Lionel Messi has revealed that he almost left Barcelona in 2014 after he and his father were charged with tax fraud.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was alleged to have used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to conceal earnings from image rights, and as such defrauded Spain of €4.1 million between 2007 and 2009. Messi was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 21 months in prison and a €2m fine before his prison time was amended to a €252,000 (£223,000/$288,000) fine in July 2017. His father, Jorge, was similarly sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment and a fine of €1.5m, though his prison sentence was reduced on appeal.
Messi has now admitted that, when the charges were originally made, he wanted to leave Spain. He said he spoke to a number of clubs regarding a move away from Camp Nou, though he did not receive any concrete offers.
He told RAC1: “I had it in my mind to leave at that time, not to leave Barcelona but to leave Spain. I felt that I was being mistreated and did not want to be here anymore. I had the door opened by many clubs but I never had an official offer because everyone knew of my previous desire to continue in Barcelona. The feeling I had went beyond what I felt for this club.
Speculation regarding Messi’s future continues, with the recent revelation that he has a clause in his current contract that would allow him to leave the Spanish champions for free at the end of the season should he so wish.
The 32-year-old, though, insists that he wants to see out the remainder of his career with the Blaugrana, for whom he has worn the captain’s armband for the past two seasons. “Obviously I will stay if you love me. I am delighted and my idea is to stay here – nothing has changed that at all. It is increasingly clear that I will end my career here. It is my idea and that of my family, first for how I am and what I feel for the club and the city.”