Eight football greats who have fallen foul of the Spanish taxman

From Barcelona's star striker Lionel Messi to his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, many football stars have fallen foul of the Spanish taxman over the past few years.

Eight football greats who have fallen foul of the Spanish taxman
Ronaldo will appear in court accused of tax fraud and Messi has already been convicted. Photo: AFP

Ronaldo appears in court on Monday, accused of evading €14.7 million  ($17.2 million) in tax. He joins a long list of football greats under the spotlight in Spain:


Lionel Messi

Messi and his father face a judge during the June, 2016 trial. Photo: AFP

The five-time world player of the year was found guilty in 2016 of of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying €4.1 million in taxes on income he earned from his image rights.

He was sentenced to 21 months in jail and fined more than €2 million.

But his prison sentence has since been replaced by another fine of €252,000, which corresponds to €400 for each day of jail.

Javier Mascherano

Mascherano leaving court in October, 2015. Photo: AFP

Messi's Barcelona and Argentina teammate Mascherano accepted a one-year suspended sentence in January 2016 for tax fraud after he was found guilty of failing to pay 1.5 million euros in taxes for 2011 and 2012.   

Unlike Messi he avoided trial by admitting to tax evasion.

Angel di Maria

Photo: AFP

Argentina and Paris Saint-Germain star Angel di Maria was fined and given a 16-month prison sentence for tax fraud during his time at Real Madrid.   

But the 29-year-old, who played for Madrid between 2010 and 2014, is likely not to go to prison as is normal in Spain for first offences for non-violent crimes carrying a sentence of less than two years.


Cristiano Ronaldo   

Real Madrid's star striker, accused of evading €14.7 million in taxes, appears in court on Monday. The Portuguese star faces four charges of fraud through offshore companies.

Jose Mourinho

Photo: AFP

The Manchester United manager is accused of evading €3.3 million in tax in 2011 and 2012, during his time in charge at Real Madrid.   

But Gestifute, which represents him, says he has already settled the matter with Spanish tax authorities.

Samuel Eto'o   

In November 2016, Spanish prosecutors sought a jail sentence of 10 years and fines totalling €18 million for Cameroonian football great Eto'o, who is accused of failing to pay 3.9 million euros in taxes during his time at Barcelona from 2004 to 2009.

Radamel Falcao

Falcao celebrating the Copa del Rey win in May 2014, when he played for Atletico Madrid. Photo: AFP

Colombian striker Falcao is suspected of failing to correctly declare €7.4 million of income earned from image rights between 2012 and 2013 while he was at Atletico Madrid.

He has since paid €8.2 million to Spanish tax authorities, a sum that includes interest on the original amount.

Jorge Mendes

The super-agent outside court in June. Photo: AFP

The Portuguese super-agent was put under official investigation last month by a Spanish court investigating alleged tax evasion by Falcao, a client of his.

The 51-year-old, whose other clients include Ronaldo and Mourinho, defended himself, telling the closed door hearing that he “never” advised players in tax matters.

Other footballers, including Brazil's Adriano, Chile's Alexis Sanchez or Portugal's Fabio Coentrao, have had similar legal woes.



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.