LONDON: Diego Maradona is proclaiming Barcelona's Lionel Messi as his true successor.
''I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi,'' Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning captain was quoted a saying today.
''Messi is the best player in the world, along with Ronaldinho. I see him as very similar to me,'' Maradona told the BBC referring also to Barcelona's Brazilian playmaker.
Maradona was speaking after 18-year-old Messi's brilliant display for Barcelona against Chelsea in their Champions League match at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
The teenager was far from overawed in a game between two of the best club sides in the world and played a big part in Barcelona's 2-1 victory.
The Spanish sports media yesterday hailed Messi's coming of age in the round of 16 match, the opening leg of the rivals' first knockout round tie.
''He's a leader and is offering lessons in beautiful football. He has something different to any other player in the world,'' Maradona said.
YOUNG MARADONA Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona was also full of praise for Messi and said Messi reminded him of the young Maradona who burst on to the Argentine scene 30 years ago.
''Messi is brilliant, different, with a strong mentality.
Let's hope he doesn't change,'' Grondona told an Argentine radio station yesterday.
He said watching Messi reminded him of Maradona inspiring Argentina to victory in the 1979 World Youth Cup in Japan.
''He's playing at the level of Diego in 1979 and a bit more,'' Grondona said.
Maradona, already a teenage senior international, was overlooked by coach Cesar Luis Menotti for the Argentine team that won the 1978 World Cup.
Messi, on the other hand, is expected to follow his central role in Argentina's fifth World Youth Cup success in the Netherlands last year by featuring for his country at the World Cup in Germany starting in four months' time.