The many faces of Lionel Messi, as featured in the FIFA series from 2006 to 2016 via awesomePCgames on YouTube
Hey, you, with your current affairs opinions. How about you go easy on Lionel Messi, yeah? Because, as video gaming history has so vividly documented, there's quite probably a little version of him in your home right now. You as good as invited him in. Assuming you've ever bought a soccer video game, anyway.
There he is, staring out from the cover of a game that, until now, you'd forgotten about. You'd forgotten how you once lined up at a Zavvi to buy that game with real money, and no small amount of it either, rather than Amazon Priming the shit out of it. Money that you'd begged for, for your birthday that year, or just maybe earned stacking fast-food chain burgers or selling ciggies to your friend's dad who'd lied to his wife about quitting, and you had to cover for his deceit that time she came in asking for stamps (which you didn't sell, which she well knew), down at the one local newsagent that got the NME in beside the copies of Escort and Auto Trader, guaranteeing something to run your eyes over on your ten-minute "lunch" break. You know the time. It was worth it, though, for the sweet kicking action that it bought.
Perhaps it's now in the loft, or the basement, if you're one of those people with "floors" where they live, and "stairs," rather than "holes" and "don't worry about it, it's probably nothing, but if it gets any worse, here's the number for an emergency gas fitter" Post-it notes taped to the boiler. Perhaps the case is long-since lost down that ever-widening gap between your hallway and bathroom (it's called subsidence, and yes, you should call the landlord), but the disc remains nestled within your hasn't-been-on-in-five-years (but how fondly you recall those nights of eye-reddening sessions and supermarket brand lager) PS2. Somewhere along the line you've willingly brought Messi into your home. We all have. So some slack can be cut here, it should be, given the many hours of pleasure this man's image rights arrangements have delivered.
Yes, he, through either his own dumb fault or by having blind trust in people that his dad just happened to know, has just been proven guilty of defrauding the entire nation of Spain out of what amounts to just about a shit-ton of money—around four and a half million dollars—in unpaid tax. And yes, his retirement from international soccer the other week, as Argentina found itself on the losing side of a penalty kicks lottery against Chile in the didn't-we-do-this-just-last-year Copa América final, smacked of a spoiled brat chucking his toys out of the crib. But, seriously, is the man really so bad?
No, of course he's not. Naïve, yes. Stroppy, sure. But hell, when you've been officially the best soccer player in the world since, I'd say, the 2008–09 season, during which Messi smashed in 38 goals for Barcelona in 51 games, you've probably earned the right to forget about other things, silly things like properly paying taxes, and just occasionally lose a sense of perspective. When he says that, during the years of 2007 to 2009, when his dad (or rather, contacts of his dad's) used offshore accounts in Belize and Uruguay to curb the cuts on his son's already substantial salary, "I didn't know anything," I for one believe him. The evidence is staring us in the face. Just look at how content the then-22-year-old player is on the cover of Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, for the Nintendo Wii.
Don't you want to, I guess, if it's not too forward, stroke him? Have him sit on your lap a while? Like that old tom that lives next door with the mad old dear, who shows up at your rear window twice a week, after the gloopy scrapings from your budget tin of absolutely not dolphin-friendly tuna flakes. Look at how he's holding that magical Wii wand to his chest, thumbing that stick, pointing it with such purpose, smiling that smile. Look at his locks, not so unruly you'd have him down the barbers the day before grandma's 90th, but invitingly ruffleable nonetheless. Couldn't you just eat him up? There is no way that this Lionel Messi is deliberately channelling loads of cash away from where it should be. Stick a halo around his head, and the image couldn't be any more perfect. This is an angel no less, sent to Earth to encourage us to play a surprisingly decent version of PES—according to that score-compiling website, you know the one, Pro Evo 2009 is actually, officially, the best on Nintendo's motion-controlled console.
Compare and contrast that image, though, with what we see on the cover of _FIFA 14—_Messi having made the switch from Konami's series to EA's monolithic alternative (which hasn't actually been a match for PES for a couple of years now, but that's another article entirely) for 2012's _FIFA Street—_where the butter-wouldn't-melt model of 2009 has been replaced by a howling beast of a man, all lithe and livid about something, possibly that lion hanging out around his shorts. Nobody needs an angry cat near his ball sack.
That's a face that says: This could all end, tomorrow. Everything I know could collapse around me. So right now, in this moment, I am giving it my all. As attractive as '09 edition Wiimote-wafting Messi is, behind his eyes there is distraction, a wandering focus: How many shirts do I need to sign today for the starving kids and/or middle-management dickheads who like to get them framed for their "man caves"? When am I taking delivery of that new sports utility vehicle, nothing too flashy of course, but enough for someone of my admirably moneyed quality of life. (That was then, mind, as in February 2016 Messi dropped an eye-watering, butt-clenching, stomach-inversing $32 million on a 1957 Ferrari, "the most expensive car in the world," in the words of UK tabloid the Sun.)
Twenty-fourteen Messi means business. But it's a shame that sense came to him so late, as rather better acumen in the world of incomings and outgoings back in the middle 2000s could have prevented this whole mess. Not that he'll actually do time for his crime, not in the slammer at any rate. In Spain, sentences of less than two years can be suspended, albeit with hefty fines attached. When Messi's club teammate Javier Mascherano was up on tax avoidance charges of his own in late 2015, he received a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of well over half a million pounds (at the then exchange rate, anyway). The case didn't affect his ability to turn out for Barca, though, and the same will be true of Messi, who is free to begin pre-season training next week. Although a $2.2 million fine, even after Messi and his dad made a shortfall-covering "voluntary corrective payment" in the summer of 2013, is sure to smart even someone with his bank account digits.
Messi won't do time, then. But we can all agree that whoever put together the monstrosity below, still on show on Amazon UK despite the clear disclaimer that it's not the final artwork, needs putting away—somewhere, anywhere, far, far away from video games. What a horror show. Pure nightmare fuel. Children are crying real tears. No wonder the man moved over to the EAnemy. (Sorry.)
Follow Mike Diver on Twitter.