Critics slam Barcelona for Messi support campaign

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Barcelona has been roundly criticised after it launched a social media campaign to support Lionel Messi after the 29-year-old was handed a 21-month jail sentence by a Spanish court after being found guilty of fiscal fraud.

The Argentinian and his father Jorge were both given the same prison sentence for the offence, with the prolific attacker fined €2 million ($2.92 million) for three counts of tax fraud and his dad hit with a €1.7 million ($2.5 million) charge.

Both men always denied any wrongdoing and Messi's representatives confirmed last week that the five-time Ballon d'Or winner will fight his conviction at the Supreme Court.

Determined to show its star man, Barcelona called on its fans to show support too, but many were not impressed.

"Barcelona have set up a campaign in support of Leo Messi following the sentence issued this week against the Argentinian and his father," a statement from the club read. 

"Using the hashtag #WeAreAllLeoMessi while posting a photo or message with both hands open, the campaign is encouraging all Barca fans to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world by voicing their unconditional support on social networks. 

"By making it clear that #WeAreAllMessi, we want Leo to know that he is not alone. All members, supporters clubs, fans, athletes, media and everyone else are invited to participate."

However, a more cynical hashtag popped up soon after Barcelona's effort as #WeAreNotAllLeoMessi began making appearance on Twitter, the majority of users pointing to Messi's tax crimes as the prime reason they felt no sympathy for or solidarity with the star.

Others made sure to use the Barcelona sanctioned hashtag to make their feelings known.

Neither Messi nor his father is likely to spend any time in prison as any sentence of less than two years — for non-violent offences — can be served under probation according to Spanish law.