MADRID (AP) — The three presidential candidates vying to lift Barcelona from one of its worst crisis in recent memory have cast their ballots on Sunday, with the winner set to inherit a club mired in trouble on and off the field.
Former president Joan Laporta, businessman Víctor Font and longtime board member Toni Freixa are among the more than 110,000 members who are eligible to vote in the election being held just days after the club's last elected president — Josep Maria Bartomeu — spent a night in jail while Catalan police investigated possible irregularities during his administration.
Lionel Messi and other players also had already voted. The club published a photo of Messi casting his ballot on Sunday morning.
The winner, who will earn a five-year term, will be announced late on Sunday, capping a week in which the club made worldwide headlines after a police raid at the team's headquarters led to arrests and further embarrassment for an institution that has long prided itself as “more than a club.”
The police investigation was related to the so-called “Barçagate,” which involved allegations that the former executive board hired an internet services company to spread negative messages about its own players and opponents on social media to boost the image of senior club officials.
The presidential election was originally scheduled for the end of January but was postponed because of the pandemic. Members can vote at the team's Camp Nou Stadium and at other polling stations in northeast Catalonia and neighboring Andorra. Voting by mail also was allowed in certain circumstances.
The elections were called after Bartomeu and his board resigned in October facing a possible no-confidence referendum by club members angry about the team’s trophy-less 2019-20 season — the first since 2007-08. The season ended in a humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals.
The club has qualified for the Copa del Rey final and is second in the Spanish league this season. It won 2-0 at Osasuna on Saturday.
The new president will face daunting problems that include the possible departure of Messi at the end of the season and a debt of more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) brought on in large part by the coronavirus pandemic but also by one of the highest payrolls in soccer.
Messi's future has been a key issue during the campaign. The Argentina great was upset with Bartomeu after he denied his request to leave the club at the end of last season. Messi can leave for free at the end of his contract this summer and all candidates have said they will try to convince the club's all-time leading scorer to stay.
Laporta, who was president between 2003-2010 during Messi’s breakout seasons, says he is in the best position to convince the player to stay.
Of the three candidates, 52-year-old Freixa is the only one who has guaranteed that coach Ronald Koeman would remain in place to see out his contract through the end of next season. The 48-year-old Font, by contrast, has promised to bring back midfield great Xavi Hernández in some capacity, either as sports director or as coach.
Font is the only outsider among the candidates who has no experience at the club’s administration. He has been calling for renewal at the club.
Freixa was a Barcelona board member from 2010-15. He rejects its portrayal as a club on the brink of collapse and says that he can win as an underdog.
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni