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.”


Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

Updated 08 December 2019

Sudan’s first female football stars push for women’s rights

  • Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football
  • Women were at the forefront of anti-Bashir protests, expressing anger against centuries of patriarchal traditions and laws

KHARTOUM: Within months of Sudan’s first women’s football league kicking off, the championship’s emerging stars are being hailed as icons for equal rights in a country transitioning to civilian rule.
Orjuan Essam, 19, and Rayan Rajab, 22, of Khartoum-based Tahadi women’s club, have scored several goals already in a tournament that would have seemed unlikely when autocrat Omar Al-Bashir was in power.
“I was thrilled to see that authoritarian rule was finally turning into civilian and that women’s rights could now be achieved,” said Essam, her long hair flowing freely as she trained at a stadium in the capital.
Sudan was once a football pioneer, joining FIFA in 1948 and co-founding the Confederation of African Football with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa at a meeting in Khartoum in 1957.
But women’s football faced an uphill battle after the country adopted the Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before then-brigadier Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.
Bashir’s 30 years of ironfisted rule ended in April after he was ousted by the army in a palace coup following months of protests, triggering hopes that more liberal, pro-women policies would emerge.
Women were at the forefront of anti-Bashir protests, expressing anger against centuries of patriarchal traditions and laws that severely restricted their role in Sudanese society.
Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council, which has been tasked with overseeing the transition to civilian rule as demanded by protesters.
Last month the new authorities scrapped a decades-old public order law, which primarily targeted women for “immoral acts.”
During the rule of Bashir, thousands of women were flogged or fined under the law.
Today, the launch of women’s club football is seen as a much-needed boost for women’s rights in Sudan.
Essam, who plays left midfielder for Tahadi, said the world would now know that Sudanese women are not just “meant for raising children and doing household chores.”
“Women’s rights are much more than that,” she said.
Rajab, wearing a track suit at the practice session, said the tournament was the best thing to have happened to Sudan, showcasing the country’s talented female footballers.
“We badly needed it,” said Rajab, whose aim is to score in every match.
“Hopefully, I will become a professional player overseas and return to the Sudanese team, if they choose me to represent Sudan in the next World Cup,” Rajab said.
For Essam, who reads the Qur'an every morning and wants to become a dentist, football remains a hobby.
Since the championship began on September 30, both players have won praise for their positive team spirit, with Sudanese newspapers splashing their photographs on the sports pages.
“I play as a striker... Orjuan is a left midfielder. We coordinate and make passes to each other,” Rajab said.
Their coach Ahmed Al-Fakki said the two always have a countermove to any plays their opponents make on the field.
“Their goals speak for them, they were very beautiful goals,” Fakki said, as Rajab dribbled the ball behind him.
Essam and Rajab say they owe their new-found glory to understanding parents.
Essam said her father, a football enthusiast himself, is her biggest supporter and personal coach, often correcting her mistakes during training.
“Women are now competing with men at all levels, they are even taking ministerial positions,” said her father, Essam Al-Sayed, who is a banker.
Rajab took a liking to football at a young age, mostly playing with her brother.
“My parents had no objection, they kept telling me to push on with sports,” she said.
With the success of the league and the attention the two girls have brought to the championship — which has 21 clubs participating — organizers now want to tap more talent.
“We have convinced the ministry of education to open schools for training girls in football, and we have contacted FIFA to help bring football to young children,” said Fakki, who is also involved in organizing the league.
Essam and Rajab, however, remain special to him.
“Orjuan and Rayan are capable of becoming professional footballers,” he said.
“I tell them to show the world that Sudan has talent and it is only professional players who can help develop the sport.”