Messi’s Barcelona successor? Putellas is the Champions League goalscorer now reigning supreme at Camp Nou

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Ahead of Barcelona's Champions League quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid, Alexia Putellas said that she hoped the historic clash at a sold-out Camp Nou would signal "the start of a new era" for women's football.

"I'm sure that many, many girls will dream about being the women on that pitch in 20 years' time," she said a day before a record-breaking attendance of 91,553 people, which has since been bettered by the same club at the same venue.

The thing is, though, Alexia is already a source of inspiration to those hoping to play at the very highest level, a shining example of what can be achieved when natural talent is complemented by a winning mentality.

Just look at the story of Real Betis defender Andrea Medina, who ranked eighth in this year's NXGN list.

The 17-year-old grew up idolising Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo. Now, though, Medina says that Alexia is the "reference point for everyone".

"When I was a girl, there were still no female role models," she told GOAL, "but now little girls do have female role models."

And none greater than Alexia, the new face of FC Barcelona.

When Lionel Messi waved a tearful goodbye to the Catalan club last August, he left a massive void at Camp Nou.

Alexia has filled it, taking Messi’s mantle as the club’s humble hero. Indeed, now it is she who is omnipresent in Barcelona.

Parks and pitches are full of boys and girls wearing jerseys adorned with 'Alexia 11'. Her image can be found on billboards and stalls all around Camp Nou.

The club’s social media channels have even started referring to the 27-year-old as “Her Majesty”.

And it's easy to understand why. Alexis is the pride of Catalunya, the local girl ‘done good’.

Unlike Messi, she hasn't always been the best player in the world. She wasn’t a pre-ordained superstar from a young age. She had to battle her way to the top.

Alexia spent a season at Barca as a kid but it was at crosstown rivals Espanyol that she broke into the senior ranks.

A season at Levante followed before she eventually secured a return to Barcelona in 2012.

Even then, there were doubts. Her talent was obvious, but did she have the temperament, the tenacity, to become one of the world's best midfielders?

"I played against Alexia when she was very young," former Arsenal goalkeeper Emma Byrne, who now works for Barca TV, told GOAL.

"Technically, she's always been good, but she never had the pace and physicality. And in Champions League games, she often disappeared.

“However, over the past two years, she's just gone to another level because she’s worked so hard on the fitness side of things.

“She’s quicker, she's stronger, she’s more experienced and she’s extremely competitive.

“She's become a real leader at Barca and that’s why she was such a worthy Ballon d’Or winner last year.”

Indeed, nobody would dare dispute that Alexia is now the best player in the world. The stats speak for themselves.

Last season, she scored a remarkable 37 goals from midfield, while at the same time racking up 27 assists as Barcelona pulled off a stunning treble by winning the Primera Iberdrola, Copa de la Reina and UEFA Women's Champions League.

Incredibly, she and Barcelona are perfectly poised to repeat the feat.

A domestic double looks a certainty, with the Spanish title having already been secured without losing a single game, while the Blaugranes booked their place in a second consecutive Champions League final by seeing off Wolfsburg 5-3 on aggregate in the last four.

This month's tournament decider, against Lyon in Turin, is expected to attract greater interest than ever before. In that sense, this really does feel like the start of a new era for the women’s game.

However, a new era has already begun at Barcelona. Messi’s glorious reign ended last summer. Alexia is now the Queen of Camp Nou.