Who is new Barcelona president Joan Laporta, and could he persuade Messi to stay?

Joan Laporta Barcelona
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The election came at a difficult time for the club rife with legal problems and in-fighting

Joan Laporta was elected as Barcelona’s president on Sunday with about 58 per cent of the vote, putting him charge of an organisation in dire need of positive leadership after his predecessor resigned in October and the pandemic strained club finances.

It's Laporta's second time in charge of the Blaugrana; he last served in 2010, when a 22-year-old Lionel Messi was entering the stratosphere of global influence. Laporta used his background with Messi to convince voters his deep ties to the Argentinian star could help him prevent a summer transfer exit.

Much has changed since Laporta's last term, but he claims he knows the correct strategy to return Barcelona to the relative stability they enjoyed a decade ago.

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Who is Joan Laporta?

Laporta was previously Barcelona's president from 2003 through 2010 - a stretch recognized as successful on almost all fronts for the Catalans.

During that period, Barcelona won four league titles and two Champions Leagues and graduated the likes of Messi and Andres Iniesta into their first team while adding key stars via transfer such as Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o.

After this election, Laporta is set to be in power until 2026.

What issues did Laporta campaign on?

Laporta framed his run for president around his experience at Barcelona, telling voters he would be able to convince an unhappy Messi to stay because the forward trusted him. He also pledged an expansion project for Camp Nou.

"I tell the truth, I am the one with the most experience and determination, as well as the most credibility in [Messi's] eyes," Laporta said to Goal earlier this year. "It fills me with pride that [Messi] tells me that everything I told him was fulfilled.

"The issue of Leo is easier than the stadium. It would be very nice to get to this [125-year anniversary of Camp Nou in 2024] with Messi, it would be good final fireworks."

Who were the other candidates?

Victor Font and Toni Freixa were also on the ballot, but they always faced a difficult campaign with Laporta considered the favourite from the beginning.

Font, who earned 30 per cent of the vote, is a member of the club's board.

Freixa, who earned 9 per cent of the vote, is a former spokesperson for the organisation.

What happened to Josep Maria Bartomeu?

The former Barcelona president resigned last year amid the 'Barcagate' controversy that led to his arrest this past week. He has since been released from custody.

Bartomeu and close aides have been accused of paying a PR company to burnish Bartomeu’s image through tactics that included disparaging the reputation of a number of current and former players – including Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Xavi. Those allegations and the team's financial problems created a toxic climate.

Bartomeu is assumed innocent in all criminal matters until proven otherwise.

What is Barcelona's debt?

The club has a gross debt of nearly €1.2 billion ($1.4b), prompting unpopular wage reductions for some squad members.

So much money owed has fueled transfer rumours about Messi and other highly paid members of the team.

How likely is Messi to stay?

Messi at one point made it clear he wanted to leave Barcelona and told his side of the story in an exclusive interview with Goal expressing his complaints about Bartomeu's leadership. He said he was told he would need to pay out a €700 million clause to exit this year.

“I wanted to go because I thought about living my last years of football happily," Messi said. "Lately I have not found happiness within the club.”

Further complicating matters is that the club's debt could limit the amount they can pay him in wages. His contract expires this summer, meaning Laporta will now need to work quickly to secure a deal even as the financial toll of the pandemic lingers.

But the myriad obstacles have not prevented Laporta from exuding confidence he can keep Messi, and the morning of Sunday's election, he said "I can call Jorge Messi tonight if I win". He also claimed Messi would leave if he wasn't elected.

Will Laporta seek a new manager?

One of the big questions each candidate faced was whether to keep Ronald Koeman in the dugout or to appoint a new boss.

Goal has reported that Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is not a candidate to take over, contrary to prior speculation, but Koeman could still be ousted if the 2020-21 campaign finishes in a disappointing manner. Laporta hasn't yet made a definitive statement on the long-term future of Koeman.

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