Argentine and FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi had a rifle pointed at his face haphazardly upon arrival at the Saudi capital Riyadh, as security forces tried to protect him from hundreds of fans who flocked in to obtain a glimpse of him up close.
Airport security and armed guards fenced Messi and tried to contain overexcited fans.
Pictures of the Argentinian looking shocked circulated across international media. Marca, a Spanish newspaper specialized in football news, posted a picture of Messi looking startled and wary when a security guard’s riffle was haphazardly sticking out touching the player’s face.
“The overzealous ‘marking’ of him by the security forces, however, led to these shocking pictures, which give the impression that he has a gun pointed at his face,” Marca wrote on its website.
Spanish website Sport.es highlighted the Argentine’s Saudi experience with one title reading: 'Sultán' Messi. Another title reads: “Messi has Riyadh in suspense.”
“The Barcelona striker is already Saudi Leo: Messi has won more Saudi fans,” the sports website wrote in Spanish.
Irish sport website JOE.ie remarked: “it has been jokingly suggested in the past that the only way to stop Lionel Messi is with a gun and the striker understandably doesn't look all too comfortable with a rifle pointed at his face.”
“While he is normally the one applying military-like precision on the field of play, this was a role reversal and Messi will look forward to getting onto the pitch and doing what he does best, gunning down the opposition,” JOE added.
Airport security and armed guards had fenced Messi and tried to contain overexcited fans.
The Saudi Gazette reported that “despite the huge police presence and airport security and five security checkpoints along roads leading to the airport, Messi fans managed to get into the airport.”
The paper added that “he was escorted out of the airport by a huge security detail,” adding “the player arrived on a private flight with his family before the rest of the team.”
Jokes about Messi’s messy arrival to Saudi Arabia immediately spiraled on twitter. Commenting on the rifle incident, one tweep wrote: “If a bullet hit him, then there is no way the blood money will be collected even if all the tribes come together to pay it.”
Another tweep wrote: “Officer be careful, if this player dies then we will be all in trouble.” Some tweeps claimed the mess at the airport was intended to sow fear in Messi and make him unable to focus on his game when he faces Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
The Argentinean player was among the 22-man squad and the Barcelona forward had to have a security escort to make his way through the crowd of journalists, cameramen, photographers and fans.
Fares al-Delbehi, a fan of Messi, wanted his photo taken with the superstar and to get the Argentine’s autograph.
“I came today to fulfill my dream with Messi to take a photo with him and ask him to sign my shirt,” he said, according to Reuters.
For Bander al-Delbehi he wanted a photo with Messi so he could post it on every social media format he could think of.
“I hope that I have a picture with Messi to put it on Facebook and BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) and on Twitter and print it and put in my car and everywhere,” Delbehi told Reuters.
Messi, 25, surpassed Pele’s career-best tally of goals scored in a season on Sunday (November 11) by notching his 75th and 76th goals of the season in Barcelona’s 4-2 victory against Mallorca.
Sixty-four of those were for Barca and 12 for Argentina and he is closing in on the record for a calendar year of 85 set by German Gerd Mueller in 1972.
He bagged 50 goals in La Liga last season, smashing Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo’s record of 40 from the previous campaign, and was top scorer in the Champions League for an unprecedented fourth straight edition.
Messi is the favorite to claim a fourth consecutive World Player award when the winner is announced in January.
The Argentine has a chance to add to his tally when Argentina plays Saudi Arabia and his next match for Barca is at home to Real Zaragoza in La Liga on Saturday (November 17).