For the first time in his Barcelona career, Lionel Messi has been sent off.
In truth, it was deserved.
In the final minute of extra-time during Barcelona’s Spanish Super Cup final loss to Athletic Bilbao, Messi lost his head with Asier Villalibre.
The Bilbao midfielder attempted to block off Messi’s run and the Argentine reacted with a swing of his right arm. He didn’t catch Villalibre cleanly but it was enough to send his opponent to the turf as he made the most of the contact.
The referee missed it at the time but VAR was never going to come to Messi’s rescue.
While there can’t really be any arguments from Messi, he clearly believed Villalibre had made the most of it.
That much could be seen by Messi’s reaction when the Bilbao man lay on the turf in apparent agony.
Images show Messi going over to him and fans think he sarcastically checked his pulse to see if he was still alive. Messi definitely felt Villalibre had made the most of it.
After the match, the victim believed Messi had shown “clear aggression” towards him.
“It seemed to me a clear aggression from Messi,” Villalibre told reporters, per Rik Sharma, after the match. “I put my body in the way, he got mad and he hit me in the face with his hand.”
However, Messi’s manager, Ronald Koeman, defended his star man.
“I can understand what Messi did,” the Dutchman said after the match.
“I don’t know how many times they fouled him, and it’s normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly.”
Messi had missed the semi-final victory over Real Sociedad a few days previously and the decision to start him the final may have backfired. However, the decision was left up to Messi.
“I think after so many years at the top level, he knows when he can play and when he can’t,” Koeman said. “I spoke with him and he said he was fit enough to start the game.”