Well, that backfired quickly. Barcelona launched a social media campaign on Saturday calling on fans of the soccer club to express their support for Lionel Messi, who was convicted on three-counts of tax fraud and received a 21-month prison sentence earlier this week. He likely won’t have to serve any actual jail time, but the football club said fans should use the hashtag #WeAreAllLeoMessi “while posting a message with both hands open … to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world.”
“By making it clear that #WeAreAllMessi, we want Leo to know that he is not alone,” reads the statement on the club’s official website.
Social media users did not really take too kindly to the suggestion that they should express support for the multi-millionaire who was found guilty of having defrauded the state to the tune of $4.6 million. Some even changed the hashtag a bit to #WeareallNotLeoMessi while others kept the hashtag but just made clear they did not share the sentiment, even if they admire Messi’s soccer abilities.
Fox Sports’ Ryan Rosenblatt explains why Barcelona’s campaign is ultimately misguided:
It would be one thing for Barcelona to say that they accept the court’s ruling and Messi was wrong, but it does not define him and they still support him. People make mistakes and tax fraud may be a crime, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that Messi is a bad person. Barcelona can very well support him. But they’ve done more than just express support.
We are not all Messi, and it has nothing to do with whether we are Barcelona fans or not. The vast majority of people uphold their social contract and pay their taxes. They pay what the country demands to support the functioning of a government and the services that government provides its people. Messi didn’t, as determined by a court of law and Messi hasn’t been unable to say otherwise, instead leaning on ignorance.
So what could have led the club to pursue something that seems so wrongheaded on its face? It may have been an effort to make sure Messi knows the club supports him at a time when there are rumors flying that he could be considering leaving Barcelona. The head of La Liga de Fútbol Profesional, Spain’s national soccer league, said on Friday he was concerned Messi could decide to leave to play in another country due to his legal woes. “Of course I fear that [Messi] could leave, but the only thing I can tell him is that from La Liga we believe he isn’t guilty and we are happy to have him here,” he said.