Lionel Messi has always had a distinguished manner of maintaining himself in front of the public eye. Despite winning everything one can win at soccer, Messi‘s reserved and humble nature has made fans fall in love with him. At a time when soccer players often find themselves in hot water, Messi has always managed to stay away from controversies.
Although fans consider Lionel Messi to be nothing less than a God, there have been times when he has shown his human side too. Strangely enough, Messi has had his fair share of controversial moments in his career. Despite his best efforts, there have been times when the PSG star failed to keep his emotions in check.
The Messi apology video after his unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia. States he thought PSG would have a day off after the game like always
— GOLAZO (@golazoargentino) May 5, 2023
Most recently, Messi has been involved in a controversy with PSG after the French club suspended him for his unsanctioned trip to Saudi Arabia. Although the suspension has been revoked now, it has reportedly irked Messi who wants to leave the club in the upcoming summer transfer window. In this article, we will take a look at 17 controversial moments of Lionel Messi’s career.
Lionel Messi was found guilty of tax fraud in 2016
Back in 2016, Lionel Messi and his father Jorge Messi were found guilty of tax fraud. As per reports, Messi and his father had defrauded the Spanish government of around $4.5 million between 2007 to 2009 over Messi’s image rights. Messi was initially investigated in 2013 alongside several soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Javier Mascherano.
Appearing for the trial, Messi stated that he was unaware of committing tax fraud as he trusted his father and his advisors. He said, “I didn’t know anything. I only worried about playing football.” The Argentine star was handed a $2.1 million fine and a prison sentence of 21 months. However, Messi was able to exchange his prison sentence for a $288,000 fine. He further paid a voluntary “corrective payment” of around $5.5 million.
Much later in an interview, Messi revealed how he almost left Barcelona at the time of his investigation. He confessed, “Sincerely, at that time, I thought about leaving. I wanted to leave Spain, I felt very badly treated and I didn’t want to stay here any longer.” He also stated that the authorities came down hard on him trying to make an example out of his case.
Messi was accused of supporting “dictatorship”
Lionel Messi is known for his extensive work in his role as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. In addition to this, Messi also has his non-profit organization, the Leo Messi Foundation, which aims at improving the conditions of vulnerable children. However, despite all his charitable works, Messi got embroiled in controversy during his trip to Gabon in 2015.
Lionel Messi was invited to Gabon by President Ali Bongo Ondimba to lay the ceremonial first brick of a stadium ahead of the 2017 African Nations Cup which Gabon was going to host. Following his trip, there were rumors that Messi was paid around $3.7 million for visiting Gabon. While Gabon denied making any such payments, Messi was further criticized by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF).
HRF president Thor Halvorssen bashed the former Barcelona star for accepting Ali Bongo Ondimba’s invitation. Halvorssen stated, “In providing PR services to Gabon’s Bongo family, Lionel Messi has seriously undermined the credibility of his charitable foundation.” Messi was further criticized for supporting Bongo whose administration “refuses to investigate the ritual murder of children in Gabon.“
Bongo’s alleged embezzlement had led to 20% of Gabon’s population surviving on less than $2 a day. HRF’s chief strategy officer, Alex Gladstein, also criticized Messi for “partying with oppressors” instead of issuing a statement against Bongo. Meanwhile, Gabon’s opposition party bashed Messi for showing up in casual attire and failing to show respect to Gabon.
Lionel Messi’s National Team blues
Lionel Messi reached cloud nine last year when he guided Argentina to World Cup glory. Messi’s triumph in Qatar meant that he had won all possible titles with the national team, having won the Copa America back in 2021. Messi also won the Finalissima last year and the Olympic Gold in 2008 and the U-20 World Cup in 2005. However, the early days of Messi’s national team career weren’t as successful as he would have liked.
When Messi burst into the scene in the national team, he was heralded as the successor of Diego Maradona. However, Messi’s debut with Argentina back in 2005 didn’t go exactly according to plan. An 18-year-old Messi came on in the 63rd minute against Hungary during a friendly match. He was on the pitch for not more than 40 seconds as he was shown a controversial red card for a flailing arm on Hunagry’s Vilms Vanczak.
In the following years, Messi lost multiple finals with Argentina including the World Cup final in 2014. The 2016 Copa America final defeat to Chile was the proverbial nail in the coffin as Messi announced his retirement from the national team. Despite coming back to Argentina, Messi was harshly criticized by Argentinean fans for not replicating the success he enjoyed with FC Barcelona.
7 years ago Maradona told Pele that Messi lacked leadership and personality.
Lisandro Martínez today on Instagram: “On and off the pitch an example for us all. Thank you Leo, for being our leader toward this great dream we achieved. Simply the greatest footballer in history!!”🔥 pic.twitter.com/IgzhrpR5C9
— Radman (@Radmanx23) December 24, 2022
Even Diego Maradona criticized Messi for failing to be a leader and not having any “personality“. The Argentine talisman was further denounced for not singing the national anthem before matches. However, Messi shut his critics for good by ending his nation’s 36-year-long World Cup title drought. Although Lionel Messi has been placed on the highest pedestal by the Argentine fans following his World Cup triumph.
War of Words with FC Barcelona authorities
Lionel Messi is considered to be the flag-bearer of FC Barcelona because of his legendary status at the club. La Pulga joined Barcelona when he was 13 years old and left the club when he was 34. Despite his unfortunate exit from the club in 2021, Messi is still adored and worshipped by plenty of Barca fans. While the club has also reciprocated a similar affection for their former star, the two have been on opposite ends on one or two occasions.
Following a disastrous 2019-20 campaign, Messi issued a burofax to the club expressing his desire to leave Barcelona. While Messi was expecting a smooth exit, the then-Barca president Josep Bartomeu refused to make it happen. A few months after the burofax incident, Messi appeared in an interview where he made several striking revelations against Bartomeu.
Messi said, “I’m staying because the president said the only way to go was to pay the €700 million (release) clause, which is impossible. The other way was to go to court. I wanted to go and I was totally within my rights because the contract said I could leave for free.” Messi further blamed Bartomeu’s poor handling of the club and said, “The management of the club led by Bartomeu is a disaster.”
Leo Messi on criticism from Barca’s sporting director Eric Abidal and on a potential Neymar return 🗣 pic.twitter.com/HnBjADSVJb
— B/R Football (@brfootball) February 20, 2020
Not only Bartomeu but Messi had also clashed with the club’s former sporting director Eric Abidal. Abidal, who was Messi’s former teammate, had stated that several players were responsible for the sacking of former Barca coach Ernesto Valverde. Abidal’s statements, however, angered Messi, who sharply responded to the accusations. The former Barcelona skipper denied the accusations and also blamed Abidal for “dirtying” the squad.
Messi’s controversial statements against CONMEBOL
Despite his reserved and shy nature, Lionel Messi went out all guns blazing after Argentina’s third-place match against Chile in the Copa America 2019. Messi’s side was defeated 2-0 by Brazil in the semifinals of the Copa America that year. While Argentina won the third-place match against Chile, it was also when Messi got the first international red card of his career.
Messi and Chilean defender Gary Medel were involved in a fiery clash in the 37th minute of the match. While both the players were sent off, Messi made some shocking statements following the match. He also refused to attend the post-match awards ceremony and instead accused CONMEBOL, the South American soccer federation, of corruption.
Messi said, “I think that we shouldn’t form part of this corruption. For the lack of respect, they’ve shown us in this tournament.” He was also asked about the final match between hosts Brazil and Peru. To which, Messi responded, “I think there’s no doubt, unfortunately, it’s there for Brazil. Hopefully, VAR and the referees will have nothing to do with the final so that Peru can compete, because they have the team to do so, but it’s difficult.“
Messi’s comments stemmed from the fact that Argentina was denied a penalty twice during their match against Brazil. However, Messi’s comments didn’t go down well with the CONMEBOL authorities. The South American federation condemned La Albiceleste captain’s comments and called them “unacceptable.” Messi was also handed a three-month ban and fined $50,000 for his controversial statements.
Controversy in his personal life
Lionel Messi has always been a one-woman-man since he married his childhood girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo back in 2017. Messi and Antonela have known each other since they were just young kids. The two have been together for more than a decade now and are parents to three children. Although there have been rumors in the past raising doubts over Messi’s loyalty towards Antonela.
Back in 2013, the Argentine magazine Pronto released pictures of Messi enjoying himself at a strip club. The pictures were reportedly taken after a charity match in Chicago. However, to date, the authenticity of the pictures is not proven yet. Although the man in the picture resembles the PSG star, it is not clear enough. Moreover, the pictures might also have been fake and could have been the work of some delinquents.
Meanwhile, Chilean model Daniella Chavez also recently stated that she has had an affair with Messi. Daniella further claimed that Messi has been unfaithful to Antonella with several other models as well. She said, “No need to add anything that isn’t true, I know other women who dated a very famous Argentina No. 10 as well. I even have a video to prove it, but I can’t upload it because it’s his privacy and we are completely naked.”
Daniella Chavez isn’t the only woman to have caused problems between Messi and Antonella. Brazilian model Suzy Cortez, who won the Miss BumBum title in 2015, has frequently expressed her love for Messi. Suzy has also got several tattoos of Messi on her body, with a few of them on her intimate areas. Although Suzy has admired Messi’s loyalty towards his wife, Antonela allegedly forced Messi to block Suzy Cortez on Instagram.
Controversy regarding Argentina’s World Cup 2022 Win
Lionel Messi enjoyed the high point of his career as he lifted the World Cup trophy at the iconic Lusail Stadium last year. Although this was a moment that Messi will cherish the most throughout his career, there were several controversies regarding Argentina’s World Cup campaign. Many fans have raised questions over the 5 penalty kicks that Argentina was awarded in the tournament.
There have been claims that Argentina has received FIFA’s help in winning the tournament. Although there’s no basis for such rumors, several fans have branded Messi and Argentina’s World Cup win as “rigged.” Moreover, Messi has a rather unconventional moment with Wout Weghorst after Argentina defeated the Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
After a heated match that involved 14 yellow cards and 2 red cards, Messi angrily reacted to Weghorst while giving an interview in the mixed zone. Although Messi later apologized for his reaction, saying, “It isn’t an image I like to give off.” The Argentine talisman had another controversial moment in the aftermath of winning the World Cup 2022.
Lionel Messi to Wout Weghorst after the match: “What are you looking at, dumby? Go back there, dumby. Get back there, yes!” 😨pic.twitter.com/LaJlIgpaRy
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) December 10, 2022
Messi and his Argentine teammates, especially Emiliano Martinez, received strong criticism for mocking the French players following their victory. French star Kylian Mbappe was severely trolled by Emi Martinez while the Argentine players were celebrating in Buenos Aires. It has been reported that FIFA has launched an investigation into the incident that might lead to several Argentine players facing sanctions.
Moments when Messi lost his cool on the pitch
Lionel Messi has a reputation for seldom losing his cool on the pitch. However, the constant provocation and harsh treatment from the defenders have sometimes brought out the ugly side of Messi. Way back in 2008, Messi appeared to spit at Portuguese defender Duda during Barcelona’s La Liga match against Malaga. The former Barcelona star’s actions were severely reprimanded by the then-Barca coach Pep Guardiola.
Moreover, Messi was once involved in an ugly incident during a fiery Clasico against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. In a tense 1-1 match where Messi was repeatedly fouled by the Merengues, the Argentine talisman angrily kicked the ball into the stands toward the fans after failing to control the ball. There was another incident in 2016 where Messi had a rather unwarranted reaction to Roma defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
During a friendly match between Barcelona and Roma at Camp Nou, Messi appeared to headbutt Yanga-Mbiwa before choking his neck. Luckily, Messi was only shown a yellow card for his actions. Former Real Madrid star Royston Drenthe had even accused Messi of making racial slurs. Not only has Messi clashed with players but he also has had some angry exchanges with the opposition coaches.
Notice how Messi hasn’t backed Vinicius yet…. I wonder why pic.twitter.com/Hl9iYtMFyZ
— Amit (@amitttrmfc) May 22, 2023
During a friendly match between Argentina and Brazil, Messi had a verbal spat with Brazil coach Tite. Messi has reportedly told Tite to shut up after the veteran coach demanded a yellow card for Messi. Strangely enough, Messi has also been involved in some altercations with match officials over his career. In 2017, Messi was handed a four-match ban by FIFA for verbally abusing a match official.