Messi’s dressing sparks anger in Gabon
The Gabonese government have denied claims that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was paid €3.5m (£2.5m) to visit the country to take part in a ceremony at one of the venues for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. Messi, who has yet to link up with his Barcelona team-mates on their US tour, was pictured at the weekend in the country’s second largest city, Port-Gentil, where he helped to lay one of the first stones for the planned 40,000-capacity venue.
France Football had claimed that he and his former Barça team-mate Deco received €3.5m for the trip but a statement from the Gabon embassy has denied that was the case. “The Republic of Gabon strongly denies having transferred or having promised to transfer any sum of money to the Argentine international football player Lionel Messi, who was in Gabon from 17 to 18 July 2015 on the invitation of Ali Bongo,” it read.
The four-times Ballon d’Or winner was also criticised for showing his support for Bongo, the controversial Gabonese leader, who has been accused of committing electoral fraud to remain in power and various human rights abuses. Messi later appeared at one of the president’s restaurants in the city, with Bongo explaining how the meeting had come about.
“When I was in Barcelona a few years ago, I met Messi who had told me that he would come to visit me in Libreville,” he said. “It’s a promise he made me. He is a man of honour who just kept his word.” Meanwhile, Gabon’s opposition party have accused Messi of showing a “lack of respect for standards and principles” after he turned up wearing denim shorts and a T-shirt.
A statement from the Union du Peuple Gabonais (UPG) party read: “The messiah of football arrived in Gabon like he were going to a zoo: dirty, unshaven and his hands in his pockets, looking for peanuts to throw to them! “When you’re called Lionel Messi and you’re a multi-billionaire, you don’t have the right to present yourself to officials of a republic, even a banana one, with your hands in the pockets of a ripped, tattered pair of shorts.
“Gabon isn’t a zoo. We don’t know what the Argentine came to Gabon for, but we at least have the right to denounce his negligence and his lack of respect for standards and principles. We are uneasy with Messi’s attitude and his attire. Only for these reasons, linked to respect for the host country, do we condemn the footballer’s indelicateness, to say the least!”