Barcelona has called Lionel Messi’s four-game international ban “unjust and totally disproportionate”. He was handed the ban for abusing an assistant referee.

Barcelona released a statement expressing their “surprise and outrage” at the ban and said that Messi is an “exemplary sportsman”.

Messi was also given a £8,100 fine by FIFA for “having directed insulting words” at an official during Argentina’s recent World Cup Qualifier with Chile. He was caught on camera venting his fury at an assistant who signalled that he had committed a foul late in the game but he was not shown a card.

As a result he missed the team’s 2 – 0 loss to Bolivia and he is banned from Argentina’s next three World Cup qualifiers unless he manages a successful appeal. At present he is set to miss the qualifiers in Uruguay in August, at home to Venezuela the following month and at home to Peru in October.

While his international absence should benefit Barcelona they still came out in support of their player.

The statement read, “FC Barcelona express their surprise and outrage at the official decision of the FIFA disciplinary committee to sanction Leo Messi after the World Cup qualifying match between Argentina and Chile. The club consider the four-game ban imposed upon the player unjust and totally disproportionate. Finally, FC Barcelona want to reiterate their support for Leo Messi, an exemplary sportsman for his behaviour on and off the pitch.”

As a result of their defeat to Bolivia, Argentina now face a battle to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They are fifth in the South American qualifying group and only the top four are guaranteed qualification.

The team will be appealing Messi’s ban and the team secretary Jorge Miadosqui said, “The decision doesn’t correspond with the reality based on what was put in the referee’s report.”