The leak of Lionel Messi's multimillion-dollar contract has brought attention to the high amount of taxes soccer players pay in Spain, prompting the league to raise concerns about the departure of its top stars. Details of Messi's 555 million euro ($671 million) contract over four seasons were released by the El Mundo newspaper on Sunday, upsetting the club and instigating the promise of lawsuits.
The contract made headlines everywhere, and Spanish league president Javier Tebas took the opportunity on Monday to underline the high amount of taxes owed by Messi. He noted that the Argentina great has to pay about 270 million euros ($326 million) in taxes for his contract, nearly half of its value. Tebas said that in Italy, for example, a player with a similar contract would have to pay about 135 million euros ($163 million) in taxes.
"We will have an exodus of talent to other countries," Tebas wrote on Twitter. "The (league) will lose players who help generate 1.37% of the country's GDP and more than 180,000 jobs."
Tebas has long criticized Spain's tax requirements for soccer players, saying they put the league at a disadvantage in transfer negotiations. He has pushed for the Spanish government to change some of its tax rules that may scare some players away. Rules in Italy and France are considered less strict on players than in Spain.
Local tax authorities in Spain have been going after soccer stars in recent years, accusing several of them of fraud over how they have interpreted the local laws, especially regarding image rights. Authorities amped their monitoring of players' tax filings and have been making a point of bringing attention to alleged irregularities.
Messi himself was convicted of tax fraud in Spain in 2017, receiving a 21-month suspended prison sentence that ended up as a fine. Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar also were among the several players targeted by authorities. Neymar left for French club Paris Saint-Germain and Ronaldo for Italian team Juventus. José Mourinho was investigated as well for the time he was coach of Real Madrid.
Among the details on Messi's leaked contract were a fidelity clause and a bonus for signing an extension back in 2017. El Mundo said Monday that Messi had to learn Catalan and was encouraged to "make every effort to integrate into Catalan society." The Spanish daily also said Messi asked to be relieved of the contract if the Catalonia region gained independence from Spain.
The 33-year-old Messi has been with Barcelona for nearly two decades, helping it win more than 30 titles. He asked to leave the club last season, saying he was not happy with the direction it was headed, but his request was denied. He can leave for free at the end of this season.