On the surface, a campaign to show your support for one of the best players in the world sounds like a great idea. Maybe not so when said player was just this week convicted of tax fraud.

Barcelona are trying to encourage fans to show their support for star striker Lionel Messi who, along with his father, was sentenced to 21 months in prison for defrauding the Spanish tax office out of €4.1m. Spanish law, however, means neither man is likely to actually spend any time behind bars.

The club’s new campaign, #WeAreAllLeoMessi, wants fans to show their support for the player by posting pictures of themselves with both hands open. In a statement announcing the campaign, the club said it would be “encouraging all Barça fans to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world by voicing their unconditional support on social networks”.

A Messi departure?

The campaign appears to have been brought about by fears raised by La Liga president Javier Tebas that Messi could quit Spain as a result of the ruling. As one of the league’s most bankable players, this could have quite a wide ranging financial impact given their new TV deal.

Tebas said:

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.

They were three verdicts of seven months each, not one of 21. They were not that severe. We are talking about process that wasn’t properly followed. I don’t think Messi is a criminal. He fell victim to a faulty fiscal structure which will be changed.

There is no prejudice or personal attack against Messi or against Barcelona. The world of sport is under investigation.

Barcelona appear to have moved quite quickly to back the striker. They maintain that both Messi and his father are innocent, and club president Josep Maria Bartomeu tweeted his support for the player.

Reaction to the campaign’s announcement has been damning across social media, with many critical of the club’s decision to ask fans to show “sympathy” for a player who has been convicted in a court of law for defrauding the country. Messi and his father are set to appeal the decision, and maintain their innocence.