna – a forward by trade – made a bright start, but couldn’t make it stick in the first-team following his initial breakthrough.
Being tipped for greatness by Messi has perhaps proved a poison chalice. Bentivegna made a permanent move to Serie B outfit Carrarese in 2018 and now plays in Serie C Group C, the Italian third tier, at the age of 26.
Where was he in 2015? Chelsea
Where is he now? Chelsea
On the surface, it sounds like Kenedy has made it stick in London and become the world beater Messi expected him to be while at Chelsea. The reality is he hasn’t. At all.
The Brazilian, now 26, is well and truly stuck in the Blues’ vicious loan cycle, having departed five times on temporary deals since 2015. He spent last season back in Brazil with Flamengo, and desperately needs a permanent transfer to try and make his mark in football as he enters what should be his prime.
Where was he in 2015? Metz, Lyon
Where is he now? Burnley
Don’t expect Cornet to be at Burnley for much longer, if the transfer rumor mill is to be believed.
A young Cornet clearly caught the eye of Messi, and it’s now clear to see why. He impressed at Lyon in recent years, but moved to Burnley in 2021 and was an instant hit in the Premier League, despite their relegation. While not world class as Messi perhaps suggested, Cornet has proven himself to be a more than capable top-flight footballer.
Where was he in 2015? Lokomotiv Moscow
Where is he now? Atalanta
Teammates with Boga, Miranchuk is also plying his trade in Bergamo, having moved to Atalanta in 2020.
Since heading to Italy, the 26-year-old has endured a mixed time. His talent is there to see and he has the trust of manager Gian Piero Gasperini, but he only managed two goals and four assists in all competitions last season. A solid rotation arm.
Where was he in 2015? VfB Stuttgart
Where is he now? Chelsea
Great spot, Leo. While Werner has come under fire for not hitting the ground running since moving to Chelsea in 2020, there is no denying his obvious talent in front of goal.
Werner bagged 93 goals and 40 assists in 158 games for RB Leipzig before heading to Stamford Bridge and has shown glimpses of what he can do while a Chelsea player. A move might be best to get him firing once again, but it’s fair to say Messi deserves some credit for highlighting the German as one to watch from so young.
Where was he in 2015? Manchester City, Monaco
Where is he now? Sevilla
Snapped up by City from Benfica as a teenager, Lopes was one of the first names to emerge from City’s academy as one to watch following their rise to prominence, and began to flirt with the first team around the time of being earmarked by Messi.
He left for Monaco in 2015, though, who paid £9 million to sign him, but couldn’t find his feet and was sold to Sevilla in 2019 in exchange for Wissam Ben Yedder. He spent the 2021/22 season on loan at Olympiacos, which highlights just how much his career appears to have stalled in his mid-20s.
Where was he in 2015? Manchester United
Where is he now? Port Vale
Another promising talent in Manchester when Messi caught wind of him, United fans thought Wilson was destined for greatness when he emerged at the end of the 2013/14 season and bagged a brace on his debut against Hull.
That and his record at youth level had many people – including Messi – believing that he would emerge into United’s next big academy star, but he fizzled out slowly under Louis van Gaal and trickled down the football pyramid after failed loan spells and his 2019 departure. He’s now found a vein of consistency with Port Vale in League Two.
Where was he in 2015? LA Galaxy
Where is he now? Colorado Rapids
Ripping it up as a prolific striker in the youth ranks of football in the United States, Zardes scored 16 goals as LA Galaxy won the MLS Cup in 2014 and became the first homegrown player to score in the cup’s final that season.
An incredibly bright start to his career burned out in the following years, and interest in Zardes faded away as injuries began to stack up. He moved to Columbus Crew in 2018 and would go on to win the 2018 MLS Comeback Player of the Year award for his rebound, and now plays for the Colorado Rapids.
Where was he in 2015? New York City FC
Where is he now? Sporting Kansas City
Shelton was selected as the 2nd overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft by NYCFC in 2015 and was described as the ‘top guy’ despite still being so young, by then head coach Jason Kreis.
It didn’t work out, though, and he left for Sporting Kansas City in 2017. He earned a chance to impress in European football in 2019 with SC Paderborn in Germany, but the winger couldn’t make it stick. He’s been back in Kansas since 2020, and is yet to earn a full, senior cap for the USA national team.
QUIZ – How much do you remember about Messi’s 2021/22 season?
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