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.”


World No 1 Brooks Koepka and defending champion Dustin Johnson relishing Saudi return

Updated 28 January 2020

World No 1 Brooks Koepka and defending champion Dustin Johnson relishing Saudi return

  • Royal Greens Golf & Country Club looking in ‘incredible shape’ according to Koepka
  • Johnson enjoying being part of a drive to grow the game of golf in Saudi

JEDDAH: Defending champion Dustin Johnson and world No. 1 Brooks Koepka are both back in Saudi Arabia ahead of this week’s second edition of the Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers.

The US stars headline one of the strongest line-ups on the Middle East swing, part of the European Tour, and are joined at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club by a field that includes ten Major Champions competing for $3.5m in prizemoney.

World Number 5, Johnson, raced to a two-shot victory to claim his first regular European Tour title at the inaugural Saudi International last year that included a second round 61 – a course record.

“This year, I’m looking forward to having a big year. I feel like the game is in pretty good shape,” said Johnson.

“I’m really pleased with how I played last year here, I like the golf course and enjoyed myself here last year. I’m excited to be back in Saudi Arabia for this tournament. Because you won at a golf course, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win again. I’m going to have to work for it this week.”

Johnson also feels he has a part to play in continuing the growth of the game by bringing it to new markets such as the Kingdom.

“It’s one of the reasons I’m here, golf was pretty non-existent here a while ago. They’re trying to grow the game here which is really cool and it’s great to be a part of that. An event like this massively helps that.”

The world’s leading golfer, Brooks Koepka, returns to the Kingdom after another stellar season that saw him claim a fourth major title. The 29-year-old is continuing his return to competitive action following a knee injury that kept him out of action for three months at the end of last season.

“I had three months off, so there was no point in having a holiday or a vacation. It was more of a work thing in my off-season to get my game ready. It felt good in Abu Dhabi, it felt good in Dubai and it now feels good here,” said Koepka.

Both players feel the 7,010-yards Par 70 Royal Greens and Country Club layout facing the players this week has taken on a big step.

“It looks in incredible shape just as it was last year. Any time you can give a course an extra year to really develop, you’re going to see the progression of it,” added Koepka.

“The greens are a lot faster. The rough is a lot thicker. It’s settled in nicely.”

The course stretches along the spectacular Red Sea coastline and for Dustin Johnson it’s given him an opportunity to try another sporting passion before his practice round this morning – Scuba Diving.

“I had no idea that you could do that in Saudi Arabia. Last year, I met a friend that lived here and took us out on a scuba dive, so that was something I was looking forward to doing again this year.”

“So, we went out this morning and did another dive, to see a 100-year-old shipwreck which was really nice. It’s beautiful, the Red Sea, crystal clear blue water.

Joining Johnson and Koepka this week are fellow US stars Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed as well as some of the biggest names in European golf; Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood – an early season winner at the recent 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Tickets remain available for the Ultimate Day Out at the Saudi International with day golf tickets starting from 50 SAR and 160 SAR for a full tournament pass. World class music acts will also be performing at the Saudi International with headline acts Marco Carola, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike (January 30), Zedd and Bryan Adams (January 31) and Luis Fonsi and Gipsy Kings (February 1) all performing with tickets starting from 75 SAR.

For more tournament information, visit – www.saudiinternational.com