Lionel Messi votes as Barcelona members go to the polls to elect new president

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona during the La Liga Santander match between Osasuna v FC Barcelona at the Estadio El Sadar on March 6, 2021 in Pamplona Spain.

Barcelona captain Lionel Messi was one of a host of first-team players to cast their vote Sunday as polls opened to elect the club's new president.

Wearing a face mask and accompanied by one of his son's, Barcelona captain Messi was shown arriving at Camp Nou to cast his vote to elect a new president who will be tasked with the challenge of rebuilding the club's finances and squad - potentially without Messi.

Videos of fellow graduates from Barca's famed La Masia academy Riqui Puig and Sergi Roberto were also uploaded on to Barcelona's Twitter feed.

The three candidates are former president Joan Laporta, the favourite according to the Catalan press, Toni Freixa and Victor Font.

As Barcelona members all three candidates cast their votes at the club's Camp Nou stadium.

They are running to replace Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October and was briefly taken in for questioning following police raids on Monday into the 'Barcagate' scandal which revolves around allegations that Barcelona carried out a defamation campaign against current and former players critical of club leadership.

"These are the most important elections in the history of Barca," Laporta told the club website after voting.

Barcelona are in crisis on and off the field. In October, the club announced losses of announced losses of €97 million ($114 million) for last season and debts that had more than doubled to €488 million.

Whoever wins the election will also have to resolve Messi's future, with the Argentine out of contract in the summer.

The 33-year-old fell out with Laporta over several issues ranging from the team's decline, accusing the players for being behind the sackings of managers Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien and painting them as mercenaries when they refused to take a pay cut to ease the club's finances during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Barca's record scorer tried to force through a move away from Camp Nou at the end of the extended 2019/20 season before backing down saying he did not want to drag the club through the courts.

In previous elections, members have cast their votes in person at the club's Camp Nou headquarters, but because of Covid-19 members have also been allowed to apply for postal votes.

The club said that of the 110,920 members, 22,811 had applied to vote remotely.

Polling stations have also been set up in Girona, Tarragona, Tortosa and Lleida in Catalonia and in Andorra but the club said that 78,987 members had indicated they would vote, as they always have, at Camp Nou.

"Members should have no doubt about coming to vote," said Carles Tusquets, head of the interim management committee that has run the club since Bartomeu resigned on October 27.

The polling will continue until 9pm local time and the result is expected before midnight.

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