LIONEL MESSI may never get the chance to erase the memory of losing to Liverpool if he faces a ban from the UK after Brexit.
The Argentine superstar has previously been convicted for tax fraud and was handed a 21-month suspended prison sentence by the Spanish courts.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is currently an EU citizen as he carries a duel Spanish-Argentine passport leaving him free to travel to the UK for his non-violent conviction.
But immigration lawyer Andrew Osbourne of firm, Lewis Silkin, has warned that players could face travel issues once the UK leaves the EU, with Messi, 32, among the stars facing a stumbling block.
In an interview with the Athletic, he revealed: “There is a specific point around European games. If you are an EU citizen with a criminal conviction, you can travel to the UK, as long as you are not deemed to be a threat to national security.
“If you are not an EU citizen and have a conviction or prison sentence imposed – even if suspended – you are banned from coming to the UK.
“There are a number of very famous footballers with convictions and suspended sentences for tax evasion. They, thus far, have not had to worry as they have EU passports.
“But post-Brexit, they potentially may not be able to enter the country (as they will be treated like non-EU nationals).
Anyone with a prison sentence of any sort, the starting point is you are not allowed in. This could provide disruption to Champions League squads
“Anyone with a prison sentence of any sort, the starting point is you are not allowed in.
“This could provide disruption to Champions League squads and also whether [Uefa] will play finals in England if players potentially may not be able to come in.
“Clubs will need to take steps.”
Barcelona avoided facing any English team in the Champions League group stages, but could have been without their talisman Messi if they are drawn against a Premier League side later in the competition – and if Brexit hadn’t been pushed back.
Ernesto Valverde’s side faced off against both Manchester United and Liverpool in Europe last year, with their captain enduring two difficult games.
The Argentine’s tax conviction could mean he join former world heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson in being banned from the UK for both Champions League or international games.
However, despite the difficulties, there is an expectation that realpolitik will take over with Uefa’s decision and that the Home Office would grant the five-time Ballon d’Or winner an exemption.