Photo: Victor Caivano/AP

The best player in the world and slight potty mouth Lionel Messi is appealing the four-match ban that was handed down by FIFA yesterday after he yelled at a referee in Argentina’s 1-0 World Cup qualifier win over Chile last week. Messi says he didn’t direct his insult, “la concha de tu madre,” a common Argentinean expression that translates to “your mother’s cunt,” at the referee, but generally, “to the air.”

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“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi said in the appeal, according to the Argentine newspaper La Nacion.

The excuse is a little hard to buy considering Messi seemed to be looking right at the ref when he said the offending words, but it’s entirely possible they spilled out in the heat of the moment after the call, while Messi was still facing the referee. But whether he said it to the referee or to the air, four games, one of which—a 2-0 loss to Bolivia—he has already missed, is an excessive punishment. Messi wasn’t even carded for the blowup at the time—it was only after the match that the incident was brought to FIFA’s attention, by, wait for it, Argentina’s CONMEBOL rival, Chile.

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It’s not the first time an Argentinean player has been suspended for yelling “la concha de tu madre” at or near a referee. In October 2015, Javier Mascherano was sent off and later suspended from Barcelona for two games for using the phrase during a La Liga game against Eibar. His team also downplayed the insult and suggested it wasn’t directed at the referee. In Mascherano’s case, it was Barcelona manager Luis Enrique who said, “I’ll have to see if he said that to the referee or just to the air. We have to try to not do this but it’s complicated during a football match.”

Enrique added that “‘la concha de tu madre’ is a typical Argentine expression like we say here ‘los cojones,’ or something like that.”

Messi has already missed seven of Argentina’s 13 World Cup qualifying matches this cycle due to injury. Now, with only four left, Argentina sitting in fifth place in CONMEBOL qualifying, and Messi currently only available for the last qualifier in October, Argentina are on the cusp of not making it to Russia next year. And while Argentina are, at this point, used to playing without Messi, having the world’s best player on the pitch inarguably helps their chances.