Uncertainty has been the theme of the season at Barcelona, so perhaps it's appropriate that the most pivotal element of this campaign has been hit with a curveball.
Jan. 24 was supposed to be the day of Barcelona's presidential elections. It's the big domino that needs to fall before all others can fall into place—such as Lionel Messi's future and any potential winter transfers—and for a club that doesn't have the luxury of operating under an umbrella of patience, time is of the essence.
Well, not for the first time over the last 12 months, Barcelona is not going to get its way.
The elections have been postponed on account of the pandemic, the club announced Friday. Catalan government and club officials met and determined it's unsafe to stage the elections—which, barring a change, cannot be conducted via mail-in ballots—as currently planned, at 10 polling stations in various municipalities for approximately 110,000 of the club's official members (socios).
"The Government has conveyed to the club that the current epidemiological situation does not make it possible to authorize the movement outside the municipality to members who do not have a polling station in their municipality on January 24, given the high mobility this would entail," Barcelona wrote in a statement. "For its part, the club has stated the impossibility of holding elections on the scheduled date due to mobility restrictions decreed by the Catalan Government in the current context of pandemic, which is why the date of the elections must be delayed."
Instead of beginning a weeklong campaign period Friday, everything has been put on hold. The field was whittled down to three candidates this week–Joan Laporta, Víctor Font and Toni Freixa–with each having visions to implement immediately in kicking off a six-year term.
Laporta, the former club president during the heights reached between 2003-2010, is the likely favorite and sees himself as the means to ensure Messi remains. He's been vocal and the most aggressive at getting his message out and even launched his campaign with billboards outside the Bernabeu—the stadium of rival Real Madrid—to prove a point and flex his familiarity, charisma and clout.
“I have the honor to have the credibility of the player,” Laporta said recently. “When we meet, Messi always is telling me that ‘You always did what you said you would,’ and this is something that I am very proud of and I don’t want to lose.
“I can bring back the joy to Barcelona’s fans because I have the experience of having already done so,” he continued. “I have the commitment and preparation required to take the decisions the club needs.”
Font has also stressed his ability to get Messi, who is out of contract this summer and infamously tried to leave this past summer, to re-sign, but his initial candidacy was launched with a pointed message for first-year coach Ronald Koeman. Font said, before Koeman had managed a match for the club, that he'd fire him and replace him with club legend Xavi. He has since backed off of that threat, but a prospective organizational chart he created listed Xavi, who is currently coaching Qatari club Al Sadd, as club general manager and Jordi Cruyff, son of Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff, as sporting director.
"[Xavi] is one of the most important parts of the sporting project we have designed," Font told ESPN recently. "The fact Messi and Xavi know each other [is good]. Xavi is someone Messi trusts. I know Messi would welcome the leadership Xavi can bring.
"But it's about the whole project, not just one person. What's important in the Messi case, to excite supporters again and, above all, to emerge from the complicated situation the club is in at all levels, is the whole project. It's not one name or a coach, it's the whole structure."
Freixa is the long shot and has pushed back on the notion that he would be somewhat of a continuation plan despite serving on the boards under the most recent presidents, Sandro Rosell and Josep Bartomeu. He ran for president in 2015 and finished last and wants to emphasize promoting youth players from the famed La Masia academy.
Whoever wins has a stack of challenges taller than La Sagrada Familia to tackle, considering the financial and sporting difficulties currently crippling the club. Messi, in a revealing interview last month with Spanish TV outlet La Sexta, laid it out quite directly.
“Whoever comes in will find a very difficult situation. He will have to be intelligent, put everything in order and make a lot of changes for things to go well," Messi said. "They need to bring in various players, and it’s going to be hard to bring in quality players, because there’s no money. The club is in a difficult moment. Everything that surrounds Barcelona is bad. It’s in a really bad, bad way. And it’s going to be difficult to get back to where it was.”
Making matters even more difficult is the fact that there cannot be substantive change until elections have occurred. It was going to be tough enough as is to arrange for any January transfers with the new leadership, having only a week to sign off on any moves, but now it's virtually impossible. Eric García, the former Barcelona defender now at Man City and linked heavily with a return, is now unlikely to arrive until the summer. The squad as is has not proved to be good enough consistently enough, and while it'll play for the Spanish Super Cup title on Sunday, it sits seven points behind Atlético Madrid (having played two games more) in La Liga and faces the difficult prospect of a last-16 matchup with PSG in the Champions League.
The ramifications of the election will shape Barcelona for years to come, but all the invested individuals who are feeling a sense of urgency can do—from the candidates, to Messi, to Koeman, to the socios and on down—is wait.