“I’m a footballer, I didn’t know anything about kidnapping laws.” – Rene Higuita
There are people that belong to the school of thought that some select few are above the law because they are celebrities. This is nothing but a farce.
This is because whenever they some of these popular stars get into trouble with the law, they tend to get away with just a slap on the wrist.
But as footballers are punished for their actions on the football pitch with yellow and red cards, they also face the law whenever they are found wanting off the pitch.
I’ll be talking about 8 popular footballers that got into trouble with the authorities for bad behavior while some even went to jail.
1. Lionel Messi
In 2013, Spanish tax authorities filed charges of tax evasion against the Argentine superstar and his father.
The pair was accused of making use of shell companies in offshore countries to shield royalties and licensing income from tax.
The Spanish authorities claimed that income from lucrative partnerships with Pepsi-Cola, Adidas, and Procter & Gamble was routinely moved to tax havens like Belize and Uruguay.
The authorities alleged that the pair concocted an elaborate web of routes to funnel the money to avoid paying income tax.
While Lionel Messi denied the charges leveled against him, he made moves to pay the tax debt of €5 million.
However, in 2015, the Argentine was ordered to be tried by the courts.
The Barcelona superstar was convicted of tax evasion in July 2016 after the trial found him and his father guilty.
The Argentine superstar was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment while his father got a 15-month sentence.
But 1 year after the pair was found guilty, the Spanish courts changed the prison sentences to fines.
Lionel Messi was instructed to pay a total of €252,000 as fine while his father was ordered to pay €180,000 as fine.
If the prison sentences weren’t changed to fines, how would Barcelona and Argentina have coped without their talisman for the duration of the 21-month sentence?
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Last year, the Portuguese playmaker was fined €18.8 million ($21.6 million) for tax fraud after he was dragged to court by the Spanish authorities.
Ronaldo was accused by the tax authorities of evading taxes worth €14.7 million between 2010 and 2014 during his first 4 years for Real Madrid in Spain.
The 35-year old Juventus forward pleaded guilty to the charge and agreed to pay the fine which saw him avoid a 23-month prison sentence.
3. Adam Johnson
In March 2015, the former Manchester City winger was arrested and charged with having sexual relations with a 15-year old.
Although he was granted bail and allowed to continue to play football for Sunderland FC, he eventually pleaded guilty in February 2016.
His employers, Sunderland FC, immediately terminated his contract and he was left out in the cold.
The following month, Adam Johnson was found guilty of sexual relations with a child by the courts and he was sentenced to 6 years in jail.
The footballer’s girlfriend and mother of his child, who had stood by him throughout the trial, left him after he was found guilty.
He was released last year after serving half of his sentence.
While playing for Manchester City, he won the FA Cup and the Premier League titles within 2 years before making a move to Sunderland FC.
He also earned 12 caps for the England national team which has since been stripped off him.
If Adam Johnson had not indulged in this sexual misconduct, he would have represented England at the 2018 World Cup given his fantastic performances for Sunderland FC.
4. George Best
One of the best players to ever wear the colours of Manchester United, George Best was simply in a league of his own when it came to football.
But with his fame came his own fair share of troubles. He lived a crazy lifestyle off the pitch.
He had a huge drinking problem which affected his career and eventually, his health.
In 1984, the 1968 European Footballer of the Year was arrested for driving drunk. It didn’t just stop there.
He was also charged with assaulting a Police officer and refusing to answer bail.
This gross misconduct earned him a 3-month sentence where he spent Christmas behind bars.
He later died from his alcoholism in November 2005 after suffering from a lung infection and multiple organ failure.
During the Irishman’s stint with Manchester United, he appeared 361 times in the League where he scored 167 goals between 1963 and 1974.
George Best was regarded as one of the greatest players to never play in the World Cup.
He was eulogized by the Irish Football Association as the “greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland”.
5. Joey Barton
The former Newcastle and QPR player is no stranger when it comes to making the news for the wrong reasons.
Always on the news for the wrong things on and off the pitch, the temperamental player has been charged and banned several times.
Not one to rely on during a game, he got sent off for elbowing Carlos Tevez in the last game of the 2011/2012 English Premier League season against Manchester City.
In December 2007, Joey Barton was charged with attacking a man viciously and a teenager later on.
The courts found him guilty and he was sentenced to 6 months in prison.
Prior to his sentencing, he had viciously attacked teammate, Ousmane Dabo, and left him unconscious.
Following the attack, his victim suffered from head trauma, an inflamed eye and bruised eyelids.
He was suspended by the English FA for 10 matches.
In 2010, he was given a 3-match ban for violently punching Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pederson in the stomach.
Due to his violent behavior, he was never called up to The Three Lions squad.
6. Neymar Jnr
In March 2016, the Brazilian forward was found guilty of evading tax by a Brazilian court.
He was alleged to have hidden income from a number of lucrative contracts.
Neymar Jnr was accused of failing to declare his earnings from contracts with Santos, Barcelona and Nike accurately.
He was subsequently slapped with a €45.9 million fine.
He also appeared in a Spanish court after the authorities charged him for some fraudulent acts during his transfer from Santos to Barcelona in 2013.
The Brazilian captain presently plays for PSG in France where he is embroiled in a lot of controversy.
7. Rene Higuita
“The Mad Man”, as he was fondly called, after a horrible mistake at the Italia 90 FIFA World Cup where he attempted to dribble Roger Milla, who ended up dispossessing him and scoring into an empty net.
The goal sent Colombia crashing out of the tournament while Cameroon progressed.
In 1993, the Colombian goalkeeper was arrested for playing part in the kidnapping of Carlos Molina’s daughter.
He had delivered the ransom money that secured the release of Drug Baron Molina’s daughter and for his services, he was paid $64,000.
As it was an offence in Colombia to profit from kidnapping, he was arrested and jailed for 7 months without being charged.
The Colombian Showman missed the 1994 FIFA World Cup as he was spending time in prison
Although a goalkeeper, he scored 41 goals from spot kicks during his career.
He also pioneered goalkeepers advancing outwards onto the field to support the team.
His style of play led to the creation of the back-pass rule which prohibited goalkeepers from handling back-passes from their teammates.
In September 1995, he produced an amazing piece of skill to block out a cross from Jamie Redknapp at the Wembley Stadium.
That skill was subsequently known as the Scorpion Kick.
8. Ian Wright
Asides evading defenders and scoring goals for the Arsenal team, Ian Wright was also good at evading tax authorities, or so he thought.
At a point when he owned 2 cars, the Arsenal legend thought it wise to avoid paying taxes on both vehicles.
He enjoyed his fraudulent scheme for quite a while before the authorities found him out and he was subsequently sentenced to 14 days in jail.
No celebrity is above the arm of the law as we have seen in times past.
They always get the appropriate punishment for their crimes as we can see with Adam Johnson, Joey Barton and Rene Higuita and R. Kelly.
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