Lionel Messi’s 2019 Copa América odyssey is back with a vengeance. After receiving a one-match ban for his bizarre red card alteraction with Chile’s Gary Medel, Messi has been handed a three-month ban from CONMEBOL. According to a report by AFP, Messi was banned for his comments in the wake of Argentina’s 2-0 loss to Brazil in the semifinals.
Clearly fed up with yet another international tournament failure, Messi spoke with reporters in the tunnel after the semifinal about what he perceived was biased refereeing in favor of the host Brazilians. He later stated that Brazil were too powerful in CONMEBOL, and that “corruption and the referees are preventing people from enjoying the football, they’re ruining it a bit.”
The whole thing is unlike Messi, who generally keeps quiet in the press for Barcelona, but his status as both captain and talisman of Argentina has seen him take a more vocal role. He previously fought with the Argentinian FA, retiring after the 2016 Copa América over corruption in the federation.
CONMEBOL’s three-month ban—which also includes a $50,000 fine, a very small drop in the large bucket that is his net worth—is not surprising, mostly because of how ineffectual it actually is. It seems like a lot on paper, but the realities of both international soccer and Messi’s own career make it both a minor nuisance for Argentina and a boon for Barcelona.
Qualifying in South America for the 2022 World Cup begins in March, well after the ban ends in November. Argentina has three friendlies currently scheduled for that time period, but no competitive matches. Messi has skipped those friendlies in the past anyway, and seeing as how the 32-year-old isn’t getting any younger, you could have assumed that he would skip these as well; the one-match ban for the Chile red card would have kept him out of the first of those anyway. Now, he doesn’t even need to make an excuse, but rather just point to the ban and return to the national team when the games that actually matter kick back off next spring.
For Barcelona, though, this is a blessing. The club is searching for its first Champions League title since 2015, and has spent extravagantly, on Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann, this summer to bolster the ranks; there are reports surfacing that they have also reached a deal with promising young left back Junior Firpo from Real Betis.
And yet, the Catalan club still orbits around Messi and his moments of magic. Keeping him away from Argentina friendlies, and the horrendous travel schedules that usually accompany them, should help him stay fresh in the early parts of the season, while Barca incorporates its new signings and gets a feel for its Champions League group. Messi will still have to deal with CONMEBOL qualifying in the latter stages of the Champions League this season, but every bit helps as he enters the twilight of his career.
In the end, Messi will likely consider the CONMEBOL ban a net positive; not only did he voice his frustrations with the confederation, but he’s not really being punished in any way, other than a symbolic one. The most important thing left for Messi to win is a World Cup, and after dragging Argentina to the 2018 edition with a heroic hat-trick, he will likely not mind being able to sit out until qualifiers start up.
For their part, CONMEBOL got to flex its muscles by suspending the highest-profile player under its purview, but it’s a limp flex. All the ban is doing is helping the best player in the world not add even more miles to his body, both on the field and in the air. Those who wish to see Messi at his best for as long as possible will not mind that one bit.