Lionel Messi failed to drag Argentina to the title in yet another major international tournament, giving his countrymen another shot to break out the bats and partake in what is now looking like the real Argentine national pastime: beating up on Messi’s reputation. As has been typical of the man’s hot-and-cold relationship with his would-be heir to the albiceleste throne, Diego Maradona is torn between getting in a few licks of his own and calling the whole thing off.

Since the Copa América final, the Argentine media has gone back in forth between Messi-bashing and Messi-defending. Maradona sat for an interview with sports daily Olé and gave his thoughts on what he feels has been the overly deferential treatment Messi’s been allotted, mainly by former players. As translated by AS:

“We have the best player in the world and he scores four goals against Real Sociedad but comes here and doesn’t touch the ball. You ask: ‘Are you Argentine or Swedish?’ Criticising him is easy. Don’t say any more that we have to pamper him. He should be treated just like any other player in the national team.”

Already you can see the push and pull. Maradona concedes that Messi is the best player on the planet, but in the next sentence impugns the man’s very Argentine-hood, the lowest form of anti-Messi shots. And far from requesting any pampering, those who have defended Messi only ask that fans look at the underlying reasons why he isn’t able to reproduce his all-time great Barcelona form for his country instead of reverting to base insults that are oddly personal. (For instance, shouldn’t everyone back home be focusing on Gonzalo “I’m On A One-Man Mission To Ensure Argentina Never Win Anything” Higuaín?)

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Maradona seems to understand this implicitly. Right after talking about how Messi shouldn’t be pampered, he goes right on to acknowledge the insane amount of vitriol Messi has faced of late:

“[But] Messi hasn’t killed or raped anyone - let’s not make a big deal over this.

“Those who criticise him with the aim of helping him to improve, that’s perfect. But those who put up a poll asking if he should be playing in the national team or not, you guys are off topic, that is wrong. Now we are talking about changing the [Argentine soccer federation] president. We don’t have to go to such extremes but nor should we be content at finishing runners-up.

I think you get it, man. Just cut out the petty asshole remarks and keep your statements aimed at helping him improve and you’re perfect.

[AS]