Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta said during a debate Tuesday he's the only candidate who can keep Lionel Messi at the Spanish club if elected Sunday.
"I am sure that if someone else wins the election [other than me], Messi won't stay at the club," Laporta said. "I have a good relationship with him; there's a lot of respect. We'll make him an offer based on the club's situation. Maybe we can't compete financially, but Messi is not ruled by money. He wants to end his career at the highest level possible."
ESPN's Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens noted both rival candidates, Victor Font or Toni Freixa, disagreed with that statement, saying they'd also do everything in their power to keep Messi, who can leave on a free transfer when his contract runs out in June.
Laporta, who previously held the role of Barca president from June 2003 through June 2010, argued he formed a bond with Messi the other candidates can't match.
The 33-year-old Argentine superstar, who's played his entire senior career with Barcelona after arriving at the club's famed La Masia youth academy in 2000, hasn't endorsed a candidate in the race.
"No, I prefer not to position myself with anyone," Lionel Messi said in January on Spanish television network La Sexta (via Dermot Corrigan of The Athletic). "People are always saying that I run the club, so imagine the reaction if I said who I want to be president."
The six-time Ballon d'Or winner didn't mince his words about the situation the president will inherit, though.
"I hope whoever wins can bring the club back to where it deserves to be, and where today it is not, but it will not be easy," Messi said. "Things at the moment are really, really bad."
He explored an exit from Camp Nou following the 2019-20 season but disputed contract language and an exorbitant clause that would have forced an interested club to pay €700 million to trigger a transfer made it "impossible" without a court case, which was an avenue he didn't want to go down.
"There was another way, and it was to go to trial," Messi told Ruben Uria of Goal in September. "I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived."
He's continued to produce at a high level, recording 19 goals and four assists in 23 La Liga appearances during the current term, and should generate plenty of interest during the summer transfer window.
But first, the Barcelona presidential race may be decided based on who the voters believe has the best chance of keeping the club legend with the Blaugrana for the remainder of his career.