Alexia Putellas is the best player in the world. The reigning two-time Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s “The Best” winner has separated herself from her peers in the last few years, and the Barcelona captain sets the standard for the women’s game.
Alexia has absolutely everything: the skills, the intelligence, the physical stature to impose her will in midfield and incredible poise and efficiency in front of goal, and on top of it all she adds style and flair to every pass and dribbling move. There is no one else in the game that can make the ruthless look so beautiful. She truly is one of one.
Putellas arrives at the 2023 Women’s World Cup as part of a strong Spain squad that will be among the favorites, and she’s just won her second Champions League in three years with Barça. But everything isn’t perfect. Alexia was gone for most of the season, recovering from a serious knee injury for more than 10 months — an injury she suffered, ironically, while preparing for last year’s EUROs with Spain.
She returned at the very end of Barça’s season but played only 120 total minutes in six games off the bench, appearing in the UWCL Final for only five minutes as a late substitute in a classy move by her manager to make sure she could be the captain and get to lift the trophy.
It’s been a long, hard road of recovery, and one wouldn’t be wrong to ask whether or not Alexia is fit enough for the biggest tournament of her career. But she and the Spain coaching staff are confident that a long training camp and a relatively straightforward group stage will provide Putellas with enough time to enter the knockout rounds as close to her best as possible.
Alexia won’t have some of her Barça teammates who used to form the spine of Spain’s national team by her side, because of a 15-player walkout at the end of last year due to disagreements with coach Jorge Vilda’s methods and the federation. Alexia was initially part of the protest but decided to make herself eligible for selection again this year, and her decision influenced others of the 15-player group to also return and make the squad much stronger than initially expected going into the World Cup.
Spain will likely win the group and reach the Round of 16 as one of the favorites, but the competition will be fierce and they need Alexia to be at her best to have a real shot at winning it all. The fitness questions are legitimate but if Alexia’s body allows it, she is ready to introduce an audience that might not follow Barça Femení on a regular basis to all the aspects of her beautiful game.
Nikola Jokic won the NBA championship with the Denver Nuggets and showed a global audience that may not have been familiar with his game just how special he is. In a very similar way, Alexia has a chance to show the entire world on the biggest stage everything that makes her awe-inspiring to those who follow her regularly.
But Alexia also needs a big World Cup to conquer her own demons. Coming back from a devastating injury isn’t easy, especially for someone who had never suffered one and was a model of fitness and consistency, and Alexia has been open about the mental challenges of the recovery process. Playing her best football again in the World Cup would show her that her knee is indeed strong enough to handle the highest of standards, and she is still every bit the player that deserves to be called the best in the world.
This is Alexia Putellas’s World Cup. Even if a very small part of her might not believe it quite yet.