Lionel Messi has admitted he wanted to leave Barcelona when he was under investigation from the Spanish tax authorities but insists now he intends to finish his career at the club.
In an interview with Catalan radio station RAC1, Messi also said he had expected Neymar to sign for Real Madrid last summer after Barca failed to strike an agreement with Paris Saint-Germain.
Messi and his father Jorge were found guilty of defrauding Spain of 4.1 million euros in taxes between 2007 and 2009, for which they paid close to 10 million euros and Messi was handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence.
Asked on Tuesday night if he had ever wanted to leave Barcelona, Messi said: “In 2013-14, when I started having the tax problems, it was very difficult for me and my family. My children were young and we had a very bad time. At that time, I had it in mind to leave, not because I wanted to leave Barca but because I wanted to leave Spain. I felt mistreated and I didn’t want to be here anymore.”
The 32-year-old’s current contract expires in 2021 and Messi believes extending his deal “will not be a problem”.
“Today it is clearer that my idea is to finish here,” Messi said.
Messi added that he was keen to be reunited with Neymar last summer.
“I honestly thought at one time, especially in this market, that if he did not come here, he would go to Real Madrid because I thought he wanted to leave,” Messi said.
“I wanted Ney to come because as a footballer, he is one of the best in the world. He is unpredictable and having him in our team would have given us more options. But aside from the sporting side, he left in the way that he left. We could have left it at that. A lot of the fans didn’t want him to come back and that’s understandable.”
Barcelona did sign Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid and Messi denied suggestions by the media of a rift between him and the Frenchman.
“The first year when we wanted to sign Griezmann, I said he was one of the best and that the best are always welcome,” Messi said. “I have never had problem with him coming. So it’s a lie.”
Messi also offered his support to Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, who has been under pressure after a bumpy start to the season followed the team’s Champions League collapse against Liverpool in May.
“It was not the coach’s fault but it was also not my decision for him to stay,” Messi said. “The club decided Valverde would continue and for me that was a joy, good for stability and he is a coach we support and love.”