Lionel Messi: Pele, Maradona and Modric have all publicly criticised Barcelona superstar


Lionel Messi hasn't exactly enjoyed a fairytale year at Barcelona.

The footballing world has barely gotten over the shock of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner declaring his desire to leave Barca this summer, only to pull a U-turn late in the day through gritted teeth.

Let's face it, had it not been for the fact Barcelona were prepared to take their star man to court, Messi could well have been darting around the Premier League for Manchester City right now.

Tough year for Messi

Alas, that's not the case and Josep Maria Bartomeu has indeed fallen on his sword, but that doesn't mean that it's sunshine and rainbows for Messi in Catalonia after a tough start to the season.

Ronald Koeman is already feeling the heat with Barcelona finding themselves in 12th place in La Liga after just six games, while Messi is yet to register his first goal from open play in 2020/21.

Pretty ropey, right? Well, things have become even tougher for Messi this week with Koeman's predecessor, Quique Setien, deciding to dish the dirt barely three months after being sacked.


Messi publicly criticised

Setien made no secret of the fact he considered Messi difficult to manage and even went as far as referring the Barca captain to the exit if he couldn't handle the criticism.

Even if Setien won that particular battle, he certainly didn't win the war, but he can at least find solace in the fact he's definitely not the first footballing figure to have publicly criticised Messi.

It's a surprisingly difficult feat to achieve when you're talking about one of the greatest sportspeople of all time, but we've found at least eight instances where the Argentine has come under fire.

You can check out the case studies down below and see whether we thought they were justified or not:


1. Pele

Arguably the most iconic instance of Messi-slamming with one of his rivals for GOAT status embarking on a bizarre rant in 2018 that - spoiler alert - we think is comfortably wide of the mark.

Pele himself told Folha de Sao Paulo: "How can you make a comparison between a guy who heads the ball well, shoots with the left, shoots with the right and another who only shoots with one leg, only has one skill and doesn’t head the ball well?

"How can you compare? To compare with Pele, it has to be someone who shoots well with the left, shoots well with the right, and scores headers."

Verdict: Come along. The only way you can consider Messi's right foot and heading to be poor is when comparing it to his left foot. That's like roasting LeBron James for not being Michael Jordan.


2. Hugo Gatti

Former Argentina goalkeeper Gatti didn't hold back with his criticism of Messi earlier this year, telling El Chiringuito, per Goal, that the Barcelona star is no longer a 'phenomenon'.

“Messi is a phenomenon, but he's not a phenomenon now," he remarked. “They treat him wrong because they big him up and big him up and treat him wrong.

"He gets used to it and walks more on the pitch. He has to be better. Messi has to be better, he's got used to playing at a weary rhythm, walking and those that know football think the same. Take off, kid. You have to play well.

“When there's a player like Messi, like it was with Maradona and Pele, and his teammates always give the ball to him to win the game.

“They spoil the team and they don't put everything they have into it. The team get used to giving him the ball and not anyone else.”

Verdict: Nope, not for me. Sure, Messi has declined in recent years, that's age for you, but to say someone on their way to 20 league goals and assists isn't a 'phenomenon' is just incorrect.


3. Luka Modric

A different type of criticism, this, because Modric wasn't calling out Messi for somehow being deficient on the pitch, but for not attending the 2018 Ballon d'Or ceremony, just like Cristiano Ronaldo.

According to Eurosport, Modric said to Sportske Novosti: "I cannot say why someone did not attend—that's their choice. That is logical, is it not?

"It turns out ... trophies only have value when they get them. It is not fair to their playing colleagues, or to the voters who have nominated them for the past 10 years—nor for football or supporters.

"But I repeat, everyone behaves the way they think they need to."

Verdict: Pretty hard to disagree with Modric here, let's be honest, because it was a little disappointing that Ronaldo and Messi weren't in the crowd to applaud the Real Madrid star's crowning moment.


4. Diego Maradona

While Maradona - a former manager of Messi, no less - has praised the Barca star plenty of times, he's also dished out a fair share of criticism and that explosively came to the fore in October 2018.

Maradona said in an interview with Fox Sports: "We shouldn't deify Messi any longer. He's Messi when he plays for Barcelona. Messi is Messi when he wears that shirt and he's another Messi with Argentina.

"He's a great player but he's not a leader. It's useless trying to make a leader out of a man who goes to the toilet 20 times before a game."

Verdict: As much as I think it would be naive to dismiss all criticism of Messi's leadership, I think we're going a little far when we claim he needs to shy away in toilet cubicles during big moments.


5. Daniel Passarella

Another example of a former Argentina hero sinking a knife into the star of the contemporary outfit with Passarella joining a long queue of ex-pros claiming Messi is a different player on international duties.

Per Goal, Passarella said: "He's a great player who can give a lot to any team. But when he plays for Barcelona he has a different attitude. He's better there. Sometimes these things happen.

"You play well for a team and they love you, but you don't feel at ease and something doesn't fit. I don't know what it is, but it should be something you feel inside."

Verdict: Credit to Passarella because he's phrased this much better than some of his compatriots and there's good reason to think a lesser love for Messi in Argentina may have affected some of his performances.


6. Dani Alves

Quite the collector's item because it's pretty rare that you'll see Messi coming under fire from an ex-teammate, but Alves clearly took umbrage with the Barca star's rant at the 2019 Copa America.

"A friend is not always right just because he's a friend. You can say it in the heat of the moment, but I still won't agree," Alves unabashedly opined to SporTV's 'Bem Amigos'.

"Firstly, he's disrespecting an institution such as the Selecao, in my view. Secondly, he's being disrespectful with several professionals who put a lot of things aside so they could be there fighting for a dream.

"I'm a friend who always tells the truth when it's due, and I think he was wrong for saying these things."

Verdict: Fair play to Alves for making his stance known and although we should apply a pinch of salt given emotions were running high for Messi, speaking to the media in anger was probably a mistake.


7. Vicente Moreno

There are plenty of fans who think Messi carries himself a little differently to your average player, but they aren't alone because Real Mallorca boss Vicente Moreno took that angle of attack last year.

Marca quoted him as saying: "There are some players who are in a bubble and you can't reason with them. He's a different player in some respects and then in other ways he is a person just like any other and has to be treated as such.

"The referee was telling him it wasn't a foul and he didn't see it that way. There's no need to place more importance on it than that."

Verdict: To be honest, who wouldn't be in a bit of a bubble when you're one of the world's most-recognisable individuals? All things considered, I think Messi keeps his cool pretty well.


8. Quique Setien

Aaaand that brings us to the comments that inspired the list with Setien giving some worrying insight into the behaviour and mannerisms of Messi that the previous seven set of quotes simply don't offer.

Setien said to El Pais: "Leo is difficult to manage. Who am I to change him! If they have accepted him as he is for years and have not changed him.

"There's another facet beyond just the player and it's more difficult to manage. Much more difficult. It's something inherent in many athletes that can be seen in the Michael Jordan documentary (The Last Dance).

"You see things you don't expect. He's very reserved but he makes you see the things that he wants. He doesn't talk much."

Verdict: It's pretty hard to argue with someone in the know but like Setien alludes to with the Jordan comparison, it's worth noting that Messi being 'difficult to manage' isn't necessarily always negative.


Even Messi gets criticised 

So, the next time you're criticised, whether at work, school or socially, you can reassure yourself that even one of the most talented athletes on the planet also gets his faire share of jibes and jeers.

Granted, not all of them have been justified - we're looking at you, Pele - but even the greatest player of all time can't play like the greatest player of all time... all of the time. You follow?

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