Messi lashed out at Asier Villalibre towards the end of Barca’s 3-2 defeat in the Spanish Super Cup final against Athletic Bilbao, an indication of his frustration at a currently languid Blaugrana outfit.
But head coach Ronald Koeman backed his star man, saying post-match that the reaction was understandable after the physical treatment he had received throughout the game.
“I can understand what Messi did,” he said.
“I don’t know how many times they fouled him, and it’s normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball.”
Messi was fouled eight times in the match, three more than any other player on the pitch, and completed four dribbles, second only to teammate Frenkie de Jong.
The Barca No.10 had entered the game under a fitness cloud having missed the semi-final penalty shootout win over Real Sociedad, and the tight defending he received seemingly added to his grievances.
The Catalan giants had looked on course to lift the trophy but for an injury time equaliser from Villalibre, before Inaki William’s wonder goal won it for Bilbao for just the third time.
That win came after a brilliant semi-final victory over Real Madrid and is perhaps indicative of the shift that has begun to take shape in Spanish football this season with the two giants stuttering throughout the campaign.