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Lionel Messi looks to be the real deal, but who else has been dubbed 'the new Maradona' down the years? Skysports.com's Chris Burton investigates.
There can only ever be one Diego Armando Maradona, but that has not stopped countless prodigies from being compared to the Argentine genius down the years.
That tag has often weighed heavy on the shoulders of the would be kings, though, with such billing always going to be difficult to live up to.
Many have tried to match the levels achieved by Maradona but most, unsurprisingly, have fallen well short.
Some have demonstrated early promise, leading to the outrageous comparisons, but few have been able to sustain such high standards throughout their career.
Things could be about to change, with Lionel Messi doing a more than passing impersonation of his boyhood idol, and he is still only 22 years old.
Everything suggests he is the heir apparent to Maradona's throne, but it is important not to get carried away too soon as there is still plenty of time for the Barcelona star to come off the rails and see the crown slip from his head.
A quick glance at those who have gone before him, and even some after him, suggests it is never a good idea to place such hefty expectations on one so young, as it is often too much to ask for those in question to step out of the shadow of a footballing god.
Here, skysports.com takes a look at a few of those to have tried to emulate Argentina's favourite son, with it clear that results have been mixed to say the least.
Best to start with the man of the moment and the man most befitting of the title placed upon him. Messi's mesmerising form of late has left the football community salivating, with it apparent that he is the standout performer in the modern game. Forget your Kakas and your Ronaldos, this boy is special. He seems unfazed by the furore which surrounds him and appears to enjoy the game as much now as he did while perfecting his trade on the streets of Rosario. He even looks and plays a bit like Maradona, with his ability with a ball at his feet, in particular his left boot, defying his diminutive frame. Messi may yet go on to surpass the achievements of anyone to have ever played the game and become a legend in his own right, but for now he can at least be happy in the knowledge that he is the best player on the plant and arguably the greatest since his national boss hung up his boots.
Juan Roman Riquelme
It is easy to see why Riquelme has often been compared to Maradona, with the languid playmaker having taken a similar path to superstardom. He, like the great man before him, was born and raised in the uncompromising surrounds of Buenos Aires, but left poverty behind to become a household name. He too turned out for Argentinos Juniors during his formative years, before going on to achieve universal acclaim at Boca Juniors. Riquelme's time in Europe may not have been quite as memorable as Maradona's, but he still shone during a four-year stint with Spanish outfit Villarreal. Comfortable in possession, with brilliant distribution, he is the man most often associated with the term 'quarterback' when applied to football. Now back in the familiar surrounds of Boca he may never have scaled the heights initially expected of him, but he was, for a time, regarded as one of the best players in world football and will be best remembered for how easy he made the game look.
It seemed as though Ortega had the world at his feet at one stage, with the mulleted playmaker possessing the kind of God-given talent bestowed upon very few individuals. Having caught the eye with River Plate, he moved to Europe in 1997. Spells at Valencia, Sampdoria and Parma followed, but none were able to bring the best out of this mercurial midfielder. An impressive haul of 86 caps for his country supports the view that he was more than just an ordinary footballer, but he flattered to deceive all too often. Prone to the odd display of madness and never far from the headlines, Ortega is perhaps more like Maradona in that way than he ever was on the field.
Another to have graduated through the ranks at River Plate, Aimar was given the 'new Maradona' tag while still in his teens. Tearing up defences in Argentina and doing the same in Europe are two different things, though, as the lightweight forward has found to his cost. Five successful years at Valencia proved he has undoubted ability, but he has been unable to graduate from the good player category onto the list of all-time greats. He has been drafted back into the Argentina fold of late, after a number of promising displays for Benfica, and could yet form a destructive alliance with Messi and co at this summer's World Cup finals.
Benfica can currently lay claim to having two 'new Maradonas' on their books, with the Portuguese giants able to call upon Aimar and Saviola. The latter was once tipped to have the same sort of impact on the world stage as Messi is currently enjoying, having burst onto the scene at Barcelona. He actually began his career at River Plate, but moved to Spain while still only 19. Another of the short, stocky frontmen of Maradona ilk, Saviola initially took time to settle at Camp Nou. However, he soon found his feet and appeared destined to be a leading light for the Catalan giants for years to come. Unfortunately, he slipped down the pecking order as quickly as he climbed it, with it becoming apparent that he needed a fresh challenge to reignite his career. A two-year spell at Real Madrid was largely unsuccessful, but he has begun to display his form of old at Benfica and looks to be enjoying his football once more.
There definitely seems to be some sort of trend appearing here, with D'Alessandro the fourth player on our list to have captured the imagination while on the books of River Plate. Buenos Aires certainly knows how to produce tricky playmakers, with the bustling capital city churning them out at a rate English football could only dream about. D'Alessandro is of the same era as Saviola and Aimar, with the trio all very similar in terms of ability, build and playing style. Like the two we have already mentioned, though, D'Alessandro has never really been able do his talent justice. Spells with Wolfsburg, Portsmouth and Real Zaragoza provided him with a platform on which to showcase his skill to a European audience, but most were left distinctly unimpressed. He has since returned to South America and is a rarity in as much as he is an Argentina international currently plying his trade across the border in Brazil.
Aguero probably sits second behind Messi at the moment as the most likely to step into Maradona's boost and justify the hype which has followed them around from a young age. He has already broken one record previously held by Maradona, becoming the youngest player to debut in the Argentine top flight when he made his bow for Independiente as a 15-year-old in July 2003. Such an achievement soon saw him mentioned as a potential world beater and it did not take long for Atletico Madrid to break the bank in order to acquire his services. He has gone from strength to strength in Spain, while also staring for the national side, and is now regarded as one of the hottest properties in world football. Aguero is also married to Maradona's daughter and became a father for the first time in February 2009. With genes like that, Benjamin Aguero Maradona may just be one to keep an eye on in the future.
Coming in at under five feet 10 inches, and with a low centre of gravity which makes him infuriatingly difficult to keep tabs on, Lavezzi fits the bill perfectly. He initially took a while to register on the European radar, but the 24-year-old is now an established talent. He was taken to Italy by Genoa as a teenager in 2004, but failed to make the grade and was forced to return home and try again. Napoli then snapped him up from San Lorenzo in 2007, with a £5.5million price tag looking like a snip. A move to Naples has inevitably helped with the Maradona comparisons, as he helped the club to two Serie A titles during a memorable seven-year spell. Lavezzi will be hoping his star his still on the rise, with speculation suggesting a number of top clubs are keeping tabs on him, and he could yet top a number of the more established names already mentioned on this list.
Perhaps people were drawn in by the fact that he was also called Diego, as Latorre is regarded as the original 'new Maradona'. He had all the credentials - Buenos Aires roots, time at Boca Juniors, keen eye for goal. Latorre was not short on talent either, but to put him in the same bracket as Maradona was almost scandalous. He was unable to make an impact in Europe, at Fiorentina and Tenerife, and had become something of a journeyman by the time he hung up his boots in 2006. His most notable achievement was helping Argentina to Copa America glory alongside Gabriel Batistuta in 1991, but it is fair to say the pair went on to enjoy contrasting fortunes after celebrating that success.
Having trawled through the great and good to have followed in Maradona's sizeable footsteps, let us wrap things up with one of the more questionable comparisons to have been made in recent times. Why so many people jumped on the Marinelli bandwagon remains something of a mystery, as he never came close to being the new Ade Akinbiyi never mind the new Diego Maradona. Apparently making the breakthrough at Boca Juniors at a young age was enough for some people - Middlesbrough boss Bryan Robson included. He shelled out £1.5million for Marinelli in 2000, but soon wished he had never bothered. The South American failed to live up to expectations on Teesside and was released without a second thought in 2003. He is still earning a living from playing the game but, with his career having been on a downward spiral ever since it began, he now finds himself turning out in the less than glamorous surrounds of the Argentine second division.
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