After the World Cup, it was the same answer it's always been: Lionel Messi. The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was the best player in Qatar, and he led Argentina to the only major trophy that was missing from his already sterling résumé. Who is the best player in the world? At age 35, Messi completed the sport, and in a way that no other living soccer player seemed capable of doing.
But, well, did you watch the Bayern games in the Champions League? Paris Saint-Germain scored a whopping zero goals across two matches, and nothing from them suggested that Messi was still the best soccer player in the world.
How 'bout the guy he beat in the World Cup final, the next-if-not-already-best player in the world, Kylian Mbappe? Well, he too didn't do all that much in the second leg in Germany, either: just 30 touches, fewer than any other player who was out there for at least 70 minutes. Neither Messi nor Mbappe -- in their 90 most important minutes of the season -- seemed like players capable of taking over a game, regardless of their teammates, their tactics, or their opponents.
As the constantly shifting context I just applied in the previous paragraph suggests, it's really hard to confidently say who the "best" soccer player in the world is -- unless that player is the best scorer, creator, dribbler and passer all at the same time, as Messi was for most of his career. It also doesn't really matter. This isn't basketball, a five-person game on a tiny court where having the best player is automatically a leg up. In an 11-person game on a large field with very few scoring chances, having the best player is more a bit of trivia than overwhelming strategic advantage.
That doesn't mean it isn't fun to think about, though. And with Mbappe and Messi limping out of the Champions League round of 16 for the second year in a row -- and doing it together -- it feels like all kinds of different players could make a reasonable claim to being the best player in the world for the 2022-23. It all depends on how you want to look at it.