Barcelona have staunchly defended Lionel Messi over claims he racially abused a black Real Madrid player several seasons ago, calling such claims "well wide of the mark."
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 steadfastly denied Messi ever abused an opponent.
"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," the Spanish club said in a statement on 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 banned for eight games for taunting Manchester United's Patrice Evra with the same word seven times in a match between the two 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 was recently excluded from manager David Moyes' squad for disciplinary reasons.
Messi has scored an unprecedented 72 goals in all competitions this season, including a league record 50.
"It's indisputable, he's the best (player in the world) and he deserves another Ballon d'Or," Barcelona team-mate Isaac Cuenca said on Thursday.