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FC Barcelona Star Lionel Messi - Tax Troubles, an Audit and a 100-Million-Euro Contract

Why is FC Barcelona paying superstar striker Lionel Messi over 100 million euros a year? Confidential documents contain evidence of more tax trouble, a questionable loan and the negotiating tricks employed by Messi's father.

The City Center complex in Rosario, Argentina looks not unlike a bunker. Its low profile and plain concrete exterior is the polar opposite of flashy. Yet it still manages to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, most of them gamblers. City Center is home to South America's largest casino, its mirrored galleries packed with blinking and jingling slot machines into which an army of players shove their coins.

On June 28, 2017, members of an anti-corruption unit paid a visit to the building on suspicions of money laundering. Rosario, located a four-hour drive northwest of Buenos Aires, is considered one of the key hubs for the worldwide drug trade. And where gambling is rife, mafia money isn't far away.

Lionel Messi didn't let such concerns bother him. Two days after the police raid, the five-time FIFA player-of-the-year recipient married his long-time girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo. The entire country was obsessed with the wedding: What dress would Antonella wear? Would the pop icon Shakira, the girlfriend of Messi's teammate Gerard Piqué, sing for the couple? What would be on the menu?
FC Barcelona Star Lionel Messi - Tax Troubles, an Audit and a 100-Million-Euro Contract
The 30-year-old Messi, of course, is seen as a football god far beyond the borders of Argentina. And his story reads like a fairy tale: A boy who grew up in poverty and suffered from impaired growth, only to be discovered as a 13-year-old and brought to Europe, where he received medical treatment - and where he developed into one of the best football players in the history of the game.

Despite his fame, though, the boy from Rosario has remained approachable - a shy, friendly young man who isn't a big talker. He prefers to spend his free time with his friends and family, or with his PlayStation, leaving the more complex aspects of adult life to his advisers, his father Jorge Horacio first and foremost. Indeed, it was his father who decided in 2000 to have his diminutive son play a trial for FC Barcelona. Following intensive hormone therapy, Messi was able to develop his tremendous talent for the Catalonian club.

Thanks to Messi, the team has enjoyed the most successful era of its history, having won 30 titles thus far during the player's career. Messi himself has scored 365 goals in 400 league matches, more than any other player in the history of Spain's Primera División.

Even though Spain has been his home for almost two decades, Lionel Messi has always emphasized his deep ties to Rosario, the city where he was born and where part of his family still lives. Partly for that reason, no doubt, "La Pulga," or "The Flea," as Messi is sometimes called, returned to his hometown last summer to tie the knot at the City Center with Antonella, with whom he already has two children. Rosario's provincial airport suddenly found itself packed with private jets for the event, with the bride and groom having invited 260 guests, including almost all members of both the Argentinian national team and of FC Barcelona. A tabloid paper calculated that the market value of all the professional players in attendance exceeded 2 billion euros.

June 30 was a day in the public limelight for Lionel Messi. But the events that took place on that same day in Barcelona were strictly confidential.

And they have remained so. Until now.

INTOXICATION

Messi's new contracts, extending his tenure at FC Barcelona until 2021, were dated to the day of the star player's wedding. The deal was preceded by difficult negotiations. The old contract had been set to expire in summer 2018, at which point Messi would have been available without the need to pay a transfer fee, a horror scenario for every Barça fan.

This deep foreboding felt by FC Barcelona executives - that they would have to explain to angry fans how they ended up without their idol and without a transfer sum - is reflected in the contracts, which DER SPIEGEL has obtained. For the first time ever, a club has guaranteed a player an annual income of more than 100 million euros. By comparison, the annual revenues of a club like the German team Werder Bremen are around 120 million euros in total, from which the club must pay its entire personnel in addition to other operating costs.

Such is the gap between middle-class clubs like Bremen, which found success on the European stage as recently as the 1990s, and the gleaming global brands of today, teams that hungrily snap up the best players in the world. And this chasm is growing deeper and deeper. The turbo capitalism seen in recent years has ratcheted up the earning potential of the world's best players to obscene levels.

Read more at FC Barcelona Star Lionel Messi - Tax Troubles, an Audit and a 100-Million-Euro Contract.
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