Barcelona has staunchly defended Lionel Messi over claims he racially abused a black Real Madrid player several seasons ago.

Dutch midfielder Royston Drenthe, who is currently on loan at Everton, was quoted in a Dutch magazine as saying he was taunted by the Argentina forward and three-time world player of the year during several of their Spanish league encounters.

Barcelona said in a statement that the accusations ''are well wide of the mark'' and that Messi ''has always shown maximum respect and sportsmanship towards his rivals.''

Drenthe, who is black, claims Messi used the word ''negro'' in a negative tone. Liverpool's Luis Suarez was banned for eight games for taunting Manchester United's Patrice Evra the same way this season.