Messi faces D-day amid Camp Nou power tussle


Barcelona staged one stunning reversal on Wednesday night by overturning a two-goal first leg defeat against Sevilla to reach the final of the Copa del Rey.

Now the Catalan club will be seeking an even bigger miracle at the end of a week which started with the arrest of the former president. The new boss elected by the club’s 140,000 members in Sunday’s presidential elections will win the task of convincing Lionel Messi to stay in Catalonia.

The Argentine’s crazed celebrations of Gerard Pique’s equaliser showed his heart is still with the club he joined as a 13-year-old. But will his head tell him now is the time to move to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City or Mauricio Pochettino’s Paris-Saint Germain? At the age of 33, it is now or never for the six-time Ballon D’Or winner.

This huge week for Barcelona began in typically bizarre style with the arrest of former president Josep Maria Bartomeu and CEO Oscar Grau in the latest chapter in Barcagate.

The unpopular Bartomeu was forced to resign in October. But his board had hired an IT consultancy called I3 Ventures to promote the club on social media – and are accused to have used the account to smear opponents of the regime like former stars Guardiola and Xavi Hernandez and Pique and Messi.

Bartomeu was released on Tuesday and thirteen employees of the club and six from I3 Ventures were interviewed by the police. The three candidates standing for president this weekend – former president Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa – have all distanced themselves from the old board and promised change at an institution which has lurched from crisis to crisis on and off the field.

The humiliating 8-2 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich in August saw Messi demand to leave and he was only prevented from leaving by Barcelona insisting his €700m (£630m) buyout clause was still valid.

“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not,” Messi claimed.

“Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season.”

Not wishing to go to court, Messi agreed to see out the final year of his contract without any further commitment. The report in Spanish newspaper El Mundo claiming Messi’s contract has seen him earn £500m over the last four years did not help his chances of staying.

But the 33-year-old is still at the Camp Nou – and the new president will get the chance to sell him their vision of a new era – and the promise of a new team quickly built around him.

Results under Ronald Koeman have improved with only two defeats in the last 23 games in all competitions and Barca sit joint second in La Liga with Real Madrid. But one of those losses was the 1-4 home thrashing in the first leg of the Champions League tie by Paris-Saint Germain to show Spanish clubs are no longer the best – or richest – in Europe.

Names such as Sergio Aguero and Georginio Wijnaldum have been touted as short-term solutions but the likes of Erling Haaland and Matthijs de Ligt would cost a fortune for a club €1bn in debt.

Lionel Messi has won the Ballon D’Or six times at Barcelona.

But the future of Messi dominated election discussion  between the three candidates this week. Favourite Laporta, who brought Ronaldinho and Deco to the club before he was ousted in 2010, claimed a vote for him is a vote for keeping the Argentine superstar.

“I am convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not stay,” Laporta said. “But if I win he will stay. He is not driven only by money. He wants a competitive team that wins. I am sure he will listen to my proposal. The investment in Messi has a very significant return. He represents 30% of the club’s income and costs around 8%. The best return on this investment, with all he has given, is also emotional and sporting. To make him stay is my big goal. I have a great relationship with Leo and the offer I will make will be appreciated. But if I don’t win, it is sure that Leo will not continue at Barcelona. “

 


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