Barca presidential hopeful keen to keep Messi

Lionel Messi on the ball during Argentina's 2-0 win over Peru in their South American World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.
Lionel Messi on the ball during Argentina's 2-0 win over Peru in their South American World Cup qualifier on Tuesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • Lionel Messi must stay at Barcelona so he can lead the team for the remainder of his career and play a strategic role when he retires, according to the club's leading presidential candidate Victor Font.

The six-time World Player of the Year and their all-time top scorer came close to leaving the Catalan giants in August after his relationship with then president Josep Maria Bartomeu turned sour.

Messi conceded defeat in his attempt to leave the Nou Camp during the transfer window after Barca stuck to their guns.

But the Argentina captain can still leave the club, where he has spent his entire career, for free at the end of this season unless he pens a new contract before the end of June.

Font, who formed part of a campaign against Bartomeu which led to him resigning last month, is the front runner to win the Jan 24 election and believes the world's best-paid player can still be convinced to commit his future to the team.

"When you are lucky enough to have the best player in the world in your team, you need to retain that talent," he told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

"If Messi goes to a competitor, we will not find an alternative easily as there is no alternative to Messi. So that's why retaining him in the short term is critical.

"But for us, the association between Messi and Barca is a strategic relationship and we want to make sure we create the right conditions for Messi to play a role in the club, even after he retires. Messi could contribute plenty of ideas."

The telecommunications entrepreneur has been planning a run at the presidency for seven years and has chosen Barca great Xavi Hernandez to lead the team as a general manager in the long term as well as taking over Ronald Koeman as coach.

Getting his former teammate on board is part of Font's strategy to ensure the club skipper remains.

"Messi needs to be convinced we have a competitive and winning project and Xavi can play a decisive role in us doing that," said the 48-year-old. "Xavi's credibility and know-how about football is the right one to convince someone like Messi.

"They are friends, they know each other, they trust each other and that's going to be key."

However, speculation remains rife that the 33-year-old Messi wants a new adventure, with Manchester City said to be among his suitors.

La Liga president Javier Tebas has never hidden his distaste for the Abu Dhabi-owned English Premier League club, having repeatedly criticised the way they are run over the years.

"We would prefer Messi to stay in La Liga but (Cristiano) Ronaldo and Neymar left, and we have not noticed any difference. We are ready," he said on Tuesday.

"It seems the only club in the Premier League that talks about registering Messi is Manchester City, who compete outside the rules."

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2020, with the headline Barca presidential hopeful keen to keep Messi. Subscribe