'Leo loves Barca': Joan Laporta elected Barcelona's president and sends message to Messi

Laporta returns for a second stint having secured 54.28% of the vote

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Joan Laporta was overwhelmingly elected Barcelona president for a second time and sent a message to star player Lionel Messi that he hopes he remains at the club.

Members turned to a man who oversaw one of their most successful periods to lead them out of an institutional and financial crisis.

Laporta, who was Barca president between 2003 and 2010, won 54.28% of total votes, while Victor Font came second with 29.99% and Toni Freixa trailing in third with 8.58%.

He succeeds Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned as president in October to avoid facing a vote of no confidence from members who turned on him after Messi tried to leave the club as well as the team's decline on the pitch.

Messi was by far the most prominent Barca player to vote in Sunday's elections, casting his ballot at Camp Nou accompanied by his son.

Barca said 51,765 out of 109,531 eligible members had voted in the election, which was postponed from January due to coronavirus restrictions in Catalonia. A total of 30,184 people voted for Laporta.

Laporta celebrated his victory by singing the club's anthem with his campaign team before giving his victory speech, in which he gave a special mention to captain and all-time top scorer Messi.

The Argentine has less than four months left on his contract with Barca, and has not yet indicated if he will continue his two-decade association at Camp Nou.

"Twenty years ago a little boy called Leo Messi made his debut with Barca's youth team. Seeing the best player in the world come out to vote today is a clear sign of what we keep saying. Leo loves Barca," Laporta said.

"The best player in the world loves Barca and I hope that is a sign that he will stay at Barcelona, which is what we all want."

Laporta takes over a club suffering huge financial problems as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and poor governance.

Barca's last accounts showed a gross debt of more than €1.4 billion ($1.67 billion) with a net debt of €488 million. The club agreed a temporary player pay-cut last year while it had to delay payments to players in December.

Messi was unhappy with the way the club tried to portray the Barca players as mercenaries unwilling to help the club by agreeing to drastic pay cuts despite several of them - including Messi - making substantial donations to charities to help during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Yet things are looking up on the pitch, with Ronald Koeman's side winning 13 of their last 16 league games and reaching the Copa del Rey final.

They have a mountain to climb, however, to maintain their place in the Champions League. Laporta's first match in his second spell as president is Wednesday's last-16 second leg away to Paris Saint-Germain, with Barca trailing 4-1 in the tie.

He added: "We're off to Paris to stage a comeback."

Laporta was first elected in 2003 and presided over a golden period in the club's history which netted four La Liga titles and two Champions League triumphs.

He ran in the 2015 elections but was emphatically beaten by Bartomeu.

Bartomeu was arrested last Monday in a Catalan police probe related to allegations of improper management and business corruption which also saw the club's Camp Nou offices raided. He has not commented on his arrest and made use of his right not to give a statement in court.