Lionel Messi: Eight times he's been Argentina’s bad boy after Edinson Cavani bust-up

  • Rob Swan

Lionel Messi is often portrayed – rightly or wrongly – as one of the most angelic players in football.

However, the Barcelona and Argentina star undoubtedly possesses a mean streak, which is presumably vital in order to scale the lofty heights he has.

The 32-year-old is certainly no push-over and knows, because of his standing in the game as arguably the greatest player ever, that he’s powerful enough to make any opponent who fronts up to him eventually feel a little intimidated.

Messi, as the country’s captain and star man, obviously feels particularly responsible for his team’s fortunes whenever he’s wearing the famous blue and white shirt of his beloved Argentina.

And over the course of the current international break, in which Argentina have beaten bitter rivals Brazil and drawn 2-2 with Uruguay, Messi has further enhanced his status as, wait for it… Argentina’s bad-boy.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was involved in a heated clash with Edinson Cavani, reportedly saying “whenever you want” to the Uruguayan after being offered out for a fight.

There are also reports that Messi had to be separated from Cavani in the tunnel by his Barça teammate Luis Suarez.

This isn’t the first time that Messi has been involved in controversy during his Argentina career.

And it all started on the very first day of his international career…

Sent off on Argentina debut

Messi, aged just 18 years old, came on for his Argentina debut in a friendly against Hungary – and was sent off moments later for swinging his arm back towards Vilmos Vanczák while trying to shake off the defender.

It was harsh decision to send off the teenager, who was left in tears, but this wouldn’t be the only red card of Messi’s international career.

Altercation with Bolivia’s Ronald Raldes in 2011

Back in the summer of 2011, Messi was under pressure to inspire Argentina to glory in the Copa America.

And during the team’s group-stage opener, the world-class forward gave Ronald Raldes a push after being blocked away from the ball. He then proceeded to go head-to-head against the centre-back, while saying a few words with his hand over his mouth, before his teammates intervened.

Bust-up with Bolivian players in 2016

While Messi may not have had quite the same treatment from defenders as Diego Maradona suffered during his illustrious career, the current Argentina captain has still been kicked from pillar to post over the years. It must get frustrating.

He was involved in another bust-up with Bolivian players in 2016, reacting badly and squaring up to Jhasmani Campos after being fouled.

Campos, however, accused Messi of disrespecting Bolivia after coming on as a second-half substitute.

“He came on to make fun of us,” the Bolivian player claimed to Goal after the match. “A player of his talent should not be doing what he did. He carried out some unnecessary moves to make fun of my teammates and that is not on.”

Shoving away Ivan Strinic’s leg

Argentina played Croatia in the 2018 World Cup group stages and suffered a humiliating 3-0 defeat.

Midway through the second half, with Argentina trailing 1-0, Messi was involved in a bust-up with defender Ivan Strinić, angrily pushing away his opponent’s leg after coming together.

Fight with Gary Medel and red card

If there’s one player you don’t want to take on in a fight it’s Gary ‘The Pitbull’ Medel.

After Medel shielded the ball out of play for a goal-kick, the frustrated midfielder gave the Chilean an unnecessary push. Medel reacted by chest-barging and pushing his superstar opponent – and this ended up earning both players red cards from the referee.

Mouthing off at the referee after Paulo Dybala red card

Paulo Dybala was sent off on his first Argentina shirt and Messi knew exactly how his international teammate must have felt. Remember the Hungary incident…

Anyway, Messi blamed the decision entirely on the Chilean referee Julio Bascunan and gave the match official a piece of his mind both after the decision and at half-time.

He was incredibly lucky to avoid a yellow card himself.

”Leo Messi told me to be calm, that these things happen, that it was not my fault but the referee’s,” Dybala confirmed after the match.

Rant after 2019 Copa America exit

After Argentina crashed out of the 2019 Copa America to Brazil at the semi-final stage, Messi went on an incredible post-match rant.

He hit out at the standards of refereeing in the competition, calling some of the officiating ‘bull****’.

“They [the officials] had booked a lot of bull****, but they didn’t even check the VAR, that’s incredible,” he said. “At the first glance of contact, they ruled in their [Brazil’s] favour and this kind of bull**** distracted us from the game.”

And following his red card against Chile in the third-place play-off, Messi then went on to accuse CONMEBOL of corruption.

“We don’t have to be part of this corruption. They have showed us a lack of respect throughout this tournament,” he complained. “Sadly, the corruption, the referees, they don’t allow people to enjoy football, they ruined it a bit. I think the cup is fixed for Brazil.”

Despite speculation that Messi could receive a two-year international ban for his comments, he was eventually suspended for one match and fined a paltry $1,500.

Telling Tite to shut up

And finally, we have the recent incident involving Brazil head coach Tite, who was told to shut up by the GOAT.

“I complained because he (Messi) should have been shown a yellow card and he told me to shut my mouth and I told him to shut his mouth,” Tite said.

This prompted Thiago Silva to tell reporters: “He wanted to run the game, wanted to blow the whistle. He argued with the referee and the referee kept laughing. Admiration has to be set aside.

“It’s hard, because we talk so much about education and one of the most admired guys in football say… I’m not going to tell an old man, because he’ll be mad at me, but have a coach shut up. As much as you have rivalry, education must come first.”

Perhaps it’s the pressure of Argentina, with whom he hasn’t won a major international trophy, that leads Messi to lose his head a little more than he does at club level.

But one thing’s for sure: Messi can’t be accused of lacking passion whenever he represents La Albiceleste.

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