#WeareallMessi? Uh, no, nor should we be

First things first. The new campaign from FC Barcelona, embodied by the Twitter hashtag #weareallMessi, is stupid. It’s like the club got some crackheads drunk and then asked, “Okay, what do we do?” It’s a club that, as Elvis Costello sang, can’t stand up for falling down.

But almost as silly are the people galloping along on horses named Dudgeon. The gesture was silly, and the board are a bunch of doofuses. But anyone who suggests that the campaign has anything at all to do with Messi being a tax cheat and the club supporting the fact that he got tapped, needs a hobby.

For years, the highways and byways of Barça Twitter have been full of people screaming about how the club doesn’t support Messi in his times of trouble. Rumors come up, allegations come up, and the club does nothing. The drug money laundering stuff, and nothing. Drug rumors, and nothing. Those same people called the board a passel of gits because they aren’t supporting their star, wondering “What is wrong with those fools?”

Well, apparently, those “fools” aren’t deaf. They listen, even if this “support” is the equivalent of running up with a match to a building that’s on fire, wondering why nobody is welcoming your assistance. “What? This doesn’t help?” No. What it does do is make the gesture look silly, which again, is what it is. But let’s be clear about what the club is doing:

The club is saying that it stands behind its star, that it understands the extracurricular intricacies of the tax case and subsequent conviction, that it stands behind the player as he prepares to appeal the case, and are confident that the appeal will find their diminutive Argentine no longer in the same illustrious camp as the late Al Capone, or Wesley Snipes. The club isn’t standing in support of a tax cheat. Et voila.

Hell, if anything, the hashtag should have been, in light of recent events, #weunderstandyouMessi. Neymargate, Bartomeu/Rosell making the club culpable for their boo-boo, land grabs popping up out of the past, transfer bans …

The gesture is, however, made to seem even more dimwitted in the wake of legitimate usages of such gestures, including #jesuischarlie, an expression of solidarity with the slain members of the Charlie Hebdo staff, the satirical magazine whose offices were attacked by extremists, seeking revenge for blasphemous depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

JesuisCharlie was meant, not to suggest that everyone is in support of blasphemous depictions, but rather that the world stands behind people at a time of unspeakable violence. It was a gesture that was pure, spontaneous and sincere. Which makes the Barça gesture even sillier and more frivolous.

But if the club wants to make a silly, misguided gesture that leaves it with egg on its face, let it. It doesn’t go against everything that the club stands for, or anything at all that the club stands for. Don’t let mes que un club mean something other than what it in fact means. You can’t defend the gesture, but you can understand the … um … thinking behind it.

But people in the world seem to have no chill when it comes to Barça. Anything that the club does is bereft of perspective. There probably isn’t anyone, including Messi (but excluding the board), who didn’t see the campaign and think, “What a bunch of jackasses.” Smart money says they end it soon.

When the verdict was handed down, the club issued a statement of support, and a belief in Messi’s ultimate innocence. Leave it at that. They didn’t. But don’t misunderstand the gesture.

Messi was found guilty of evading taxes. There are those who will assert that he knew nothing of this stuff, just wanted to play football and chase girls. Wrong. Sorry, but he had to know that something was funky. He chose not to ask questions, and that’s fine. But the contention of many that he is some wronged angel, or that this is a fast and slick political gesture aimed at “getting” Barça and persecuting its best player also doesn’t fly.

Did he know about the stuff, raise his eyebrows and ask, “Hey, is this legal.” and shrug when assured that it was? Maybe. Does this absolve him of some measure of culpability? No. Sorry. Nor does it matter who did what, be they a princess, midfielder or whomever. Both things can coexist. Somebody wanted to make a message out of Messi. Why not the princess? How many princesses are engaging in tax boondoggles? One. How many athletes are engaging in tax boondoggles? A LOT. So if you can get the biggest one, it sends a message. No shame in that game.

As one of the fraternity brothers said to another in the movie “Animal House,” “Hey, you f—– up. You trusted us.”

And this whole thing leaves us with two people who now know better, Messi and his tax people, and a club who chose to do the completely wrong thing, for all of the right reasons. It really is as simple as that.

 

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

22 Comments

  1. MSN
    July 9, 2016

    He was 17/18 years old when this started. I know I knew nothing about taxes, and trusted my parents(my mother, an accountant) with that for a period of my life. If this was something that happened now… I can’t think of any reason for him to dubt his father. i doubt Jorge Messi even told him what it was, just asked him to sign it.

    • July 9, 2016

      He was 20. Old enough to know better.

  2. Jim
    July 9, 2016

    Oh come on, Kxevin. What were you doing at 20?

    I was being supported through University by my parents while notionally contributing to it with a summer job which I didn’t declare against my student grant. ( which by the way was spent in week one of term by buying a new stereo leaving me almost penniless for the rest of the term). I was also given a pair of football boots for signing for a football club which may or may not have gone against my amateur status. Did I ask questions ? Nothing could have been further from my mind, or interest.

    How do you see Messi starting that conversation ? “Listen, dad, It’s about time I thought about my tax contributions. Can we sit down and fill in the form together ? ”

    Or was it more like ” how much am I earning? Great. No that’s fine if you’ve got somebody looking after it. I don’t need to know. As long as I’ve got enough for a new PlayStation ”

    His dad will have taken over the minute he got the interest from Barcelona and Messi, apart from an interest in how much he had , won’t have had a clue where it was going and cared even less. As MSN says, at that age you don’t doubt your dad.

    • Jim
      July 9, 2016

      Btw, agree absolutely that the hashtag business from the club is cringeworthy. In fact, all hashtags are cringeworthy. There, I’ve said it. May the wrath of Twitter descend on me .

    • georgjorge
      July 10, 2016

      @Jim: If your notion of 20-year-olds being completely blind to these matters is followed true, then the legal age for tax responsibility would have to be raised to, I don’t know, 30 (and maybe having a child). Otherwise every single tax case against people of this age group would be resolved easily by “I just didn’t care about taxes at that time”.

      Thanks for another levelheaded comment, Kxevin. I didn’t know about that hashtag, and it is really ridiculous, in this age where such hashtags are mostly used for solidarity with victims of brutal violence. I can also get behind Jim’s opinion on hashtags in general, it seems every single incident in the Western world has to get its own hashtag.

    • Jim
      July 10, 2016

      Georgjorge, it’s a fair point that some people who are self employed need to care about these things but I was trying to show how at 20 there are a fair amount of youngsters who don’t have to fill in a tax form or care about taxes in any shape or form. Most of it is done automatically by your employer. Those who do have no idea of tax laws. That is in contrast with Messi who is forced into dealing with it at the same age because of the sums and different countries involved.

      So he appoints his father who appoints a reputable tax firm to handle it. We want more than that? Do we really think Messi could get his head round the intricacies of tax laws in various different countries even if he wanted to ? Because that’s what we’re asking. If anyone thinks he’s guilty they must expect him to ask the question of his tax advisers and know enough to discern whether these experts are right or wrong, both under Spanish and Argentinian law ? Is that reasonable ?

      As usual, Peter has a knowledgeable take on these details but in general I think most reasonable people (including most of the officials involved in the case ?) accept he was probably ignorant of any errors and that there are other factors at play.

    • July 11, 2016

      What I was doing at 20 was working a job, and paying taxes from that job. If I was a multimillionaire footballer, whose people were telling me that I had to fly hither and yon to sign documents, I would have just a moderate degree of curiosity about what I was signing, particularly if I had to fly somewhere to do it.

      Messi isn’t a tax criminal, except by technicality of the laws used to convict him. But he should have been paying attention. He chose not to ask questions. Now he knows better. And life goes on.

      I believe their appeal will be successful, by the by. But I also think this situation needs some balance. Messi isn’t some innocent, playing football and sleeping. If he was, he isn’t now. And I would hope that he’s smart enough to have learned from the stories of all of the wealthy athletes who end their careers bankrupt because they completely trusted the wrong people. He trusts his Dad. He shouldn’t trust ANYONE that much. It’s his future, and his money.

    • Jim
      July 11, 2016

      And what if he did have the courage to ask his dad if the firm(s) were reliable and received an answer in the affirmative and then the professionals at the age of 20 whether or not they were sure what they were doing was legal and received the ( unsurprising) answer that it was ? What was the 20 yr old’s next move in this world of civic duty ?

  3. July 10, 2016

    I really don’t want to start another long rant that would be too long, didn’t read, which basically happens most of the time… But here it goes:

    I will try to tackle the notions one by one and will probably follow no order.

    1. Messi is convicted of grave willful ignorance about complex international tax regulations when he was 19 years old. Read that sentence again.

    Read. It. Again.

    What it says, in fact, is that Messi in effect, the Messi who has been trusting for years his father and the hired tax advisors (remember, these people are professionals with successful firms in the field), so that Messi said “I DON’T WANT TO KNOW whether this is legal or not. Make me pay less taxes.”
    Remember, what we are discussing here is whether this is legal or not. Is it moral? No, but every one of us would embrace the option of paying less taxes. Do not mistake paying less taxes for “not paying taxes at all.” The contention (yes, it’s a contention, because Spanish tax regulations are obscure and allow a great deal of interpretation) is that Messi’s global image rights income was salary, and not the revenue of the firm to which Messi gives his global image rights for management.

    I personally do not give a flying F whether it’s moral, that is a philosophical question and depends greatly on the PoV of the one who responds. It’s was a legal regulation, a tax loophole. It was LEGAL per se. Now, how is it that something legal can be punished? Because, my dear people, it’s open to an interpretation. Surprise, justice is not blind. Nor is it very objective. Also, Santa Claus is not real. That being said, when the taxman and the guys doing the tax forms have a different interpretation, you have an arbitration case. The judge presiding hears both sides and decides according to HIS INTERPRETATION of the law who is right. What you don’t have is a full-scale “Al Capone” criminal case.

    2. Justice is not blind particularly in Spain. Kxevin asked the question “How many princesses are engaging in tax boondoggles?” And that is the wrong question, and also has the wrong answer.
    The correct question is not one, but two.

    Q: “How many Spanish Princesses with financial education and financial background engaged in financial crimes?”
    A: All of them.
    Q: “How many Spanish Princesses were exonerated for financial crimes against the objections of the Prosecution, because according to the State Attorney “didn’t really know what they were doing?””
    A: All of them.

    Now another set of Questions and Answers.
    Q: “How many Spanish athletes were made to pay the additional taxes and fines?”
    A: “Many.”
    Q: “How many of them were trialed and convicted of financial crimes?”
    A: “None of them.”

    Q: “How many Portuguese stars of Real Madrid are paying taxes in Spain?”
    A: “None of them.”
    Q: “How many Portuguese stars of Real Madrid are prosecuted for not paying taxes in Spain?”
    Q: “None of them.”

    And this, dear readers, is it. This is WHY the ridiculous campaign. This is WHY Messi is going for an appeal. This is WHY the few who have gone with the hashtag have done it. Not because of some blind obedience and idolatry, but because we are seeing selective justice being wielded to

    Now, the disclaimer: I have no problem with the fact that Messi was made to pay the back taxes and the fine. Because it’s open to interpretation and because the small part of that money that won’t be embezzled by corrupt Spanish Politicians will go to pensions, laid-off workers benefits and healthcare. Messi has paid everything demanded of him, and more. Now back to the rant.

    As Xavier Sala i Martin pointed out: “The Spanish tax authority is using Messi’s image to drive a marketing message.” And they are doing without paying a single Euro.
    So here’s a question: Why not Rafa Nadal? Why not Fernando Alonso? Why not Iker Casillas?

    Why? Because justice is not blind. And because it’s easier to prosecute an immigrant who speaks funny than it is to prosecute a national symbol that was given to carry the Spanish Flag at the Summer Olympics. It;’s easier to point the fingers at the outsider and throw it to the masses to devour than it is to prosecute the political elite that governs you, decides who to promote and gives you your daily bribe.

    • Davour
      July 11, 2016

      I completely agree the this notion, and I think this case reveals several flaws. But I still wish these athletes – and other super-high-earners – would just pay their taxes and be done with it. Still, if the system allows it, these things will happen.

      Either way, to me it blatantly obvious that Messi would not neither understand nor engage in these matters. His task was to play football; his father’s to handle the business end. And if his father, a steel worker foreman, is told by expensive financial advisors that a particular set-up is fine – why would he not trust them? Of course we don’t know this, but who really believes the idea that they wilfully would chose the illegal path in this case?

  4. Davour
    July 11, 2016

    Sorry to see France lose yesterday, but they didn’t seize the moment. They had the chances but were, to me, to hesitant or not brave enough, to properly go for the win. When Gignac entered the pitch instead of Martial, my mind wandered to the WC 2006, when Argentina lost to Germany, and Pekermann chose to send in the slow Cruz instead of the young, vibrant Messi (or even Tevez). Of course, like Gignac, he could do little in a team who couldn’t brake the pattern or get through the tight defence. Maybe Messi wouldn’t have made a difference, 17 or 18 years old against a German defence; maybe Martial wouldn’t have, either (he squandered the last opportunity to get the ball in the box), but to me it shows cowardice.

    Deschamps have not had a good tournament, and to some degree the success of Payet early on became a curse, as he now seemed untouchable. He was awful against Germany and so-so in the final. Could Pogba have delivered further up the field, with Kanté covering? Who knows. But Santos definitely outsmarted Didier. Portugal, to me, had a crappy approach to a final, falling deep and waiting (as has been their custom). But when losing CR, this was a reasonable tactic to regain composure, albeit a boring one.

    Really, if we speak of “deserved winners”, France edges it, for me, for beating Germany. But both these teams had a pretty easy road to the final. And, really, the notion of deserving the win is really just about aesthetics. In sports, the winner deserves it, since they won, after all. This is not figure skating (sorry, Xavi).

    Will be interesting how CR’s “legacy” is dealt with now, by the “pundits” – technically, he did not win the final. But the new narrative is his fantastic leadership skills (to cover for a mediocre tournament?) and hard work. Still, if the hatchet might be buried for a moment, he did seem genuinely happy. The absolute opposite to the image of Messi after his last final… Either way, the idea that this final would decide the Ballon d’or hopefully died.

    • Davour
      July 11, 2016

      But on a more positive note: Umtiti, to me, continued to show great composure and fantastic ability to pass out from the back. Impressive. From what he has shown in these games, he looks the perfect fit for us. But he won’ t be that right away, of course.

  5. dl
    July 11, 2016

    Heartily agree with Peter and Jim on their comments vis a vis Messi and taxes. By all accounts he was slow to reach adulthood, and was quite sheltered by his family and the club. Just from my own experience of 1) being 20 or 25 and having to file taxes as a self employed freelancer and 2) my current situation as a moderately paid employee, taxes are baffling and the amount of grey area — items that can be questioned by the authorities — is huge. I was in fact audited once, and it was surreal. They had little to gain, so it passed without too much pain, but the political points to be made from turning the screws on someone like Messi are significant, so it doesn’t surprise me that they went for it.
    I also understand that their are various points along the spectrum, and Kxevin has a tendency to be more on the either/or side of questions, rather than the both/neither.

  6. Spiza7
    July 12, 2016

    As mentioned in detail above. Some people will believe Messi is a Tax criminal, some people won’t and (many) others just won’t care.
    I’d rather our club do something to support Messi than nothing, because they at least shed more detail into the whole situation and there may be some Barca/Messi fans who will be able to understand what has happened and form their own opinion instead of just going by mainstream media headlines just stating he is a convicted criminal.

    From my understanding Messi made a mistake and he is being treated harshly relative to other players who were in a similar situation. But knowing all he did was sign papers doesn’t make me believe that supporting Messi goes against my values.

  7. July 12, 2016

    For those wondering, I can confirm many 20-22 year olds don’t know how to pay their taxes.

  8. Davour
    July 12, 2016

    So apparently we’ve signed Lucas Digne from PSG (on loan at Roma) for somewhere between 12-20m. Know nothing of him, but a quick highlight reel shows he has dispossessed Leo 1 on 1. Must do something right, then…

    If nothing else, we’ll now have two young French defenders supporting each other in adapting to Barca’s game. Might be a smart social move.

  9. Rami
    July 12, 2016

    This campaign seemed very intuitive for me, Even logical, Most of us, Maybe including you kevin would’ve done the same.
    Messi leaving barca is a catastrophic, End of the world event, And no one wants to be involved in such possibility, Weather messi is technically really guilty or not, Or weather what he did is moral or not, Is irrelevant, If you’re in charge of the club, You’ll do anything to make him happy and his fans happy, And that is pretty much all of your club’s supporters, If messi is gone, Your head is also gone, Axed.
    The board would’ve been stupid not to.

    • July 13, 2016

      No, I wouldn’t have. Because the campaign is silly. A club can express support for its superstar without being silly.

    • georgjorge
      July 13, 2016

      Of course, if we leave both ethics and law out of it and focus purely on something like the net utility for the club, the decision might be absolutely right (though they still might have come up with a less stupid slogan). And Barca nowadays seems to be very much a big business, with all the utilitarian thinking that comes with that.

      On the other hand, even in this space of Barca fans it doesn’t seem to be clear that the decision is making all the fans happy.

      Thought experiment time: if a player very important for the club’s sporting success would be convicted by a court for a far graver offense with ample evidence, would you also be in favor of the club unanimously backing him so as to not risk losing the player to another club?

  10. July 13, 2016

    I am not normally a fan of Youtube highlight reels, but this kid looks pretty decent, both in attack and defense https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTje5tMKv-o

    IF the rumours of Vietto are true and we end the summer with Suarez, Umtiti, Digne and Vietto we are going to be a juggernaut next season.

  11. georgjorge
    July 13, 2016

    This must be the first time I have read the name of Lucas Digne connected to our club. And just like that, the deal is done!

    Not necessarily a bad sign – over the last years we have seen that players who are not high-profile, who aren’t the next hot thing, can still contribute a lot to the team (Sergi Roberto, Jeremy Mathieu). Or they might not (Douglas, Vermaelen). Can’t wait to see which it is!

  12. raj
    July 15, 2016

    I’d like to pitch in with my two-whatevers on ethics of paying taxes.

    The ethics of paying taxes as per today’s tax rules is on very shaky grounds to say the least. Not only because of ambiguity of rules but also because of the selective enforcement of rules and most importantly the end-use of this money.
    So, to call someone ‘criminal’ because they paid less taxes than they owe is absurd. I’d like to call that person smart, if he can get away with it. At the worst, he is legally mistaken. Unfortunate would be the right word. Because the rules apply only when the powers that be want them to and how!

    I live in India (I think our politicians are bad, but not terribly worst than the Spanish), when I try to save some taxes by whatever illegal means I can, I think of it as money saved from mismanagement and thief’s. And, I am an accountant who works in taxes, so I state all the above as a matter of fact!

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