Messi says tax problems made him want to leave Barcelona

Barcelona's Argentine forward Lionel Messi against Sevilla's Brazilian midfielder Fernando during their Spanish league football match Sunday. (AFP)
Updated 10 October 2019

Messi says tax problems made him want to leave Barcelona

  • Messi and his father Jorge were found guilty of defrauding Spain of €4.1 million in taxes between 2007 and 2009

MADRID: Lionel Messi has admitted he wanted to leave Barcelona when he was under investigation from the Spanish tax authorities but insists now he intends to finish his career at the club.

In an interview with Catalan radio station RAC1, Messi also said he had expected Neymar to sign for Real Madrid last summer after Barca failed to strike an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi and his father Jorge were found guilty of defrauding Spain of €4.1 million in taxes between 2007 and 2009, for which they paid close to €10 million and Messi was handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence.

Asked on Tuesday night if he had ever wanted to leave Barcelona, Messi said: “In 2013-14, when I started having the tax problems, it was very difficult for me and my family.”

“My children were young and we had a very bad time. At that time, I had it in mind to leave, not because I wanted to leave Barca but because I wanted to leave Spain. I felt mistreated and I didn’t want to be here anymore.”

The 32-year-old’s current contract expires in 2021 and Messi believes extending his deal “will not be a problem.” 

“Today it is clearer that my idea is to finish here,” Messi said. “For how I am at the club, for what I feel, and for the family and the children and how settled we are in this city. I would not like to disrupt that.

“Of course anything can happen but in principle, the idea is to stay here.”

Messi began playing football aged six for Newell’s Old Boys, the Rosario club he supports in Argentina.

“I always dreamed of being able to play again for Newell’s and to have the experience of playing football in Argentina,” he said.

“But I have already told them that sometimes you have to think about what is best for your family.”

Messi was keen to be reunited with Neymar last summer but Barcelona were unable to agree a fee with PSG.

“I honestly thought at one time, especially in this market, that if he did not come here, he would go to Real Madrid Madrid because I thought he wanted to leave,” Messi said.

“I wanted Ney to come because as a footballer, he is one of the best in the world. He is unpredictable, different and having him in our team would have given us more options.”

Barcelona did sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid, despite him rejecting the Catalans the year before. Messi denies suggestions of a rift between him and the Frenchman.

“The first year when we wanted to sign Griezmann, I said he was one of the best and that the best are always welcome,” Messi said. “I have never had problem with him coming. So it’s a lie.”

Messi also offered his support to Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who has been under pressure after a bumpy start to the season followed the team’s Champions League collapse against Liverpool in May.

“It was not the coach’s fault but it was also not my decision for him to stay,” Messi said. “The club decided Valverde would continue and for me that was a joy, good for stability and he is a coach we support and love.

“If another coach comes, we will be with him. To achieve success, we all have to be united.”

Messi scored his first goal of the season in a 4-0 thrashing of Sevilla on Sunday, after two months spoiled by calf and thigh injuries.

“I’m still a bit short but I’m feeling better,” Messi said. “My legs hurt against Sevilla but it’s what happens when you come back. I’m getting closer.”


South Korea football team departs for World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang

Updated 48 min 30 sec ago

South Korea football team departs for World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang

BEIJING: South Korean footballers departed for Pyongyang on Monday to play a World Cup qualifier against North Korea amid deadlocked talks over the North’s nuclear arsenal.
The teams — with Tottenham’s star forward Son Heung-min included in the South Korean squad — are expected to face each other at the Kim Il Sung Stadium on Tuesday.
This will be the first competitive men’s game between the two sides to be held in Pyongyang, and has raised hopes for new momentum in ties between the two Koreas.
But Pyongyang refused to hold direct talks with Seoul on the logistics for the match, denying South Korean fans and journalists permission to travel with the team.
South Korean players said the absence of cheering fans will be a first.
“It’s much better to play in a packed stadium rather than an empty one, but I think we’ll be able to play a good match if we use it as motivation,” said defender Kim Min-jae before boarding a flight to Pyongyang at Beijing airport.
The South Korean footballers were accompanied by a delegation of 55 people, limited to players, coaches and staff.
Broadcasters in the South said that plans to air the match live had fallen apart, with some media reporting that there may be attempts to carry the North Korean feed.
The match comes in the wake of a series of North Korean missile tests that raised tensions in the region, and after the breakdown of talks with the United States over Pyongyang’s weapons programs.