The offseason for Barcelona and Argentine star Lionel Messi continues to be action packed, even as he spends time away from the pitch.
First Messi’s global greatness was again confirmed, this time with an analytics approach, as Bloomberg Sports announced their “Power 50” last week, ranking Europe’s top 50 footballers by using a new analytic breakdown. He outdistanced Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Franck Ribery of Champions League winner Bayern Munich in the race to again be top kick on the sport’s largest and most lucrative stage.
On the same day the telegenic star was scoring in the Moneyball world, his name was arising in a different arena…the law arena, where he and his father were implicated in a tax evasion scheme by a Spanish court Forbes rated him as the world’s 10th highest-paid athlete with $41.3 million to June this year, $20.3 million coming from his club salary and $21 million in endorsements. The filing claims Messi did not pay the correct taxes from revenue earned from image rights on Messi’s income tax returns from the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. They supposedly used a network of shell companies in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay to avoid Messi’s tax obligations.
The revenues on image rights that he allegedly didn’t pay taxes on include Barcelona, Adidas, Danone, Konami, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi-Cola, and Telefonica, among several other brands.
Messi has denied the charges and has received votes of confidence from Barcelona as well as from their millions of fans worldwide. His appeal is crucial for the sport, which even with its global popularity, is still expanding exponentially through the United States, the biggest media market, and the branding of Messi as a global star is part of the process.
Will a tax issue, even if found guilty, hurt the star’s Q rating? “Unless there is more to the story, I don’t see long-term damage to such an unequivocal global star who has done so much, not just on the pitch but off it as well for Barcelona and for the sport,” said Chris Lencheski, CEO of Front Row Marketing Services and a leading spokesperson on sports business around the globe. “We live in a very forgiving world, and one that is bolstered by athlete performance, especially a young athlete like Messi. Could some brands shy away for the short time and see what the fallout will be? Yes. However this is an issue of compensation more than something an average fan may see as more egregious, like drug testing or violence or even poor public behavior. He has had none of that, and I would expect him to rebound from whatever plays out on the courts.”
One thing is for sure. Barcelona fans want to see Messi on the field not behind bars, as do Argentine faithful heading into a World Cup year. Could his play be distracted or derailed by the Spanish court? Time will tell, but for now, the young star, recovering from a hamstring injury after his record-setting season, is free and clear.