While it’s certainly good news for Luis Enrique that his star man will not be eating porridge, the ruling still has the potential to disrupt the Catalan giants and their superstar over coming two seasons.
The Panenka looks at the EU probation measure and what that means for the five-time Balon d’Or Winner and the La Liga club.
A Spanish court has found Barcelona forward Lionel Messi, and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, guilty of three counts of tax fraud and has sentenced them each to 21 months in prison.
The pair were charged with using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay in an attempt to avoid paying €4.16m [£3.2m] to Spanish tax authorities between 2007 and 2009, with the Barcelona forward generating the money through his image rights.
They are unlikely to actually serve the prison sentence behind bars because in Spain, prison terms under two-years for non-violent crimes can be served under probation or what is known as a suspended sentence.
In addition the Argentine forward was handed a fine of €2 million, his father received a slightly smaller bill of €1.7 million.
Barcelona on Wednesday issued a statement in support of their star forward, saying that they feel Messi is not criminally responsible for the tax fraud.
“FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today,” the statement read.
“The Club, in agreement with the Government prosecution service, considers that the player, who has corrected his position with the Spanish Tax Office, is in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case.
“FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defense of his honesty and his legal interests.”
Father and son both denied the allegations, and Messi’s lawyers have argued that Messi “has never spent one minute of his life reading, studying, or analyzing” the contracts involved in the alleged scheme.
“I was playing football — I knew nothing,” Messi told a Spanish court early last month.
Prosecutors have retorted that Messi had signed the contracts when he turned 18 and was listed as a sole administrator of one of the fraudulent companies in question.
An appeal from Messi is likely, particularly since the Barcelona forward has already appealed the decision to haul him to court in the first place.
If the probationary jail sentence is fulfilled then there will be some restrictions placed on Lionel Messi for the specified duration of the term in accordance with EU law.
The combinations of sanctions or measures which could affect the Barcelona superstar include the “Prohibition of travelling and staying away without authorization of the local Judge or court,” “Appear personally before the Court or Administration Service, in order to explain his or her activities” and “To take part in professional training/educational programs or any obligation that the judge considers indispensible.”
Messi’s travel with the Catalan club could be disrupted but it is highly likely that an arrangement will be reached between club and court to allow the player to conduct his business as usual.
What will be most concerning for Blaugrana is the fact that Messi’s happiness is undermined resulting in a reduced level of performance. Furthermore, the Argentine’s already waning contentment in Catalonia could reach such allow ebb he may force a move away from Spain and La Liga.
However, a change in residence from one EU county to another, say the Bundesliga in Germany or the Premier League in England, could be at the discretion of the court
Messi is not the only Barca star to come under scrutiny for his tax affairs, with team-mate Neymar recently fined almost £40m by a Brazilian court for evading tax on his sponsorship deals.
Like Messi, he denies any wrongdoing and is appealing against that ruling.
He has also had to testify before a judge because of alleged irregularities involving his transfer to Barca, who are accused of withholding the real amount of the transfer fee, in part to avoid paying the full amount of taxes. They deny any wrongdoing.
Earlier this year, Javier Mascherano was handed a suspended one-year prison sentence for not paying all his taxes for 2011 and 2012.