Former Barcelona president and presidential candidate Joan Laporta has told ESPN that the club have repeatedly lied to Lionel Messi, but he does not think the Argentina international will be playing his football elsewhere next season.
Laporta was the Barca president between 2003 and 2010 and is running for re-election on Jan. 24 when the club will appoint a replacement for Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October.
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If he is elected, one of Laporta’s first tasks will be to get Messi — who equalled Pele’s scoring record for a single club with his 643rd Barca goal against Valencia on Saturday — to extend his stay at Camp Nou.
Messi’s Barcelona deal expires on June 30 2021 and he is allowed to negotiate a pre-contract agreement with other clubs from Jan. 1.
“I am sure Messi wants to continue at Barca,” Laporta said in an exclusive interview with ESPN. “It will depend on the proposal that the new president makes him. He needs to see that there is a competitive team to reignite the love story Barca had with the Champions League but which has been on hold in recent years.
“[The club] have repeatedly lied to him and, on top of that, things haven’t gone as everyone wanted. He is at a point in his career where he still wants to be successful and win titles.
“He cannot keep accepting that other teams win the Champions League and Barca, with Lionel, the best player in the history of the game, do not have a team competitive enough to be able to win it.”
After August’s 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich, Messi told Barca he wanted to move on after 20 years at the club. He eventually ended up staying after Bartomeu, the president at the time, refused to let him leave.
Manchester City wanted to sign him in the summer, while ESPN revealed this month that Paris Saint-Germain are also monitoring the situation with the aim of reuniting him with Neymar in France.
However, Laporta has said he cannot see the six-time world player of the year pulling on another club’s shirt and added his relationship with Messi and his father, Jorge, who is also his agent, gives him the advantage over the other eight candidates for the presidency.
Laporta’s first spell as Barca president saw Messi’s progression into the first team, the appointment of Pep Guardiola as coach and two Champions League titles.
“I don’t see Messi in a shirt that isn’t Barca’s,” Laporta added. “The story between him and the club is so beautiful that the incoming president is obliged to make sure it continues. I don’t see him playing for any other club. I see him in the Barca shirt.
“Along with turning around the club’s financial situation, the priority is to make a proposal to Lionel that convinces him to stay. I hope I arrive in time. And I have an advantage: Messi’s trust.
“He knows the offer I make will be real and I will fulfil it. I think that will help a lot and is an advantage over the other candidates.”
Another task facing the incoming president at Barca is stabilising the club financially. The club’s debt rose to nearly €500 million this year due to mismanagement by the previous board and the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The club on the brink of bankruptcy,” Laporta said. “That is one of the reasons why I am running. I did the same in 2003 to turn around a delicate situation. The magnitude is much bigger this time but the structure is the same.
“The situation is difficult but, despite everything, we’re [the football club] that generates the most revenue. But we will have to find socios [club members] working in certain areas that can help us generate even more.
“The emergency plan we have is powerful, and I am sure it will work. The message is one of optimism. We can turn the situation around by reducing outgoings. We’re studying the restructuring of the debt, too.”
One of the reasons Laporta was elected in 2003 was because of the promise he would sign David Beckham — although he eventually signed Ronaldinho instead — but he will not be making such pledges this time round.
Asked if re-signing Neymar was a possibility, he said he wouldn’t speak about other players as it could destabilise the squad, although added he liked “skilful” players and revealed he’s remained in touch with many of the game’s biggest agents during his time away from football.
Former midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who is currently coaching Al-Sadd in Qatar, is another person who could play a big role in the election campaign. He has been strongly linked with Victor Font, another candidate for the presidency, but said over the weekend he wouldn’t be officially endorsing anyone while praising both Laporta and Font.
“I think that’s intelligent,” Laporta said of Xavi’s position. “He’s been one of the best midfielders in the club’s history, if not the best, and he will be the coach one day. I don’t know if in the short, medium or long-term. That depends on the circumstances.”