Football

Still time to convince Lionel Messi to stay: Joan Laporta

Barca presidential hopeful says he has 'credibility' with Leo, who has said his future remains undecided

Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta said there was still time to make "a convincing proposal" to Lionel Messi, whose contract with the club expires in June.

"He said he would wait until the end of the season and that gives us time to submit a convincing proposal to him," said Laporta, who is running to regain the position he held from 2003 to 2010.

Messi has been free to negotiate with other clubs since last Friday. But, as Laporta, 58, pointed out, the Barcelona star said in an interview on Spanish television on Dec 27 that he had "decided nothing" about his future.

"I don't know yet," Messi said. "I'm focused. I'm not thinking about how the season is going to end."

The 33-year-old has spent his entire career at Barcelona and made his first-team debut during Laporta's reign.

Laporta called Messi's wait-and-see approach "positive", although the Argentinian star said in the interview that "the club is going through a difficult time" and that it would be "complicated to bring it back to the level it was at".

Tired of a club in perpetual crisis with three coaches in the space of a year and disappointing results, such as the humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League in August, Messi asked to leave the Barca at the end of last season.

But he changed his mind after the club insisted suitors had to meet his massive 700 million-euro (S$1.13 billion) release clause.

Manchester City had been heavily linked with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner then and remain an interesting option for Messi, with former mentor Pep Guardiola in the dugout.

City chief executive Ferran Soriano, a former Barca vice-president, told Catalunya Radio: "It's clear that Messi has earned the right to choose what he wants to do. He's the best in the world...

"In previous situations, when there were rumours about a potential departure from Barca, he had some obstacles. Now he has nothing that blocks him. He will choose where to play."

Laporta is one of nine candidates to replace Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October, three months before his presidential term was due to end. The vote is on Jan 24.

Under Laporta, the club won 12 trophies including four La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues. The 58-year-old said his experience gives him an "advantage".

"I have credibility with Leo," Laporta said. "He has always told me that everything I promised him has come true.

"He knows that if I give my word, I keep it."

Among his opponents for the Barca presidency are Emili Rousaud and Toni Freixa, former members of the club's board of directors.

Other candidates include Jordi Farre, the promoter of the motion of censure that pushed Bartomeu towards the exit, and Victor Font, who has promised to rope in former players Xavi Hernandez and Jordi Cruyff to the board if elected. - AFP

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