In the wake of Barcelona star Lionel Messi’s being sentenced for tax evasion last week, multiple media outlets have reported that the Argentine maestro is annoyed with the club for its behavior. While media sources close to Barça have claimed this is not the case, speculation remains that Messi’s tax problems in Spain could cause him to seek greener pastures.
The club has actually been quite supportive of Messi, launching a #WeAreAllLeoMessi hashtag campaign following the suspended 21-month jail sentences Messi and his father were handed down by the courts.
Spanish Minister of Sport, Miguel Cardenal has come down and criticized the campaign saying that “we must respect and abide by the decisions” of the court.
Club spokesman Josep Vives has come out in support of both Messi and the hashtag campaign, saying that Messi is not being treated fairly.
“There have been other famous figures who have not been through the same situation as Messi,” said Vives, while declining to specify on who those figures were.
But while Spanish-based players such as Iker Casillas, David Villa, Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and others ran afoul of authorities over image rights – just as Messi has – those cases were different in that none went as far as to set up dummy corporations in countries like Belize and Uruguay, as Messi did.
While there has undoubtedly been some ‘shady pool’ going on in the background in terms of Messi’s taxes, the player is already among the highest taxpayers in Spain.
Last week La Liga president Javier Tebas defended Messi and expressed concerns that his continual problems with tax authorities could cause the player regarded by many as the best in the world to leave Spain altogether.
“Of course I fear that [Messi] could leave, but the only thing I can tell him is that from La Liga we believe he isn’t guilty and we are happy to have him here,” said Tebas.
“We are talking about a process that wasn’t properly followed. I don’t think Messi is a criminal. He fell victim to a faulty fiscal structure which will be changed.”
But Tebas stopped short at suggesting there was any kind of hidden agenda being leveraged against Messi. “There is no prejudice or personal attack against Messi or against Barcelona. The world of sport is under investigation.”
Overall, it’s not been the greatest of summers for Messi. The 29-year-old announced his retirement from international football last month after leading Argentina to its third major final in as many summers and losing – also for the third time in a row – in the final of the Copa America Centenario.
Despite Messi’s insistence that he has no intention of leaving Barcelona, deep-pocketed Premier League outfit Chelsea is known to be interested with British tabloid The Sun reporting that Messi’s father met with club owner Roman Abramovich onboard a yacht.
Messi’s former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola meanwhile, has pitched up at Manchester City. In a separate story, also from The Sun, it’s been reported that the Citizens are prepared to offer Messi in the neighborhood of £800,000 to become a City player.
But as of now, in spite of a situation that’s becoming increasingly … messy … there are no solid indications Messi’s tax problems will be enough to drive him from the club he first joined as a 13-year-old.
Barcelona will face Celtic in the International Champions Cup later this month.