Only one Lionel Messi? Turns out, there's quite a few

Agence France-Presse
Only one Lionel Messi? Turns out, there's quite a few
From left to right: Omar Abdulrahman (UAE), Takefusa Kubo (Japan), Zak Gilsenan (Ireland), Ryan Gauld (Scotland) and Sardar Azmoun (Iran)
Zak Gilsenan photo from Blackburn Rovers FC, the rest from AFP

PARIS – As Argentine superstar Lionel Messi leaves Barcelona and looks set to sign for Paris Saint-Germain, he takes with him a legacy that has inspired a legion of lesser-known players who have been compared, often against their will, to the 34-year-old.

AFP Sport looks at a Messi for every occasion:

The Arabian Messi: Omar Abdulrahman

The UAE international wears the number 10 shirt, just like the real Messi, and has won a clutch of awards in his time, including Asian Player of the Year.

Now 29 years old, Abdulrahman, easy to spot with his Afro hairstyle, has spent all of his career in the UAE, mostly with Al Ain although he once had a two-week trial with Manchester City.

Media in the Gulf dubbed him 'the Arabian Messi'; on his better days that has even stretched to 'the Asian Messi'.

In 2016, he scored with a Panenka penalty in a friendly against Messi's Barcelona.

The BBC once asked if he was the 'best footballer you have never heard of'.

The Japanese Messi: Takefusa Kubo

Kubo was dubbed 'the Japanese Messi' by Spanish media due to his small stature and dribbling skills when he was at Barcelona's academy.

Now, still only 20, he is on Real Madrid's books and has spent time out on loan to Mallorca, Villarreal and Getafe.

His goals helped Japan to the semi-finals at the Olympics before they lost in the bronze medal play-off.

The Irish Messi: Zak Gilsenan

Dubbed as the 'Irish Messi' after joining Barcelona's La Masia Academy at the age of 9, Gilsenan eventually switched to Liverpool and now plays at Blackburn Rovers.

He said the Messi comparison was a "bit strange".

He was born in Perth and has chosen to represent Australia at international level even though both his parents are Irish.

He also says Neymar, not Messi, is his idol.

"I love watching videos of him and used to try and copy his skills. I was at Barcelona when he was playing for the club, so it was great to see him up close," said the 18-year-old.

The Scottish Messi: Ryan Gauld

Now 25 and playing with Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada, Gauld started his career at Dundee United before a move to Sporting Lisbon in 2014.

After two seasons, he was loaned out to other Portuguese clubs before a permanent deal with Farense.

The Messi moniker came when he was 16 and still in Scotland.

"I wasn't bothered by it but it's when you see it on social media: 'This guy was meant to be Mini Messi, look at him now.' All that kind of nonsense. The actual name didn't bother me, it was just when people read that they judged me a little quicker and expected more," he said after his roller-coaster spell in Portugal.

The Iranian Messi: Sardar Azmoun

Iranian striker Azmoun made his international debut at 19 but has spent most of his club career in Russia. Currently, he plays at Zenit Saint Petersburg.

He quit the national team in 2018 at 23 following Iran's poor performance at the World Cup but then had a change of heart 12 months later and is key to hopes of his country making the 2022 finals in Qatar.

"He has had many nicknames in recent years after shining for Iran and his clubs in the Russian League. Iranian Messi and Iranian Zlatan are the most used. He picks the last one and has said he loves Zlatan and his style on the pitch," Iranian journalist Alireza Ashraf told The Bleacher Report.

"Azmoun believes that his football doesn't look like Messi's at all."

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