We already brought you the worst moments in Cristiano Ronaldo’s career, so it’s only fair that we take a look at the lowlights of his Barcelona adversary.
You may not realize it, but you are witnessing a very special period in the history of the beautiful game.
Week in, week out, we see two of the greatest players of all time putting in near-faultless performances: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi rarely deliver anything less than excellence. But hey, everyone has an off-day now and then. That’s why pencils have erasers! To complement, CR7’s worst career moments, here’s a list of the times that his Argentinean counterpart dropped the ball…
HIS ARGENTINA DEBUT
In 12 seasons at the top, Messi has only ever received one red card—and it came during a milestone game.
After winning the Golden ball in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship with Argentina’s U20 side, an 18-year-old Messi was rewarded with a call-up to the senior side by Jose Pekerman.
The mop-haired youngster came on in the 63rd minute of a friendly against Hungary—the very same side against whom a young man named Diego Maradona made his debut. For Saint Diego, it was a happy affair, as the Albiceleste ran out 5-1 winners.
For Leo, not so much.
Just two minutes into his debut, the young man who was being hailed as the “new Maradona” earned a straight red card. A Hungarian defender grabbed his shirt and as he tried to wriggle free, he was perceived to have used an elbow. Messi was absolutely distraught and was apparently found crying in the dressing room when his team returned as 2-1 victors.
His next Argentina game, a World Cup qualifier against Paraguay, was treated as a do-over. “This is a re-debut,” he told reporters in Buenos Aires. “The first one was a bit short.”
HIS SPITTING GAMES
Messi is generally regarded as a clean-cut kind of chap. Unlike his Real Madrid counterpart, you generally don’t find him fighting, or fraternizing with ladies of the night.
However, the Flea’s squeaky-clean reputation was damaged in 2008 when he was accused at spitting at a rival during a game.
Messi put in an outstanding performance during a 4-1 win at Malaga on November 1st 2008, scoring the visitors’ second goal in sodden conditions. The Argentine star endured a running battle with Malaga Duda throughout the game, which came to a head late in the second half when Messi was knocked to the floor by his adversary. When he got up, he appeared to spit at the Portuguese midfielder.
Messi escaped punishment from the referee and the Spanish football authorities, but manager Pep Guardiola was aware of the incident: “It is not good that these things happen. We will try to avoid this type of incident.”
To his credit, Duda didn’t make a big deal out of it, claiming it was a “settled issue.”
HIS ‘HAND OF GOD’ MOMENT
Another moment during which Messi’s reputation was lightly tarnished came during a Copa Catalunya match with Espanyol in June 2007.
Barca were trailing 1-0 to their city rivals when Messi appeared to turn the ball into the net with his hand. Naturally, comparisons were drawn to Maradona, who famously knocked the ball into the net with his fistin Argentina’s 1986 World Cup match with England. (Coincidentally, Messi produced a carbon copy of Maradona’s “Great Goal Ever Scored” from that same World Cup game during a Copa del Rey clash with Getafe.)
Messi didn’t exactly win plaudits for his reaction to the handball—he claimed that it “didn’t matter.” Years later, his former teammate Thierry Henry pointed out that he was vilified for his own World Cup qualification handball, while Messi was “labelled a genius.”
HIS TROPHYLESS SEASON IN 2013/14
You might have noticed that Messi likes winning things. His bulging trophy cabinet includes five Ballon d’Ors, four Champions Leagues and seven Liga titles. To quote the immortal Ricky Bobby, Messi pisses excellence.
If we were to pinpoint a period of his career where success evaded him, however, it might be the 2013/14 campaign.
In that season, Barcelona ceded the league to Atletico Madrid on the final day of the season in dramatic fashion at the Camp Nou. A few weeks earlier, Real Madrid won their 19th Copa del Rey after goals from Angel Di Maria and Gareth Bale sunk the Blaugrana in the final at the Mestalla. And the week before that Kings Cup loss, they were dumped out of the Champions League by their old friends Atleti.
Messi did manage 41 goals in all competitions in 2013-14, but he was pipped to the Pichichi trophy by Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored three more than him in the league. Ronaldo arguably delivered the biggest blow of that period, by denying Messi the Ballon d’Or in both 2013 and 2014. Although that probably meant more to the Portuguese than it did to the Argentinean.
Either way, Messi walked away from 2013/14 completely empty handed.
HIS WORLD CUP FINAL LOSS
They say that a player can never be truly great if he doesn’t win a World Cup. Well, Pele says that.
Anyway, the summer of 2014 should have been Lionel Messi’s year to lift the biggest prize in football. Despite coming off the aforementioned unsuccessful domestic season, he was at the height of his powers, the hosts Brazil did not have the mettle to go the distance, Germany did not appear to have their strongest squad and Argentina had the tools to go all the way.
The Albiceleste did indeed go all the way, meeting Germany in the final in Rio. It was a mirror image of the 1990 World Cup, when the world’s best player (Maradona) took on the Germans. Sadly for the South Americans, the 1-0 outcome was also a mirror image.
Messi squandered several chances to open the scoring for the Argentineans and generally didn’t play like the megastar forward we regularly see in blue and red stripes.
It was a bitter end to the tournament for Messi, which may have been compounded by the fact that he received the Golden Ball at the conclusion of the game. He looked embarrassed collecting the trophy, no doubt because he was aware that he had failed to score in the knockout rounds and he was only the joint-third highest scorer at the tournament.
Sepp Blatter expressed his surprise at Messi winning the accolade, while Maradona suggested the decision was made for marketing purposes.
Aside from his FIFA Youth Championships award, national team success still eludes Messi, as he also experienced heartbreak in the Copa America Finals of 2007 and 2015.