Barça back ‘innocent’ Messi in tax scandal

FC Barcelona threw their support behind Lionel Messi on Thursday, insisting they had no doubt that the superstar was innocent of tax avoidance.

Barça back 'innocent' Messi in tax scandal
David Beckham vies with Lionel Messi during a Champions League quarter final match between Barcelona and PSG in April. Photo: Jose Jordan/AFP

"We are all calm," Barcelona president Sandro Rosell told a news conference in the northeastern city.

"His family have all of our support," he added.

"We do not have the slightest doubt of Messi's complete innocence in this matter."

The 25-year-old four time World Player of the Year and his father Jorge Horacio have flatly denied defrauding the Spanish tax authorities of more than four million euros.

Rosell said he had spoken to Messi's family in Argentina and they were calm in the face of the Spanish financial crimes prosecutor's allegations, which have shocked the sporting world.

Click here to read an in-depth article about reactions to Messi tax scandal.

He could not say, however, whether the club would provide legal support to the Argentina star.

"I do not know legally if we can speak in Messi's name, we have to discuss that with the legal services," Rosell said.

"The most important thing is to assure him that we are with him in everything."

Spanish financial crimes prosecutors filed papers with a court in Catalonia, northeastern Spain on Wednesday accusing Messi and his father of cheating on income related to the use of his image from 2006–2009.

The striker and his father aimed to deceive the state by ceding Messi's image rights to companies based in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay so they would pay no tax in Spain, the prosecutor's complaint said.

"We are surprised about this news because we have never committed any infringement," Messi said in an English-language statement released on his Facebook account when the accusation surfaced.

The court has yet to decide whether to proceed with the case, but if it goes ahead it would be mark a major blow to Messi's near spotless reputation on and off the field.

The Argentine's achievements on the field have made him one of the most marketable sportsmen in the world and he was ranked 10th amongst Forbes' list of sports stars' incomes this month with an annual $21 million from endorsements alone.

The prosecutor's allegations, lodged with a court in Gava, near Barcelona, accused Messi and his father of defrauding the state of €1.06 million ($1.41 million) in his tax filing for 2007, €1.57 million in 2008, and €1.53 million in 2009.

Spain's press reacted with shock to the news.

 "A symbol under suspicion," blared the front page of the country's biggest sports daily, Marca, saying in an editorial that he had cast doubt on his image as an exemplary sportsman.

"He has not been condemned, just accused, but the tax authority's account of a supposed fraud is hair-raising," the paper said.

The Barcelona-based daily Sport cautioned that the player had not been found guilty and should not be tried by the media.

"Messi does not deserve the injustice of parallel trials," the paper's director Joan Vehils said an opinion piece.

"Investigating him is fine but that he be condemned already without being given a chance to defend himself and without a trial is unacceptable."

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Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.