Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Toni Freixa are the final three candidates left in the race to become the next president of Barcelona.
Former president Laporta, whose reign lasted from 2003 to 2010, received the most validated signatures of the three remaining candidates, according to a club statement.
Barcelona also said another candidate, Emili Rousaud, withdrew his bid earlier on Thursday during the validation process.
The outcome of the election, which is scheduled to take place on January 24, will have huge implications for the future of Lionel Messi and whether he stays at the club beyond the end of this season when his deal expires.
Messi has said he is not backing any of the candidates in this month’s election, as he tries to distance himself from proceedings, and insists he has not spoken with any of them.
The Argentina international put in a transfer request at Barcelona at the end of last season, but the club’s former president Josep Maria Bartomeu would not let him leave the Nou Camp, despite claims from Messi’s camp that there was a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave for free.
Messi has not been shy to highlight that he feels the club is in bad shape and hopes the next president of Barcelona has a clear plan to return the club to its former glory.
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There is not a great deal that Barcelona’s interim board can do to help persuade Messi to stay and sign another contract before the election. That job will be in the hands of the new president.
For that, there are really only two favourites for the job; Joan Laporta, who has been president before, and Victor Font, the telecommunications entrepreneur.
While there is no indication that Messi prefers either, and the player has been keeping well out of the way of the debate so far, Laporta has a good relationship with him having overseen the most successful period in the club’s history with Guardiola as head coach.
And Laporta said recently he would do “everything possible” to keep Messi if he returns for another spell at the helm
Font, meanwhile, wants to rebuild Barca from the bottom up; producing its players from La Masia academy, and he has been working with one of its best products – Messi’s former team-mate Xavi – to return as head coach.
Xavi is expected to be among Laporta’s considerations too but, on Messi, Font has said: “I’m convinced that with a competitive, exciting and, especially in Messi’s case, long-term project – one that could even go beyond the day that Messi retires – we will convince him to stay.”
The frontrunners will begin to emerge this month, and they are expected to indicate who will take up key positions in the hierarchy. These developments will have a mark on Messi’s thinking, but it is really only when the election is made, and a firm blueprint put forward, that a significant bearing on Messi’s future will be made.