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Lionel Messi – Barcelona playmaker can be convinced to stay says presidential candidate

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi made his Barcelona debut in 2004 – he has scored 640 goals, won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns

Barcelona presidential candidate Victor Font says he hopes to convince forward Lionel Messi to stay at the Nou Camp – and wants to create the “right conditions” for former coach Pep Guardiola’s return.

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC World Service’s John Bennett, the 48-year-old also spoke about Ronald Koeman’s turbulent first three months as coach, transfer targets and the club’s position on a European Super League.

On the possibility of Messi leaving the club

The 33-year-old is widely regarded as the club’s greatest player – he has scored 640 goals, won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns during his 16 years as a professional at the Nou Camp. The forward put in a transfer request in the summer before choosing to stay. His contract expires next summer.

“Obviously we know that’s a possibility because he said he wanted to leave last summer, but we are hopeful. The elections are coming in 60 days and we will have a new board and a new president and a new project.

“What Messi needs in order to stay at the club is a competitive project. He wants to win – obviously the lack of a project in recent times has affected the way we compete and therefore I’m very much hoping that whenever the new president takes over, hopefully it will be us, we can convince him to stay.”

On Manchester City’s chances of signing him

“Every time [City coach] Pep Guardiola speaks about this, he says it very clearly that he believes that Messi should stay at Barca and that he’s a Barca one-club man. He wishes that he finishes his career at FC Barcelona.”

On what he needs to do to convince Messi to stay

“We need to ensure he understands there is a project, a winning – a competitive project. For us, the association between Barca and Messi is a very strategic association. He’s been at the club since he was 13 and we believe that this association needs to go even beyond the days that he’s on the pitch (post retirement).

“We believe that this association has a lot of potential for the years to come and we are hopeful that if we present this to him and his team he will see this as a good opportunity.”

On the chances of Guardiola returning to Barcelona

Catalan Pep Guardiola, 49, came up through the ranks to become a Barcelona first-team player and then coach, between 2008 and 2012 – he helped the club win three league titles and two Champions League crowns. Guardiola recently signed a new two-year deal with Manchester City, who he took charge of in 2016.

“The project that we’ve been working on is one that will try to create, if we are honoured to be chosen, the right conditions for this top talent, that is very much linked to Barca, to return to their club at some point in time.

“And we know, that at some point, Pep will want to return, even if it’s for personal reasons. Hopefully sooner rather than later we will be able to create those conditions and be able to count on Pep’s talent for the good of the club.”

On former player Xavi still being his preferred choice as head coach

Former midfielder Xavi progressed from the youth team to the first team and won numerous titles with Barcelona between 1998 and 2015, when he left the club.

“We decided he is the best person to lead the project in years to come – that happened four or five years ago when we were starting to define the project.

“We saw he has unique leadership skills and unique team management skills – he has everything that one needs to take the leadership role off the pitch. We see him as a key figure in the project in the years to come, taking more of a general manager type of role. It’s what Alex Ferguson was at Manchester United. The hope is that a legend that has all these skills, like Xavi, can play a similar role in the years to come at FC Barcelona.”

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On current coach Ronald Koeman

Barcelona are 10th in La Liga. They have earned 11 points after their opening eight games – their worst tally at this stage since 1991/92 season, when they eventually won the championship.

“We should be thankful he took responsibility during difficult times which says a lot about him. We started the year well and I like the fact he is giving opportunity to youth talent. I’m hoping good results come back. I’m confident we have a competitive team and can win silverware this year.”

On transfer targets

“The election this time will be exceptional – during a pandemic and all clubs hit by the economic crisis. They are also likely to happen a week before the winter transfer window will be closed. Given everything, I don’t expect signings to play a relevant role in this election. We’ve been working with the sports organisation on the type of needs the club may have for next season.”

On a potential European Super League

Former president Josep Maria Bartomeu said he had accepted proposals for Barcelona to join a European Super League

“We know that there are talks. There have been talks for many years, but the reality is we don’t know the details about such potential competitions.

“We obviously also believe that the current Champions League format can be improved to see more top teams [facing each other]. We don’t need to wait seven, eight years to see Liverpool v Barca for example, but we need to understand a bit what the alternatives are. We’ll obviously be supportive of any measure, any initiative that enriches the game.”

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