LIONEL MESSI has opened up on the difficulties he and his family endured during his ordeal over alleged tax evasion.
Two years ago, the Argentine was handed a 21-month prison sentence, but under Spanish law, any sentence under two years for a first-time non-violent crime can be served on probation, meaning he was always unlikely to serve any time behind bars.
However, 12 months later, it was reduced to £223,000 fine.
And now Messi, 30, explains just how low he felt during the trial.
He told Sport: "I had moments where I would cry at Barcelona. It is normal that this happens with the passing of the years.
"You suffer and the year with the tax issues was hard.
"I didn't quite reach depression, but the way they attacked me, how things about me, my father and the people around me were reported — it was very difficult and I felt very attacked."
Presently, Cristiano Ronaldo is having similar issues with the tax authorities in Spain, and one his main grievances is that Real Madrid have not protected him in the same way Barcelona did Messi.
And the Argentine backs that notion up, explaining: "I was lucky.
"I had the support of my people, of Barca, of Catalonia and this helped me feel more relaxed."
Why are so many La Liga stars facing tax issues?
WHEN David Beckham joined Real Madrid in 2003, he became the pioneer of a new tax-exemption scheme Spain introduced in order to attract top foreign talents across all sectors.
It became known as the "Beckham Law" and the ex-England captain signed up to a six-year-long tax ceiling of 24 per cent — which was around half what was paid at the time on six-figure-plus incomes.
Spain was enjoying an incredible economic boom, and became the perfect place to attract "Galactico" players such as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.
But the Beckham Law was scrapped in 2010 for annual salaries of over £530,000 (€600,000), and Spanish tax inspectors are now far more aware of complex financial operations involving offshore accounts to get around tax laws.
Messi also claims the attacks in him were perpetrated by people in the Spanish capital who wanted to take advantage of his precarious situation.
He explained: "I believe that the order to attack me during the difficult period we were going through at the time came from Madrid.
"I knew it was like this and it hurt."
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Meanwhile, Messi, who was the figurehead of the great Barcelona side under which won two Champions League trophies with several players from their academy, criticised the lack of emphasis on promoting from within.
The Catalans have always prided themselves on producing elite, local talent, but have not seen any stars graduate from the famous "La Masia" in recent years.
He added: "The philosophy of this club was clear, but many players have left in recent years.
"This essence was lost and many important players from the academy left other clubs with greater possibilities."