It was Pep Guardiola’s assistant Mikel Arteta who provoked Lionel Messi’s furious reaction in the tunnel of the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday night, according to Spanish radio station La Cope.
The station reported that while Messi was waiting outside the referee’s room Arteta said: ‘Anda tontorrón, vete y métete en tu vestuario,’ which translates to: ‘Move along stupid, get yourself in your dressing room.’
Messi was already fuming at Barcelona’s first group-stage defeat in the Champions League in two years and reacted, shouting back: ‘Bobo, vení y da la cara!’, a sort of: ‘come over here and say that to my face, stupid’.
Not since Battle of the Buffet between Arsenal and Manchester United in October 2004 has there been such a tunnel ‘whodunnit’.
Fernandinho quickly responded to rumours surrounding his involvement in the incident and took to social media to distance himself from any role in the altercation.
‘I just want to say that the rumours that are circulating in the media are absurd: I didn’t even have contact with any Barcelona players or technical staff after the game,’ he posted on Twitter.
‘Instigating and provoking are not in my nature, bearing in mind that I put a lot of importance on showing respect both on and off the pitch, regardless of the opposition or player in question.’
Messi’s reaction would point to it being someone of profile, and someone fluent in Spanish. The Argentine was calmed down by international team-mate Sergio Aguero and left to contemplate how his seventh goal in just three appearances in the Champions League this season counted for nothing.
Messi has now scored 54 goals in group games – a new record surpassing Raul’s previous best of 53.