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Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Explained: Lionel Messi’s red card, and his growing frustration at Barcelona

Messi has been red-carded twice for Argentina: on his international debut against Hungary in 2005 and in the 2019 Copa America, where he was sent off during Argentina’s third-place play-off against Chile.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: January 22, 2021 2:38:37 pm
Barcelona's Lionel Messi is shown a red card by referee Jesus Gil Manzano. Reuters Photo

Lionel Messi received marching orders during Barcelona’s 3-2 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup final on Sunday. For the first time during his long and illustrious Barcelona career, Messi was red-carded. Going beyond the arid facts, however, there could be more to this than meets the eye. There’s a question whether the ongoing off-the-pitch issues/uncertainties has made the great man feel frustrated.

What was the incident?

The match went into extra-time and on 121 minutes, Messi saw red after the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) spotted him taking a swing at Athletic’s Asier Villalibre when the latter ran across his path. Referee Gil Manzano missed the incident, but VAR intervened and Messi was shown a straight red card. It was his 753rd appearance for Barcelona and for the first time Messi had been dismissed.

What could be the punishment?

Messi’s action falls under violent conduct, which could ensue at least a four-game ban subject to a review from the Spanish football authorities. So, Messi is likely to miss Barcelona’s Copa del Rey fixture against Cornella followed by La Liga matches against Elche, Athletic Club and Real Betis.

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Was it Messi’s first-ever red card?

Messi has been red-carded twice for Argentina: on his international debut against Hungary in 2005 and in the 2019 Copa America, where he was sent off during Argentina’s third-place play-off against Chile.

Did on-pitch frustrations lead to the red card?

That could be the case, because Barcelona led twice during regulation time but failed to hold on to their lead. In fact, Athletic scored their second goal on 90 minutes before netting the winner in extra-time. The defeat saw Barcelona miss out on a trophy. Messi had missed the semi-final against Real Sociedad owing to an injury. Since the defeat against Athletic, Barcelona fans have been roasting the team’s head coach Ronald Koeman on social media for playing Messi for 120 minutes, as, according to them, the player didn’t look to be at 100 per cent.

Is Messi unhappy at Barcelona?

Before the start of the 2020-21 season, Messi, 33, told the club through a burofax that he wanted to leave. A reported fallout with the club’s erstwhile president Josep Bartomeu was cited as the reason. Eventually Messi stayed, while Bartomeu had to step down ahead of a vote of no confidence in October last year. Barcelona appointed Koeman as their head coach this term and Messi reportedly didn’t have a say in his appointment. One of the first decisions that Koeman took upon his arrival was to deem Luis Suarez surplus to the team’s requirements. The Uruguayan forward was not only a great friend, but he also provided Messi with the most number of assists – 54 – during his time at Barcelona.

Suarez left for Atletico Madrid and Koeman’s decision, ratified by the club board, obviously didn’t go down well with Messi. “Today I went into the dressing room and the awful truth hit me. You (Suarez) are one of the most important players in the club’s history, achieving important things both as a group and individually. You didn’t deserve to be kicked out the way you were. But the truth is, that at this point, nothing surprises me,” Messi had posted on Instagram following Suarez’s departure.

Of course, Koeman has always spoken in glowing terms about the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, but Suarez’s exit seems to have created uneasiness. Also, the club’s decision to reduce player salaries by 30 per cent to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic displeased Messi who reportedly wrote a letter to the club board, criticising the decision, and the manner in which it was taken.

Could Barca’s financial woes be a reason?

A pandemic-hit season and the wage-cut that followed irked Messi, but Barcelona’s road to financial recovery appears uncertain. According to a report in the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia, Barcelona’s debt is approaching €1 billion ($1.2 billion). With the matches being played behind closed doors, the club is also missing out on €320 million ($386 million) from gate receipts. Barcelona spend 70 per cent of their revenue in transfers and wages. According to the newspaper, €170 million ($205 million) has now been withheld after the wage reduction.

On the pitch, an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League last term laid bare Barcelona’s decay. Messi questioned the club’s commitment and ambition to set things right, when he publicly expressed his desire to leave Barcelona. The Catalan club is placed third in the La Liga at the moment, with 34 points from 18 matches and seven points adrift of the league leaders Atletico Madrid.

Will Messi leave Barcelona next season?

He has been playing for Barcelona for 17 years, but come summer and Messi will be a free agent, with his contract expiring this year. Then again, even on a free transfer, only a precious few clubs can afford his salary; north of $90 million including image rights. The Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City and Qatar-owned Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) can defy the Covid-forced economic odds. Also, Pep Guardiola’s presence at City and Mauricio Pochettino at PSG make the two clubs runaway favourites to go for the world’s best footballer, should Messi decide to take the Camp Nou exit.

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