Lionel Messi, arguably among the greatest soccer players of all-time, has made headlines in recent months with his name linked to the Panama Papers and tax fraud charges in Spain that occurred between 2007 and 2009. The Argentine superstar was found guilty Wednesday in Barcelona and sentenced to 21 months in jail for using offshore companies to avoid paying taxes.
It’s highly unlikely Messi will serve jail time for defrauding the state of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million) since he has no prior criminal record and with prison terms of under two years often served under probation. Messi, who has a reported net worth over $200 million, was fined 2.1 million euros ($2.3 million) and is expected to appeal the sentence.
But the 29-year-old’s troubles are not his alone. He shares the same fate with the man who manages his finances, his father Jorge Horacio Messi.
In testimony, Lionel Messi claimed he “didn’t know anything,” and “only worried about playing football,” never suspecting wrongdoing when his father instructed him to sign documents and contracts.
"I signed what he told me to sign because I trusted my father," Messi said. "I trusted my father, and the lawyers said that I could (sign the documents)."
The relationship between the father and son has sparked interest in how large a role Jorge plays in his famous son’s life.
The former steel factory manager had also denied any knowledge of wrongdoing, and though the court handed down a strong sentence Lionel and Jorge are expected to soon put the ordeal behind them.
Money, especially sums like the $81 million Lionel reportedly earns per year with his Barcelona salary and numerous corporate sponsors, often causes strife with families. There were financial hardships for the Messi family well before “Leo” signed his first contract with the senior team in 2005.
At just six years old, little Leo was showing tremendous promise on the pitch and wound up at Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario, Argentina, where he excelled and became part of “The Machine of 87.” It was the name given to the batch of burgeoning Argentinean soccer talent all born in the same year, including Messi.
But when Messi turned 11 he was diagnosed with a growth hormone disorder that could’ve stunted his playing career before it ever began. There has been some question as to whether Newell’s offered to help Jorge pay for treatments, which would reportedly cost roughly $1,000 a month and his insurance only covered two years’ worth.
Faced with a major dilemma, Jorge reportedly offered Messi, then a 13-year-old prodigy, to Buenos Aires-based club River Plate, under the condition he receive a job and house in the Argentine capital.
River would rebuff the idea, but Jorge, who once considered moving to Australia, also reached out to a scouting firm and a lawyer to secure a trial for his son with Barcelona. However, it wasn’t until 2004 that Jorge would secure a deal with the Catalans that would land the family about $4,400 a month to ease their financial strains. It would provide some welcomed ease for Jorge, his wife, Celia, and their four children.
Jorge has spoken and written at length about what it has been like to see his son fully realize his potential.
"We left Argentina with a wealth of dreams and illusions, but also many fears. Lionel enjoyed that trip," Jorge wrote in a letter published by Marca in January. "I guess he began to forge the idea of succeeding in what he loved most: football.
"Today he is where we never dreamed he could be, a magical place that he started towards in 2007. The world of football has recognized him five times as the best player on the planet.
"From the family, we are very proud of him because everything he achieved came from huge effort.
"Lionel's spirit and the ability to overcome, and his desire to improve every day, are an inspiration and of great value to those who are close to him."