Lionel Messi being found guilty of tax fraud yesterday, and handed a prison sentence of 21 months and fine of €3.5 million, is unlikely to cause too many long-term on-field problems for either the Barcelona star or his team.
The most obvious impact of the ruling is the sentence will almost surely be suspended so Messi will not be stopped from training or playing for Barca. There will also be no issues travelling outside Spain to play in the Champions League, or for Argentina should he go back on a recent decision to quit international football. While it’s always difficult to know exactly what goes on inside the head of such a complex individual, Messi can be affected when things do not go his way. Last month’s international retirement was a spur of the moment decision immediately after he missed a penalty during a Copa America final shoot-out defeat to Chile.
When his problems with the Spanish taxman first surfaced over three years ago, the subsequent 2013/14 season was the worst of Messi’s club career. Barca finished runners-up in both La Liga and the Copa del Rey, and were eliminated in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Another potentially complicating factor is Messi is not the only Barca player to have suffered tax setbacks in recent times. Club and country colleague Javier Mascherano, one of the few teammates he is really close to, was on the wrong end of a similar fraud ruling last January.
Mascherano has since spoken about his unhappiness at a lack of backing from Barca’s hierarchy during his legal battles and even hinted earlier this summer he could leave for Juventus as he did not feel fully comfortable continuing in Spain.
Messi has been known to be similarly sensitive when he feels he has not received enough support from Barca’s board. This may have been why the Catalan club were quick to issue a statement yesterday in which they said Messi was “in no way criminally responsible” for how his advisers did his taxes.
It is also true however that Barca’s stars have plenty of experience in dealing with scandals and continuing to score goals and win trophies.
Brazilian Neymar has had to content with many legal issues following his still controversial 2013 transfer from Santos. Luis Uruguayan Suarez came back from biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup and got on with his job. Should Messi need any help with turning the page and putting problems behind him, he will not lack for advice from his fellow South Americans at the Camp Nou.
Messi is on holiday with his family in the Bahamas, and due back for pre-season training at Barca on July 18. Irish fans will likely be able to judge his mood for themselves in heir first game of 2016/17 – a friendly against Celtic at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium July 30.
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