BARCELONA, Spain - Barcelona staunchly defended Lionel Messi over a claim he racially abused a black Real Madrid player several seasons ago, calling it "well wide of the mark."
Dutch midfielder Royston Drenthe, on loan to Everton, was quoted in a Dutch magazine as saying he was taunted by the three-time FIFA player of the year during several of their Spanish league encounters.
"The player has always shown a maximum respect and sportsmanship towards his rivals, something which has been recognized by his fellow professionals many times, and we are sure that any accusations to the contrary are well wide of the mark," Barcelona said in a statement Thursday. "His behaviour throughout his career has always been exemplary."
Drenthe, who is black, claims Messi used the word "negro" in a negative tone. Liverpool's Luis Suarez was suspended for eight games this season for taunting Manchester United's Patrice Evra with the same word seven times in a match between the teams.
Drenthe was quoted as telling Helden magazine that he was "bothered" by the tone in which Messi "always called me 'negro, negro.'"
Drenthe said he realized that the term is commonly used in South American countries, but that "we cannot stand it."
Drenthe played several seasons at Madrid before being loaned to Hercules last season, and he moved to Everton this season. The 25-year-old never cemented his place at either Spanish club due to on-field performances and off-field problems, and recently was excluded from manager David Moyes' lineup for disciplinary reasons.
Messi has scored an unprecedented 72 goals in all competitions this season, including a league record 50.