There are all kinds of ways to define the best player in the world -- and we've made multiple attempts at it on these webpages. Despite the impossibility of objectively measuring and then valuing everything that happens on a soccer field, there's still plenty of insight to be gleaned from the process.
So, rather than changing how we're defining "best," what if we changed who we're defining as the best? Might that reveal anything new about the current state of the soccer landscape? In an effort to find out, let's try to identify the best player in the world at every age -- from 16 through 36.
There's no clear criteria for the best here but we'll be using a combination of how much better that player is than peers at his position and how valuable that position is. In other words, the third-best attacker would get the nod over the top goalkeeper.
And as a guide, we'll be occasionally referring to a stat called "Contextualized Plus-Minus," or CPM, which was created by the analyst Edvin Tran Hoac. The statistic looks at a combination of individual on-ball statistics and how teams perform with these players on and off the field, then it estimates the impact that player would have on overall team performance. That approach, ideally, captures both the measurable impact of a player from things like shots and passes and also the not-yet-measurable impact he might have on winning.
As the line from British statistician George Box goes, "All models are wrong, some are useful." CPM is certainly useful. So let's get to it.