First, he got rid of the mullet, that greasy, flowing monument to his childlike grace and raw, untapped prowess. The hard-edged, trendy look that replaced it—something the The New York Times calls a “disconnected undercut”—signaled the arrival of a new Messi, brooding, vain, suspicious of fame and resentful of greatness. Then he unveiled the sleeve, all bold shading and gothic pain, as if to warn of some dark secret lurking beneath the quiet manner and boyish charm. At this summer’s Copa America, he sported a fluffy red lumberjack’s beard just to prove that he could.
Now, Messi’s walk on the wide side has culminated in a criminal conviction and jail sentence. On Wednesday, a Spanish judge handed Messi 21 months in prison and $2.3 million in penalties for his part in a father-son tax fraud racket. Because Spain allows first-time offenders to serve stints of less than two years under probation, Messi won’t see the inside of a jail cell unless he commits another crime—which, hopefully, will still be enough to set the Argentine luminary back on the path of quiet righteousness. It’s pretty cool to be able to flash your Jesus tat on television while running your hand through your emo side bangs, but Messi doesn’t want to spend his sunset years playing pickup in a prison yard. Even in Spanish jail, they don’t get the latest FIFA.