Barcelona star Lionel Messi has been banned from participating in any national team duties for the next 3 months as punishment for disrespectful comments made towards officials at this summer’s Copa América. Aggrieved at a string of admittedly questionable decisions that went against Argentina, Messi launched a tirade at what he believes to be deep-rooted corruption in South American football.
Messi’s first outburst came after Argentina were eliminated by the hosts and eventual winners Brazil in the semifinals. The Abilceleste lost the match 2-0 and were denied two clear penalties, with Brazil actually going on to score on the same play as one of the penalties that was not given. VAR was not consulted on either play.
“[The officials] have called a lot of bullshit. There were clear penalties on Nicolas Otamendi, on Sergio Agüero. [The referee] was on [Brazil’s] side. In every divided ball or dispute, he inclined the pitch their way. We need to review this, analyze it and let’s hope CONMEBOL does something about it – but surely not, because Brazil commands too much power in the organization.”
Messi lashed out again at CONMEBOL after he received a very soft red card in Argentina’s 3rd/4th place match against Chile a few days later, again citing apparent corruption within the federation.
“I think that we shouldn’t form part of this corruption for the lack of respect they’ve shown us in this tournament. There was a lack of respect toward us during this Copa América. The Copa was fixed for Brazil. We could have done better, but they didn’t let us make it to the final”.
CONMEBOL, for their part, swiftly responded, hitting back at the continent’s biggest star and defending their officials.
“There have been unfounded accusations made that are untrue and put the integrity of the Copa America in question. [These accusations] represent a lack of respect to the competition, to the footballers taking part, and to the hundreds of CONMEBOL professionals who have worked since 2016 to make our organization transparent and professional and to develop South American football.”
Many expected Messi to be handed a much lengthier ban for making such public and inflammatory comments. CONMEBOL, perhaps fearing Messi might retire from international football again, which would rob them of their biggest attraction, might’ve given Messi a lighter sentence as a way of easing tensions between the two.
While 3 months may sounds like a rather long period of time, in reality Messi will only have to sit out a handful of games. He will miss Argentina’s upcoming friendlies against Chile, Mexico, and Germany but will be available for selection for Argentina’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers and most importantly, next summer’s Copa América. The only real impact this ban will have is that it well give Messi a few extra days of vacation during the international breaks, keeping him fresh ahead of what promises to be a lengthy season for Barcelona.