Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi notched a hat-trick on Saturday in Argentina's 4-0 road victory over Guatemala, dismissing the notion that his performance on the pitch will be affected negatively by his recent tax fraud accusation.
Messi had come off the bench in recent matches to add a spark, but was given the starting nod in this international friendly and didn't disappoint, scoring in a flurry at the 15th, 35th and 39th minute to cap off another epic performance.
SportsCenter's official Twitter page captured the significance of Messi's latest career milestone, as he passed former Argentina star Diego Maradona in scoring his 35th goal for the national team:
Lionel Messi scored a hat trick in Argentina's 4-0 win over Guatemala, passing Diego Maradona into a tie for 2nd all-time on national team.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 15, 2013
A supporting cast of second-stringers played alongside Messi, because some of the other marquee Argentinians were resting after tough World Cup qualifiers against Colombia and Ecuador, per Daniel Edwards of Goal.com.
That deflected attention away from the potential financial pitfalls—albeit they are relatively minor for him—that may await Messi and shifted the focus to his characteristic brilliance as a prolific scorer.
Will Lionel Messi's tax fraud case hamper his play moving forward?
The 25-year-old forward and his father, Jorge Horacio, are being accused of filling fraudulent tax returns from 2006 to 2009 (h/t CNN), and the amount Messi reportedly owes is $5 million.
In papers filed by prosecutor Raquel Amado, Messi allegedly evaded taxes by selling his image rights by way of overseas companies.
A footballer of Messi's caliber doesn't have to necessarily worry much about finances, considering his buyout clause is $335 million and his annual net salary numbers $14.75 million.
Having said that, this isn't exactly the best look for him from a publicity standpoint, and the fact that his father is involved as part of the alleged actions has to hurt for Messi. He issued a stern denial that he ever attempted to cheat Spanish authorities out of money on his Facebook page on Wednesday:
We have just known through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities...We are surprised about the news, because we have never committed any infringement...We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying this situation.
It's not the amount in dollars, but it's the principle that makes this development troublesome for the four-time World Player of the Year.
What's wonderful is the way Messi has handled it, which is reminiscent of how he gracefully glides the field and dominates in a seemingly easy way. Barca president Sandro Rosell insisted to the media that the family is taking it very well, and that he believes Messi did no wrong:
The outcome is still yet to be determined, and may not be for some time as due process takes its course.
Whatever happens, though, it isn't likely to substantially hinder Messi's prowess as a player if Saturday's virtuosic performance is a sign of things to come.