Barcelona have leapt to the defense of Lionel Messi after he was accused of racially abusing Royston Drenthe while the midfielder was on loan with Everton several seasons ago.

Drenthe, who is spending the season at Goodison Park on a temporary deal from Real Madrid, claimed in Holland's Helden magazine that he was taunted by the Argentina superstar when they met in the Primera Division.

But Barca have insisted the accusations were "well wide of the mark".

When quizzed on the issue by Press Association Sport, a Barca spokesman said: "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.

"His behavior throughout his career has always been exemplary."