Years of experience for opposing teams have taught us that it is near-impossible to stop Lionel Messi from running riot within the confines of the football pitch.
Now, though, at least for a week or so, coronavirus has succeeded where so many hapless defenders has failed.
The Paris Saint-Germain ace picked up the “s*itty virus”, as he more than aptly dubbed it in his New Year's message, while back in Argentina for the festive period, causing him to delay his return back to France and miss their opening games of 2022.
It is common to ponder once that positive come back just where the infection may have sprung from, but in Messi's case, there are almost too many candidates to properly calculate – as the star did not exactly spend the holidays isolated from human contact.
He is far from alone. December in Argentina marks not just the holiday period but the start of summer, and in Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba and every major city throughout the month, bars and restaurants were jammed with revellers, while families and friends in private homes gathered together for numerous barbecues and other festivities.
Unsurprisingly, that party spirit, coupled with the arrival of Omicron, has led to a huge upturn in case numbers. From 1,881 at the start of last month, confirmed positives ballooned to a record 81,210 on Tuesday, while the positive testing rate is up above 50 per cent – with some experts forecasting that the true rate of daily infection could be anywhere from 400,000 to 800,000.
The impressive local vaccination rate means that fortunately those astronomical numbers have, as of yet, had limited effect on hospitalisations and deaths, which remain almost stable. But it is nevertheless a headache for thousands forced to miss work and other engagements after receiving the bad news, of which Messi is just one of many.
One man who insists he is not responsible for giving Messi the illness is Fer Palacio, a local DJ who was pictured alongside the 34-year-old in all his fluorescent glory at an awards party organised by popular streamer Coscu.
The internet personality himself gave warning that his lavish bash could be responsible for a spike in cases. “I was just told that two people who were in the event tested Covid positive,” Coscu wrote on Twitter. “The truth is that we were all hugging and kissing each other, so we are all close contacts.”
Attention quickly turned to Palacio, with the DJ receiving abusive social media messages from irate Messi fans presumably outraged that their hero could be one of the millions who have suffered from the virus in the pandemic.
“They have gone as far as to call me 'murderer' in their messages, a lot of bad vibes,” Palacio fired, while maintaining his epidemiological innocence: “I went yesterday to get tested because I have to go to Uruguay and I do not have Covid.”
In another surreal twist, the DJ was followed by Los Palmeras in brandishing their negative test results. The seminal Santa Fe cumbia band, who alongside Messi were guests of honour and the muscial entertainment at the show, certainly come under the umbrella of the at-risk population – 2022 marks their 50th year together performing, while lead singer Ruben Deica is still going strong at the age of 69.
Deica and his fellow band members serenaded the dancing Messi and wife Antonella Roccuzzo throughout the evening, and also posed for photos once their set was over. They too, though, managed to escape the clutches of the virus, with their latest Instagram post proudly showing off a negative test signed by the Santa Fe provincial government.
Infection accusations aside, PSG would be forgiven for feeling just slightly exasperated with their summer signing.
Messi's first six months at Parc des Princes, a few typically brilliant moments aside, fell short of sky-high expectations, hindered by teething problems with attacking partners Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, his late start due to Argentina's Copa America exploits and then repeated international call-ups throughout the first half of the season.
He has featured in just 12 of PSG's 19 Ligue 1 games to date and netted a solitary league goal, an underwhelming record that admittedly has had little effect on their fortunes as Mauricio Pochettino's side sit 13 points clear of their nearest challengers.
Messi will link up again with his employers in the coming days after reportedly returning a negative test on Tuesday, but it will now merely be a flying visit.
At the end of January, Argentina will play two more World Cup qualifiers back in South America, and while qualification for Qatar is already safe, it is tough to see their captain turning down the opportunity to link up once more with the likes of Rodrigo de Paul, Emiliano Martinez and Nicolas Otamendi to hone the nation's strategy looking forward to the finals.
PSG's fear now is that their No.30 could head into February's crunch Champions League tie with Real Madrid having played as few as three competitive games for the club in the last two months; or even worse, that he picks up a knock on international duty that would rule him out entirely for the last-16 clash.
Having already bemoaned Messi's unavailability due to Argentina commitments in November, club sporting director Leonardo's spirits are, then, unlikely to be lifted with these latest developments.
But if any player is capable of shaking off the bug and coming back better than ever, even with limited playing and training time, it is the little Rosario-born wizard, who will surely be raring to go – not to mention refreshed after this unexpectedly prolonged break – once he is cleared to return to action.