It’s been a weird year for me, or anyone else who covers European soccer for a living.

Over the past 15 years, we had one constant: Lionel Messi being better than everyone else. In the meantime, we’ve seen various teams and players rise and fall.

Manchester City weren’t anything and now they’re everything. Real Madrid couldn’t win the Champions League and now they can’t stop winning the Champions League. Liverpool were coached by Roy Hodgson and then they were coached by Jurgen Klopp. Juventus were relegated, promoted and dominated Serie A for a decade and now they can barely get back into the Champions League. Xavi played with Messi, then he coached Messi’s former team and got fired by Messi’s former team. Oh, and here’s a sentence you would not have believed two years ago: Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema all play professional soccer in Saudi Arabia.

Amidst it all, though, there was the dependability of Messi’s excellence. You’d watch Manchester City and Liverpool play, then you’d look up and see that Messi had just attempted 12 shots and created eight chances in a 90-minute soccer game where Barcelona had 20 total attempts on goal. Hmm, that Bayern-Dortmund game was fun — oh wait, Messi is converting his free kicks like they’re penalty shots? Wow, the Madrid derby was intense! And there’s Messi, completing 20 passes into the penalty area without breaking a sweat.

Over a 15-year stretch, Messi led Europe in combined goals and assists in eight seasons, finished top two in 10 and top five in 14. He was the best, year after year after year.

Until this year: 2023-24 was the first season since 2004-05 when Messi didn’t play at least 900 minutes in one of Europe’s five top leagues. Ahead of each European season, there were lots of questions without answers, except one: “How good is Lionel Messi?”

Now, though, we don’t actually know. Messi is dominating MLS with Inter Miami, but the league is far from what he used to face in Europe, and he’s 37 years old. It’s been a year since we’ve seen him play against the best players in the world and — unlike in the past when he was with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain — the Copa América is actually a step up in difficulty from what he’s facing week in and week out.

Now that Argentina are two matches into the tournament and Messi has yet to score, what can his performances tell us about the question we’ve never had to answer before: How good is Messi? Is he still the best? And has playing in MLS made him worse?