Lionel Messi could leave Barcelona after tax verdict - Javier Tebas

The president of the Spanish football league says he is worried that Lionel Messi could leave to play in another country after being found guilty of tax fraud.

Javier Tebas has also defended Messi's innocence two days after a court ruled the Barcelona forward and his father defrauded the Spanish tax office of €4.1 million ($4.6m).

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."

On Wednesday, a court sentenced Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, to 21 months in prison.

In Spain, sentences of less than two years for first offences are usually suspended, meaning neither man will likely go to jail.

Tebas clarified that the court ruled Messi and his father guilty of three counts of tax fraud.

"They were three verdicts of seven months each, not one of 21," he said. "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."

Tebas added that Messi has paid more than &euro61m to Spain and with that money "hospitals and roads have been built."

Tebas also dismissed the notion that this case was part of any larger conspiracy against the Argentina star.

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

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu on Friday sent Messi another message of support via Twitter.

Messi and his father, who have denied any wrongdoing, have appealed the verdict to a higher court in Madrid.

Barcelona quickly expressed their support of Messi following the ruling, saying they believed he and his father were innocent.

A record five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or for the world's best player, Messi is facing the most difficult moment in his glorious career. He announced last month he would no longer play for Argentina following their loss in the Copa America Centenario final.

That was his third lost Copa America final to go with a defeat in the final of the 2014 World Cup. Messi moved to Spain at age 13 to join Barcelona's youth program. He's gone on to score a club record 453 goals, and win four Champions League titles and eight Spanish league titles, among other trophies.

He has repeatedly said he won't play for another European club, preferring to spend his best years at Barcelona before finishing his career back in Argentina.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.