Lionel messi

What the Messi row reveals about Chinese football

40 min listen

The Argentinian football star Lionel Messi has been trending on Weibo – and unfortunately, not for a good reason. It all started when Messi sat out a match in Hong Kong earlier this month. His reason – that he was injured – wasn’t good enough for some fans, and keyboard nationalists quickly took offence when Messi played in Japan, a few days later. The furore has dominated Chinese social media over the last few weeks, and even led to the cancellation of some upcoming Chinese matches with the Argentinian national team, as authorities demanded an apology from Messi. What a mess. But beyond its seeming triviality, this episode tells us

Football fans’ loyalty no longer lies with clubs, but players

The world’s top footballers now have a bigger following than the clubs they play for. Fans are beginning to support superstar players as they move around from club to club rather than sticking with a team – and this threatens the very foundations of the sport. Devotion to a team – for centuries a (largely) peaceful way of channelling our tribalism – is disappearing Streaming and social media are largely to blame. After Pelé signed for the New York Cosmos in the mid-1970s, only 40,000 US football enthusiasts would flock to the old Giants’ stadium. Earlier this month when Lionel Messi joined Inter Miami in Florida, the club’s co-owner David

Rest in peace, Pelé, the undisputed King of football

When Lionel Messi won the World Cup for Argentina earlier this month, it not only filled the last hole in his trophy cabinet, it also seemed to end the debate over who was the greatest footballer of all time. Football fans have debated for years about whether Messi was equal to Pelé and Diego Maradona, the two long-standing candidates for one of sport’s most futile and yet most sought-after titles. By finally winning the World Cup, fans and pundits the world over ruled en masse; Messi was now the greatest. Pelé’s death on Thursday will reopen that debate and hopefully give pause to those who have sided with the Argentine

Barça’s golden age and its ruling triumvirate

Even against our better judgment we tend to imbue our sporting heroes with characteristics they may not possess. This can often lead to disappointment. What passes for fluency on the pitch is seldom matched with any articulacy off it. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player of his generation, is no exception. The Argentinian’s inability to communicate verbally has rendered him an enigma. In Simon Kuper’s incisive and fascinating new book — one that charts FC Barcelona’s transformation over the past three decades from provincial club to international brand — Messi cuts as elusive a figure on the page as he is does off it. ‘Even now that Messi sometimes talks,’