- Royston Drenthe accuses Lionel Messi of calling him "negro" during matches
- Barcelona say the accusations against Messi "are well wide of the mark"
- Drenthe on loan at Everton from Real Madrid but has been left out recently for disciplinary reasons
Lionel Messi has been dragged into the row about racism in football, but his club Barcelona insists that accusations against the three-time world player of the year are "well wide of the mark."
Messi is said to have frequently directed a racial term at Real Madrid's Royston Drenthe during matches in the Spanish top flight.
Drenthe, who has spent this season on loan at English Premier League club Everton, claimed in an interview with a Dutch magazine that Messi repeatedly called him "negro" (meaning black).
It is the same word that caused huge controversy in English football this season when Manchester United's black defender Patrice Evra accused Liverpool striker Luis Suarez of using the term several times during a Premier League match between the teams.
Suarez was banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 ($64,330). He maintained that the word "negro" is used commonly in his native Uruguay and is not a form of racial abuse.
But Barcelona strongly rejected any suggestion that Argentine forward Messi would have used the same term.
"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," a spokesman said.
"His behavior throughout his career has always been exemplary."
Messi has had another outstanding season individually, scoring an unprecedented 72 goals in all competitions and a record 50 in La Liga alone ahead of Saturday's final match at Real Betis.
However, his team have fallen short of their usual high standards, losing out in the Spanish title race to Real Madrid and suffering a shock loss to Chelsea in the Champions League semifinals when Messi hit the bar with a crucial penalty in the second leg.
Drenthe's spell at Everton has ended miserably. The 25-year-old hasn't been picked since he was dropped from the FA Cup semifinal against Liverpool on April 14 for unspecified disciplinary reasons.
The Dutch midfielder joined Real Madrid for a reported €14 million ($18.1 million) in 2007 but has spent the last two seasons out on loan. He has been quoted as saying he wants to return to Feyenoord, where he played before joining Madrid.