As a youngster, Lionel Messi was so shy that he would get changed in the corridors of La Masia to avoid spending time with his Barcelona team-mates.
Reminiscing on his early years with Messi, Cesc Fabregas joked that he thought he was mute. Hear from anyone who knew him as a teenager and they’ll paint you a picture of a homesick introvert.
The Argentinian’s talent has always been without question. Messi was talked up as a future all-time great before he was old enough to buy cigarettes. Yet it was always doubted whether he had the stones to be a leader for a footballing nation as famously volatile as Argentina.
“He’s a really good person, but he has no personality,” the late, great Diego Maradona once said. “He lacks [the] character to be a leader.”
If El Diego were still around today, he might not have believed Messi’s transformation into who he is today – someone that won’t take any sh*t.
The fact that it was no surprise to see Messi involved in a fevered throng of jostling players as Argentina took on Uruguay is a testament to that metamorphosis.
“This World Cup he was different,” reminisced Emiliano Martinez, speaking on the BBC Documentary Lionel Messi: Destiny.
“We are probably more aggressive than the players in the national teams he’s played with before. So he’s probably becoming a little more like us – that bad boy.”
You could see that with the way Messi came bursting into the frame, elbows first, before grabbing Uruguay defender Mathias Olivera by the neck.
غضب الأسطورة ميسي 🤬🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/JdjxBKb3VN
— Messi Xtra (@M30Xtra) November 17, 2023
Throughout his career, there’s been speculation over whether Messi would see out the final years of his career back at boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys.
The case against was that a player who’s spent two decades with the comparative protection afforded by the top-level European leagues and MLS could cope with the pure chaos – and often out-and-out violence – of the South American club game.
But on this evidence, Messi would seemingly embrace the madness of football in his home country. Argentina’s World Cup qualifier against Uruguay looked as though it was straight out of the Copa Libertadores.
A short while after the scuffle, PSG midfielder Manuel Ugarte could be seen taunting Rodrigo De Paul with what you’d call in tabloid speak a “lewd gesture” – referencing the ongoing meme that the Atletico Madrid midfielder acts as Messi’s in-game bodyguard.
Argentina – Uruguay, as fucking sensational as ever pic.twitter.com/7CHFGbj0oo
— Rupert Fryer (@Rupert_Fryer) November 17, 2023
“I prefer not to say what I think about some gestures. But these young people have to learn to respect from their elders,” Messi said after the match.
“This game was always intense and hard but always with a lot of respect. They have to learn a little bit.”
Luis Suarez had embraced Messi before the match, having been called up by Marcelo Bielsa for the first time following his injury issues in recent months. You imagine Messi might have had a word with his old pal a couple of hours later – ‘Rein these precocious little d*ckheads in, will you mate?’
But he didn’t make any excuses for Argentina’s 2-0 defeat and even praised Bielsa’s Uruguay for their physicality.
“We never felt comfortable. They’re a physical team that works well & on the counterattack they were very dangerous,” Messi added.
“You can see his [Bielsa] hand in the team. In all the teams/clubs he’s been involved in, including Argentina, you can see his hand.”
By Nestor Waatch