As soccer is a global sport, played around the world and across many different nations, there are bound to be cultural misunderstandings left and right. Not only do language barriers sometimes get in the way of peaceful exchanges, but even colloquial differences within the same language can traditionally create problems (see: Mexico’s “puto chant,” which fans claim is just a fun chant to get into goalies’ heads, but which FIFA deems a homophobic and offensive chant). This last bit seems to be the case with Barcelona and–more relevantly–Argentina living legend Lionel Messi, who’s been elevating his curse game to a whole new level recently.
The diminutive Argentine, who was previously held up as a humble superstar, has run into a recent trend of vulgarity, specifically with one particular phrase: “la concha de su madre,” or, in English, “your mother’s c***.” These outbursts have painted Messi out to be not the role model that he was held up to be, but rather someone who needs to control what he says during matches.
Most recently, Messi lashed out against Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos during the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa. After Ramos pretended to be handing the ball to Messi, the Real captain decided to pull the ball away and toss it in the air instead, like the teenager that he secretly is. This infuriated Messi who was caught on camera playing saying that phrase to him, with a clear angry tone to his words.
Whether it be because of the frustration of the Supercopa demolition by Real, or an even deeper disquiet about Barcelona’s standing in Spain, it’s almost excusable that Messi had an outburst like that, especially since Ramos was being kind of a dick. But this isn’t the first time that the phrase has become a problem for Messi.
Last season, Messi allegedly screamed the phrase at Valencia fans, who were tossing objects onto the field after a late Barcelona goal. Perhaps more notably, however, was an incident that got Messi suspended from international play; he reportedly yelled it at a referee during Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile in World Cup Qualifiers, an action that landed him a four-game suspension (later lowered to 1 after an appeal).
Of course, it’s important to note that Argentines are notoriously loose with their curse words, and that their standard of what is an offensive insult is higher than in other parts of Latin America (cut to Mexico fans nodding over the “puto” chant controversy). That’s not to give Messi, who is a 30-year-old father of two who should know better when on the world stage, a free pass, but rather to explain why he doesn’t believe the phrase is as harsh as, say, CONMEBOL did when handing the suspension.
In fact, the idea of cultural context was part of the Argentine Football Association’s defense of Messi in the appeal, along with a sillier “he was cursing at the air” defense; in Argentina, it was argued, that phrase doesn’t carry the same connotations that it does elsewhere. Sure, Messi was pissed at Ramos on Wednesday, but the reactions to him cursing out the Real captain should be tempered by the knowledge of how the phrase carries less weight in Messi’s native vocabulary.