Football

Lionel Messi considered leaving Barcelona during tax probe

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 euros (S$6.2m) in taxes between 2007 and 2009, for which they paid close to 10 million euros and Messi was handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence.

Asked on Tuesday 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 any more."

The 32-year-old's 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 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 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."

Messi also denied there is a rift between him and Antoine Griezmann and also offered his support to Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who has been under pressure after a bumpy start to the season. - AFP

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