Lionel Messi has admitted he wanted to leave Barcelona in order to get out of Spain after authorities investigated him for tax fraud.
The Argentine and his father were found guilty of evading tax on income from image rights by a Catalonian court in 2016 and were sentenced to 21 months in prison, although this was changed to a fine a year later.
Messi has now revealed he felt so “mistreated” during the investigation that he considered quitting Barcelona so he could get out of the country, but he thinks other clubs were discouraged from making offers for him as they knew he was at heart a one-club man.
“In the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, I had a tough time,” Messi told RAC1. “Yes, for the issue with the Hacienda [Spain’s state tax agency]. It was really difficult for me and my family because people didn’t really know what was happening. They heard things and they opined. A part of the press did the same, too.
“I think I was the first [footballer to be investigated by the Hacienda] and for that reason it was all so hard. My kids were little.
“At that time, I honestly thought about leaving. Not because I wanted to leave Barca, but to leave Spain because I felt mistreated and I didn’t want to be here. I had many doors open but never anything official because everyone knew my desire was to continue but it was something which went beyond my feelings towards Barca.”
Messi has made it clear he wants to end his career with Barcelona and may even pass on his dream of playing for boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina before he retires as he does not want to uproot his family.