When UEFA selected Cardiff, Wales as the site of the 2017 Champions League Final, they probably didn’t foresee a cataclysmic event like Brexit showing up and throwing a wrench in the works. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said on Tuesday that they could see a repeat of Serge Aurier’s situation from earlier this season, when the Ivorian international was denied access to the UK ahead of a matchup against Arsenal, due to an open appeal on an assault conviction. This time around, however, the targets of a possible block are two of the highest-profile athletes in the world: Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Both members of Barcelona’s fearsome attack both currently have open proceedings surrounding separate tax evasion cases, and the status of their legal battles might keep them out of Wales come May if Barcelona make it to the final. Messi still has an open case in Spain over alleged tax evasion surrounding endorsement deals made at the end of the 2000s, although he was already sentenced to a suspended 21-month prison sentence last summer. Neymar will stand trial for tax fraud and corruption stemming from his 2013 transfer from Santos in Brazil to Barcelona, as the Brazilian superstar lost his final appeal before trial earlier this month.
Of course, Brexit’s impact on soccer might not matter just yet, as Barcelona are heavy underdogs to come back in their match-up against Paris Saint-Germain. The Catalan club was whomped 4-0 in Paris two weeks ago, and would have to beat the French club 5-0 (or 4-0 with penalty kicks) at the Camp Nou on March 8th to advance.
As for UEFA, they have no plans to move either this final or the closing stages of the Euro 2020, but Ceferin did speculate that Brexit becoming a reality would make it harder to host big matches and tournaments in the United Kingdom. “That will worsen when Brexit happens, especially if the reasons were as formal,” said Ceferin. “We could have a serious problem. If we see that players cannot enter because they have any sort of procedure ongoing, then we will simply think if we should play our European matches there.”