The potential next president of Barcelona said that Lionel Messi must end his career in Catalonia and then stay on to play a key role at the club after retiring.
Victor Font, a telecommunications entrepreneur, has also earmarked another Barca great in Xavi to lead the team as a general manager in the long term as well as being coach.
Messi, a six-time Ballon d'Or winner and Barca's all-time top scorer, came close to leaving the Catalans in August after his relationship with then president Josep Maria Bartomeu was fractured beyond repair.
But the Argentine can leave the club, where he has spent his entire career, for free at the end of this season unless he signs a new contract before the end of June.
Font, who formed part of a campaign against Bartomeu which led to him resigning in October, is the front-runner to win the January 24 election and believes the world's best paid player can be convinced to stay at Camp Nou.
"When you are lucky enough to have the best player in the world in your team, you need to retain that talent," Font, 48, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"If Messi goes to a competitor we will not find an alternative easily as there is no alternative to Messi. So that’s why retaining him in the short term is critical.
"But for us the association between Messi and Barca is a strategic relationship and we want to make sure we create the right conditions for Messi to play a role in the club even after he retires. Messi could contribute plenty of ideas."
Font's view on the importance of Messi remaining at the club is in stark contrast to that of La Liga chief Javier Tebas.
The outspoken league chief says the Spanish top flight coped without a hiccup when Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar left, and he doesn’t believe a possible Messi departure would have any more of an impact.
"We would prefer Messi to stay in La Liga but Ronaldo and Neymar left and we have not noticed any difference," Tebas said. "We are ready."
Font has been planning a run at the Barcelona presidency for seven years and sees former midfield maestro Xavi as fundamental to his plans – and persuading Messi to stay on.
Xavi, currently managing Qatari club Al Sadd, formed a formidable partnership alongside the likes of Messi and Andres Iniesta before leaving Barca in 2015. The Spaniard's intricate passing helped supply the Argentine's relentless goal hauls for 11 years, was a fulcrum to Barca winning seven La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.
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"Messi needs to be convinced we have a competitive and winning project and Xavi can play a decisive role in us doing that," Font said.
"Xavi’s credibility and know how about football is the right one to convince someone like Messi. They are friends, they know each other, they trust each other and that’s going to be key."
If he wins the election, Font will take charge of a club with the highest wage bill in world football. However, the club is in deep financial crisis, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has obliterated revenue from ticketing, merchandising and tourism.
Barca's last accounts showed a loss of €97 million ($115m), while their overall net debt more than doubled to €488m. But Font believes Messi’s love for Barcelona, who he joined aged 13, is so deep that he could lower his salary demands in order to stay.
"All clubs are in economic crisis [due to the pandemic] and everyone needs to adjust their expectations," he said.
"The good thing with Messi is he loves the club as we all do and I'm sure he is ready to take a long term perspective and make a contribution so the club can manage the short term in the best possible way.
"When you have someone like Messi who loves the club and who the club wants to retain for many years, you have the framework to regenerate and build a winning team."