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Messi Tax Fraud Case: Do Footballers live in a world without rules?

Gitu Bhatia
Modified 10 Jul 2016

Ask any football fan to name a player who hasn’t been having a great year, unless one has been living under a rock, the answer would be Lionel Messi. It couldn’t get any worse for Messi or for any footballer. Or for any human being in fact. Having lost in the finals of the World Cup and Copa America for 3 consecutive years he obviously not in the best of moods or in the right state of mind. In footballing terms it hasn’t really been a “purple patch” for him. Such disappointment not only on a personal level but more so when you carry the hopes of an entire nation and an even bigger fan base is crushing. But worse was still to come…

He was sentenced to 21 months in prison for alleged tax fraud by Spanish court and slapped with a fine of 3.7 million euros. However, he denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers have defended him by saying that he was not familiar with the tax issues leading to the charge against him. Moreover, they have stated that Messi lacked awareness of fraudulent activity as he spent no time in reading the contracts and merely signed them.

Obviously when you are in the pursuit of being one of the world’s best sportsperson it is important to focus. Messi’s entire defense was based on the very fact that he didn’t have enough knowledge about and time to give to his financial matters. Which is definitely true considering that they are professional athletes working week in week out. As a professional footballer, one has to play once or twice a week while the other days are spent training or in recovery. With such a hectic schedule, should they be left lightly owing to benefit of doubt? Or should they be treated similar to every other offender?

An insulated world?

 Aren’t footballers normal wage earners and tax payers too. Despite earning a lot more than the average tax payer and especially so, is it morally right for them to get away with tax evasion? What is even more disturbing is that these very idols for generations of all ages are the ones who walk away with it. Shouldn’t they be setting the right example? The fact that they are let off so easily is a shame as they are looked up to. Instead of evading taxes as well as prison terms shouldn’t footballers also be held culpable for their crime and atone for it. Better still keep a clean image and not commit these crimes at all.

The alarming point is that this isn’t the first time a professional football player has been arrested or been accused of criminal activity. From numerous car crashes owing to being under the influence of alcohol to soliciting underage women for sex, pro football players haven’t always been “professional” exactly! Which makes one cry out loud… should they be treated as normal, naïve human beings and be forgiven for their crimes for the sake of them being understood? Or should they be tried and be made to serve prison sentences? Whatever the argument be for and against, undeniably professional footballers live in an insulated world.

Guilty or not? But where is the guilt?

Soliciting underage sex and rape are one of the most heinous crimes. Yet footballers have been let go off charges owing to the lack of evidence or have got off with light prison sentences. Football fans will easily appreciate Franck Ribery and Benzema strutting their stuff and winning accolades at the Allianz Arena and the Bernabeu.

However, the fact that they were let go despite being charged for soliciting an underage prostitute is puzzling and sends out a very wrong message to society. Irrespective of if they were guilty or not, the fact that they were caught up in such a scandal sends out a very wrong message to society. It shows that these footballers live in a world of their own, in a world without rules. A world in which they are obliged to break the rules without any retribution.


 They were let go away as it couldn’t be proven whether the woman in case was a minor at the said time or not. Shouldn’t they have been acting professional and not losing focus from the game then? Yet inspite of these accusations and controversies, fans continue to adore them and never doubt their intentions. It is a blow to moral values that even football fans like us are willing to overlook these misdemeanors and continue to adulate them as if they are more than human. 

England winger Adam Johnson continued to ply his trade with Sunderland even as he was accused of pedophilia in court while out on bail by pleading not guilty to the charges. Why are professional footballers allowed to take advantage of their position to exploit other people? Moreover they aren’t even obliged to feel guilty or ashamed of their crimes.

As in Adam Johnson’s case, he initially did plead not guilty. And even after being sentenced to six years in prison and being sacked by Sunderland he has been to prison, but according to reports is set to challenge the verdict again. It won’t surprise anybody if he made a comeback to football at some level after all this and much to the applause of fans too. 


Similarly in the case of Chesterfield player and former Wales international, Ched Evans. He had the full backing of his club while facing a trial for being accused of rape. He returned to football just days after the rape conviction was quashed. Despite all the furore around rape as a crime and how rapists shouldn’t be allowed to go scot free. Here we have professionals not only walking away free but also being accepted by fans and club management. Does this give a good image of what is called the beautiful game?

Misbehaviour by superstars sends the wrong message!

Footballers are well known bad boys too. Living lives full of conceit, the world often sees them as bad boys. Amongst all the reports of drunken bar brawls, car crashes and other misdemeanors involving professional football players, a few names stand out. However, they more or less give a glimpse of an entire group of individuals who are high on life and extremely low on responsibility. They give us further proof that perhaps football players think of themselves as a level cut above the others. Their attitude which can be summarized as being of the “I don’t care” type doesn’t solve these problems.

Joey Barton, Eric Cantona, Mario Balotelli and many other professional football players have been involved in incidents and have been rightfully punished for their wrong doings too. However, the controversies they provoked are more distinguished because of their colourful personalities and the mere regularity of these events.

Eric Cantona is easily identified by his involvement in what is memorably called the Kung-Fu kick event. Cantona famously kicked and repeatedly punched an abusive Crystal Palace fan. A heated emotional outburst is human behavior of course and he was rightfully punished too. But would he have got off so easily had this been a case of a street fight or such or if he simply wasn’t a highly paid footballer?


Joey Barton has done a lot in his life including a 12- match ban for a random spate of attacks on opposition, stubbing a cigar in a young player’s eye, coming to blows with a fan, and so on. The most serious incident took place in 2007, when Joey Barton involved in a fight in Liverpool City Centre. Barton was charged with assault in that incident and ultimately sentenced to six months imprisonment. He was awarded a further four-month suspension when he involved in a training ground fight with his former teammate, Ousmane Dabo.

Such cases of misbehavior in the after math of which players walk free after serving small sentences, petty bails and community service just questions how much of strict action should be taken against them! Because if stricter action is not taken, such unruly behavior is only aped by fans and other members of society, causing mayhem.  

Can help make a better world

Footballers simply can’t stay away from the headlines. Like those talked of, some footballers are controversial figures in the football world. Yet they are adored by their teammates and as there is no doubt about their desire to win the game. It’s just their behavior or bad decisions that makes them establish themselves as the villains in football. And it is this mindset that must be put on the mend.

Yes professional footballers have a very different lifestyle from the common public, but they cannot be discounted from following the law. They cannot lose their touch from reality just because they earn a lot and are under constant spotlight. They may live in an insulated bubble but it is one that must be pricked. Unless professional footballers are educated to follow the law and avoid controversies it makes it justifiable for their fans to indulge in bad behavior. This is the worst example one can set.

Each and every professional footballer should make a conscious effort to be a law abiding citizen and set an example to which football fans as well as others can look up to. Football is the most followed sport in the world. Thus, one cannot be wrong in hoping that if professional footballers, who are household names around the world, started to behave in an upright guilt free and ideal manner and were followed so by their supporters, we would surely be headed for a better world to live in. 

Published 10 Jul 2016, 15:41 IST
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