Egypt's star archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass called Lionel Messi an "idiot" and later apologized, saying he was actually upset about the interpreter.

But before the "idiot" remark, Hawass –  a veteran archaeologist and the country's former minister of antiquities – showered the legendary footballer with praise. Discussing Messi's visit to the Pyramids last month, Hawass said: "this is the most important visit in the history of the pyramids!"

Apparently his mood changed later ...

When asked Sunday how Messi's reaction to the Pyramids compared to that of American actor Will Smith, who swung by Egypt over the weekend, Hawass was ready with criticism.

"Messi is an idiot, and I am sorry to say that," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I was explaining the antiquities to him and there's no reaction in his face. I was explaining things that would make a rock react, but he was just like an idiot," he said.

Note, he referred to Messi as an "idiot" not once, but twice in that response.

But he later issued an apology ... blaming an interpreter.

Hawass tried to explain his insult, saying that he was actually not referring to the legendary super star ... but to the interpreter accompanying them on the tour. 

"I apologize to Messi and his fans for the misunderstanding," he said, professing to be an avid fan of the Argentinian footballer. "The nature of brief telephone interviews does not allow enough time to accurately explain what is meant. That contributed to the misunderstanding," he said.

But, Hawass never mentioned the interpreter before. Hmm.

Regardless, the archaeologist said he'd be happy to show Messi the tomb of King Tutankhamun in Luxor, that is, if the football star ever comes again.

Hawass is a veteran archaeologist and the country's former minister of antiquities. He's known for leading TV specials on Egypt's ancient sites.