Recently, FIFA president Sepp Blatter explained why he prefers Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo. “He’s a kind man, he’s a good boy,” Blatter told students from Oxford University.
The general line of thinking went – until recently, at least – that Messi is a precocious, innocent kid, who just happens to be preternaturally good at dribbling and kicking a soccer ball. This effect was strengthened by the almost robotic Ronaldo, ruthlessly pursuing perfection.
But this year, Messi’s reputation has started to flake.
The most recent chip: Madrid newspaper El Mundo’s front page on Monday claimed Messi’s father, Jorge, was involved with a Colombian drug cartel. The story said that Jorge used this summer’s Messi & Friends tour to launder drug money. By selling a nonexistent ‘Row 0’ he supposedly picked up 10 – 20 percent of the profits, netting him a couple million euros.
Of course, the unfolding story is far less sensational. The Colombian Civil Guard told the Europa Press that Messi and his father are not under investigation. (The wonderful word that Google translate pops up with is the Messis are “decoupled” from the ordeal.)
Messi & Friends may, actually, have been involved. But a press release from Messi’s management clarified that Messi & Friends was run by a third party. They claim Messi’s only benefit was a grant to an NGO selected in unison with UNICEF.
El Mundo is based in Madrid and has the perception of being “close” to Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez.
Still, whatever Messi’s involvement, this story will hurt. Messi recently had to pay Spanish authorities about 4 million euros in back-taxes, following an investigation into tax fraud. (The Messis claimed they were misled by financial advisers.) And the Messi & Friends tour canceled its Los Angeles leg less than 24 hours prior, despite already selling 45,000 tickets.
The reputation hits all comes on a ‘down’ year for Lionel Messi on the field, with injuries preventing him from reaching the heights of 2012, when he scored 91 goals overall. (He still has 44 goals this calendar year, which most strikers would do despicable things to reach, but you get the point.) Cristiano Ronaldo is the favorite to win the Ballon d’Or, awarded to the best soccer player in the world yearly.
Ronaldo still hasn’t decided if he will attend the Ballon d’Or gala in January. Messi, meanwhile, is busy recovering from injury and plotting how – or if – he can regain his “good boy” image.