The Barca star has been on the right side of some very debatable calls in the past but is only now complaining when things have gone against him
Just like the flip of a coin, a controversial refereeing decision has two sides. It’s safe to say that Lionel Messi struggled with being on the wrong end of such calls during the 2019 Copa America.
At club level with Barcelona, Messi has occasionally found himself on the right side of a debatable decision.
From the Catalans’ Champions League semi-final win over Chelsea in 2009 to their extraordinary comeback against PSG in 2017, there have been highly-publicised instances where the footballing gods have smiled on the Argentina star. Unsurprisingly, he never stopped to question such fortune on these occasions.
But in Brazil over the past month, his nation were not so lucky – even with VAR watching on. A number of decisions went against Argentina and their captain, as Messi once again failed to truly shine on the international stage.
While question marks rightly swirl around a number of calls, including the 32-year-old’s sending off in the third-place play-off against Chile, there is no doubt his conduct following that game – and after his side’s semi-final loss to Brazil – has left plenty to be desired, with players and coaches alike questioning his lack of ‘respect’.
Messi refused to accept his third-place medal on Saturday and alleged that the tournament had been rigged for the hosts, as his frustration boiled over in ugly and – arguably – hypocritical fashion.
“There is no doubt, the whole thing is set up for Brazil,” Messi snapped. “I did not want to be part of this corruption, we shouldn’t have to be part of this disrespect we suffered during the Copa America.
“We could have gone further but we weren’t allowed into the final. Corruption, referees and all the rest stopped people from enjoying the football.
“I always tell the truth and I’m honest, that is what keeps me calm, if what I say has repercussions that is not my business.”
The truth of the matter, however, is football is often a game of 50-50s and Messi has previously kept quiet when bad calls have benefited him.
An infamous example of this was Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea in 2009 when the Blues were denied a number of clear penalties.
The referee that night, Tom Henning Ovrebo, was notoriously branded a “f***ing disgrace” by Chelsea striker Didier Drogba on live television at the conclusion of a tie that Barcelona won on away goals. They went onto beat Manchester United in the final.
Ovrebo himself conceded nine years later it was not a performance he’s proud of.
“It was not my best day, really,” Ovrebo told Marca in 2018 having hung up his whistle.
“There were several errors and everyone will have their opinion of those plays. But those mistakes can be committed by a referee, and sometimes a player or a coach. Some days you are not at the level you should be.
“But no, I can’t be proud of that performance.”
Two years after that infamous night at Stamford Bridge, the Catalans would again benefit from a night of Champions League controversy as they beat Real Madrid 2-0 in the first leg of their 2011 semi-final.
That night saw both coach Jose Mourinho and defender Pepe sent off for Madrid as Messi struck twice to all but book his side’s place in the final – which they again won against Man Utd.
Not one to hold back, ‘The Special One’ launched a scathing attack in the aftermath suggesting Barcelona had been benefiting from questionable officiating for years.
“One day, I would like Josep Guardiola to win this competition properly,” Mourinho began his tirade. “We are talking about an absolutely fantastic football team, so why do they need that?
“Last year it was a miracle that Inter got there playing with 10 men for so long. A miracle. Why weren’t there four penalties against Chelsea [in 2009]? Why send off [Arsenal’s Robin] Van Persie [in the last 16]?
“Why Ovrebo? Why Busacca? Why De Bleeckere? Why Stark? (all referees) Why? Because every semi-final the same things happen.
“Where does their power come from? I don’t know if it is the UNICEF sponsorship or if it is because they are nice guys. I don’t understand. They have to get to the final, and they’ll get there, full stop.”
Mourinho was rightly pilloried for his outrageous Barca conspiracy claims back in 2011 – as well as being handed a five-match ban by UEFA – but eight years later the usually mild-mannered Messi has repeated a similar offence. He now will likely suffer a stern punishment too from CONMEBOL.
Given his subdued nature, it was certainly surprising to see Argentina’s captain take a page out of Mourinho’s playbook as he cast a very real shadow over Brazil’s success.
For Selecao captain Thiago Silva, who was on the wrong end of a hugely controversial 6-1 defeat to Barcelona with PSG in 2017, Messi’s conduct not only lacked class but had serious shades of hypocrisy.
During that Champions League last 16 second leg at Camp Nou, Barca were awarded two very questionable penalties – while PSG were denied a clear one of their own – as the Catalans overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit to progress.
“Sometimes in defeat, we try to focus on other people,” Thiago said after Brazil defeated Peru 3-1 in the Copa America final .
“I think he [Messi] did not say it out of spite, but we are sad because, in the game we lost 6-1 to Barcelona, he played the referee, which, in my opinion, was ridiculous.
“But we did not give a statement that the referee was in favour of Barcelona. I think you have to show respect.
“Brazil do not have five stars at random – none of them have been stolen. It was played on the pitch.”
In that respect, nothing can be taken away from Messi’s incredible achievements with Barcelona either.
However, the superstar certainly comes away from his Copa America meltdown looking more than a little hypocritical given past refereeing controversies.
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