Five-time Ballon D’or winner and Barcelona captain Lionel Messi has revealed he considered leaving the club in 2013.
The Argentina international, who has been at Barcelona since he was 13 and is their all-time top scorer, said he felt ‘badly treated’ by Spain when he was investigated for tax fraud in 2013.
He was found guilty in 2016 along with his father Jorge of defrauding the Spanish government of €4.2m between 2007 and 2009 over income earned from image rights.
Messi was handed a prison sentence of 21 months and ordered to pay a fine of €2m.
However, he did not serve any jail time after he was able to exchange his sentence for a fine of €250,000, as in Spain defendants without a previous conviction are permitted to serve any sentence of under two years on probation.
He was first investigated in 2013, beginning a number of tax fraud cases against high-profile footballers in Spain including Cristiano Ronaldo, Javier Mascherano and Marcelo.
“Sincerely, at that time, I thought about leaving,” Messi confessed to Barcelona-based radio station RAC1 in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.
“Not because of Barcelona but because I wanted to leave Spain, I felt very badly treated and I didn’t want to stay here any longer.
“I had my doors open to many clubs but I never got an official offer because everyone knew I really wanted to stay. This situation went way beyond my feelings for Barca.”
Messi also suggested that the Spanish tax authorities made an example out of him as they cracked down on tax fraud after Spain’s economic crisis hit.
“I was the first and that’s why they came down so hard on me. They made an example of me and showed that it was going to be like this for everyone. It was tough because of everything that was happening at that time,” he said.