The napkin which famously secured Lionel Messi’s initial move to FC Barcelona is set to be auctioned in March, starting at a price of £300,000 (€350,000).
On 14 December 2000, amidst concerns and hesitations within FC Barcelona regarding the signing of a 13-year-old Lionel Messi, the club’s director of football at the time, Carles Rexach, took decisive action.
While out for lunch at the Pompeia tennis club in Barcelona and having just received a frantic call from Messi’s father Jorge threatening to take his son back to Argentina, Rexach improvisedand reached for the only available nearby tool – a humble paper napkin.
On that napkin, he hastily sketched out an agreement that would alter the course of footballing history forever.
The written contract, scrawled with signatures from Rexach, Josep Minguella (the advisor instrumental in Messi’s journey from South America), and Horacio Gaggioli (the Argentine agent shaping the deal), proved to be the genesis of Messi’s professional career.
The little boy from Rosario went on to score 672 goals in 778 games for the Spanish club, secure eight career Ballon d’Or wins and solidify his status as arguably the greatest footballer to ever grace the sport.
Now, the historic napkin will be available to private bidders in March under British auction house Bonhams, at a starting price of £300,000 (€351,000).
The world’s most famous napkin
“This is one of the most thrilling items I have ever handled,” Ian Ehling, the Head of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams New York, said.
“Yes, it’s a paper napkin, but it’s the famous napkin that was at the inception of Messi’s career. It changed the life of Messi, the future of Barça, and was instrumental in giving some of the most glorious moments of football to billions of fans around the globe.”
Since its signing, the napkin, measuring a mere 16.5 x 16.5cm, has remained under the ownership of Gaggioli, secured in a vault in Andorra.
The contract on the napkin, marked in blue ink, states: “In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and the presence of Minguella and Horacio, Carles Rexach, FC Barcelona’s sporting director, hereby agrees, under his responsibility and regardless of any dissenting opinions, to sign the player Lionel Messi, provided that we keep to the amounts agreed upon.”
Rexach recalled to ESPN in a 2020 interview: “I told Jorge (Messi’s father) that my signature was there and that there were witnesses, that with my name I would take direct responsibility, there was nothing else to talk about and to be patient for a few days because Leo could already consider himself a Barca player.”
The online auction for the napkin is scheduled to run from 18 March to 27 March.