Slamming officials, calling the Copa America ‘corrupt’ and kicking balls away in frustration… Lionel Messi used to be closest to a referee when he took the match ball for a hat-trick, now he’s turning into Mr Angry as he fights to finish career on a high
- Lionel Messi is turning into Mr Angry and it was there for all to see last Thursday
- He sees bowing out with World Cup glory at Qatar 2022 for Argentina as feasible
- But as he plays out the last seasons of his career frustrations could bubble over
- Superstar is a lot closer to the referee in games and with quite a bit more to say
Is it because he now wears the armband for club and country and feels the added responsibility of leading the protests?
Is it because he feels the clock ticking down on his chances of winning any more significant silverware before he retires and that multiplies frustrations to infinity? Or is it just because he hates VAR?
Lionel Messi is turning into Mr Angry and it was there for all to see at La Bombonera last Thursday night.
Lionel Messi is turning into Mr Angry and it was there to see at La Bombonera on Thursday
Messi was mobbed by his Argentina team-mates after appearing to score in the second half
But Barcelona star’s goal was ruled out because of a foul 27 seconds prior in the build-up play
‘That’s twice you’ve screwed us. You screwed us twice,’ he told Brazilian referee Raphael Claus after the match official ruled out Messi’s goal in his team’s 1-1 draw against Paraguay in World Cup qualifying.
Messi and assist-provider Giovani Lo Celso were busy being mobbed by team-mates after what Messi believed was the goal that had put Argentina in front, and neither of them saw the referee put his finger to his ear and consult VAR over a foul on the far touchline 20 seconds earlier.
Messi had clearly not seen Nicolas Gonzalez stepping on the Achilles of Angel Romero at the very beginning of the move. The foul is not in doubt, and the rules say that if the infraction has been committed in the same move as the goal then the goal can be ruled out.
Argentina still felt they had the right to be upset. ‘That’s what the linesman is for,’ shouted their bench. And they asked where VAR was when Paraguayan players had encroached in the area as Angel Romero scored from the penalty spot. And when a foul from Romero on the halfway line on Exequiel Palacios was not considered worthy of revision for a red card.
For Messi the frustration will have been doubly felt on Thursday night. He has made a clear decision to prioritise the national team over his club side after the fall-out last summer when he came so close to leaving Spain and joining Manchester City.
There are no longer any doubts about whether he will play for Argentina during international weeks. Those close to him say: ‘Family. Argentina. Barcelona. In that order,’ has become the new mantra.
And with Barcelona still in disarray and needing to cover around €300million (£270m) of projected lost income before they can even consider signing reinforcements, Messi sees bowing out with World Cup glory in Qatar in 2022 for Argentina now just as feasible as winning another Champions League with his club.
We have seen Messi’s Mr Angry reaction to disappointment on the international stage before
Messi was sent off in the third-place play-off with Chile in the summer of 2019
He was banned for three months by CONMEBOL for an outburst following the sending off
He wants to see some returns on that born-again commitment to international football and to be part of a team striding towards the finals.
Him scoring what would have been one of the best team goals Argentina has scored in years would have reverberated around the world but instead play was brought back 12 passes and 60 metres for something the official on the pitch had not seen.
We have seen Messi’s Mr Angry reaction to disappointment on the international stage before. He was banned for three months by CONMEBOL last year for saying: ‘We don’t have to be part of this corruption.’ The outburst came after he was sent off in the Copa America third-place play-off with Chile.
The incident followed him saying, at the end of a 2-0 semi-final defeat by Brazil: ‘It’s tiring to have to take all this s*** in the Copa America. Today they never once went to look at the VAR. It needs to be looked at and I hope CONMEBOL do something about these referees because it swings the games.’
Messi’s ire has been directed at referees in LaLiga too – in Barcelona’s 1-1 draw away at Alaves
The forward appeared to kick the ball towards referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez
Messi’s ire has been directed at referees in LaLiga too. In Barcelona’s disappointing 1-1 draw away at Alaves earlier this season he appeared to kick the ball towards referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez.
‘He should have been sent off, even though the ball never hit the referee,’ said Radio Marca’s resident refereeing analyst Juan Andujar Oliver. ‘With what he did he wanted to intimidate the referee and that was worthy of a straight red card.’
Messi has still only been sent off twice in over 850 games. There were also 14 years between those reds – one came on his international debut, the second last year.
But that figure might not remain the same as he plays out the last seasons of his career and frustrations bubble over. He will argue it’s part of a leadership that is being demanded of him as he becomes the senior player in the teams he plays for.
It’s part of a wider move to become more vocal and less self-absorbed on the pitch. Barcelona’s 17-year-old midfielder Pedri said in an interview recently: ‘Messi is always giving me advice on the pitch. I try to take on board what he tells me and learn from him.’
But it marks a change that seems to have accelerated with VAR. It used to be the case that the closest Messi came to a referee was when he took the match ball from him at the end of the game after another hat-trick. Now he’s a lot closer and with quite a bit more to say.
Frustrations may bubble over as the Barcelona skipper looks to end his career on a high