Celebrity archaeologist Zahi Hawass angered a whole slew of soccer fans this week when he reportedly called Barcelona star Lionel Messi “a moron” for showing what Hawass saw as little interest in ancient Egypt during a tour of the Giza pyramids last month.
“I’m sorry to say it, but he is a moron,” the Egyptian scientist said on Sunday (via Al Arabiya) while being interviewed on a Cairo television station. “I said it because when I was speaking to him, his face was like a stone.”
Hawass continued his rant on Messi, who was in the country to promote an initiative aimed at helping hepatitis C patients find treatment, specifically noting Messi’s demeanor during explanations regarding “the secret compartments inside the Great Pyramid, the monarchs who ordered the construction of the Pyramids or the Reign of Tutankhamen.”
“I couldn’t see any reaction in his face,” Hawass said. “He was very polite but perhaps he’s only interested in [soccer].”
The backlash against Hawass came quick and hard after Spain’s El Mundo newspaper got wind of the comments. El Mundo attributed the word “mentacato” to Hawass, which translates to English as “moron,” “fool” or “idiot.” From there, the story spread throughout other European media outlets and eventually found its way to the United States via the Associated Press.
On Tuesday, Hawass walked back his remarks, denying he insinuated Messi was stupid and instead appeared to place blame on the interpreter who accompanied Messi on the tour.
“I would like to tell you that I never said that Messi is an idiot at all,” Hawass told the Sun. “I think the major problem that when I was talking, the [interpreter] did not say all the magic and the mysteries of the pyramids that I was saying.”
Hawass, who the AP reported never mentioned Messi’s translator in his original television interview on Sunday, continued:
“I said before in an interview that Messi is the most important person in the world, and people from all over the world know him and I think that his visit was the most important visit from a famous person to Egypt.
Personally, I admire Messi and I never miss a game he plays and I believe he is the best player ever and because I admire and love him I came to see him despite the fact that only a few days earlier I had a surgery for a broken knee.”
Hawass went on to invite the Argentine back to Egypt to take him on another tour, before reiterating again that it was Messi’s interpreter, who led to Messi’s lack of reactions in his original tour.
“I only said the [interpreter] may not have explained all that I said,” Hawass said. “Messi is a great man. I cannot and I will never insult him. I admire him.”
Messi, who is preparing to face Paris Saint-Germain in Champions League play on Wednesday with Barcelona, has not commented on the matter.
The 29-year-old did post about his trip to Egypt last month on his Facebook page.
While posing in front of the pyramids, Messi wrote, “Medication against hepatitis C saves lives, let’s put an end to the waiting lists.”