The Argentinian football star Lionel Messi has been trending on Weibo – and unfortunately, not for a good reason. It all started when Messi sat out a match in Hong Kong earlier this month. His reason – that he was injured – wasn’t good enough for some fans, and keyboard nationalists quickly took offence when Messi played in Japan, a few days later. The furore has dominated Chinese social media over the last few weeks, and even led to the cancellation of some upcoming Chinese matches with the Argentinian national team, as authorities demanded an apology from Messi.

What a mess. But beyond its seeming triviality, this episode tells us something about the nature of Chinese online nationalism, I think, and it might also shed light on how football works within China. After all, why is it that China, which is so good at so many things, has still failed to turn out a competitive national team? That is the multi-billion yuan question that puzzles football fans within and outside of China.

Joining me on the episode this week is Cameron Wilson, an expert on Chinese football and founder of the Wild East Football blog, who has lived in China for almost two decades.

Produced by Cindy Yu and Max Mitchell.

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