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A Napkin Outlining 13-Year-Old Lionel Messi’s First FC Barcelona Contract Is up for Auction

A napkin that kickstarted the career of one of the greatest soccer players of all time is heading to auction this spring.

The square of paper is inscribed with the promise of a contract between 13-year-old Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona. This was the first written offer the young Argentian received and would change his and the club’s fortune. The rarity will be on display at Bonhams New York between March 4 and 8, after which it will go under the (digital) gavel in an online auction running from March 18 to 27. The starting price is £300,000 (approximately $381,700).

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The commitment to a contract was written on the napkin in blue ballpoint pen by Barcelona’s then-sporting director Carles Rexach. (He spent 44 years at the club as a player and coach.) It was also signed by Barcelona’s transfer advisor Josep Minguella and Argentine agent Horacio Gaggioli. Gaggioli brought Messi to the attention of Rexach before Minguella and Rexach arranged his tryout in September 2000.

The statement is written in Spanish but translates to: “In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and in the presence of Messrs 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.”

Napkin Contract Between Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona
The napkin was signed by Carles Rexach, Josep Minguella, and Horacio Gaggioli.

Signing a flimsy, 6.5-inch paper napkin is certainly an unorthodox way to lock down one of the world’s most exciting young footballers, but it illustrates the eagerness of all parties to secure a contract. Messi’s recruitment came with a few curveballs: His height was one issue—he was under five feet tall at the time—and the amount of money he cost was another.

The star forward was scouted by FC Barcelona while playing for his local club Newell’s Old Boys in 1999. The 12-year-old and his father, Jorge, were swiftly flown to Barcelona for a try-out, but negotiations stalled as some club members were not convinced the young man was worth the investment. By December 2000, Jorge had grown sick of waiting for FC Barcelona to make a decision. Sensing the tension, Rexach, Minguella, and Gaggioli met for lunch at the Pompeia tennis club on December 14 and outlined a contract on a small napkin. President of FC Barcelona Joan Gaspart drew up a proper agreement later that night.

“This is one of the most thrilling items I have ever handled,” Ian Ehling, head of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams New York, said in a statement. “Yes, it’s a paper napkin, but it’s the famous napkin that was at the inception of Lionel Messi’s career. It changed the life of Messi, the future of FC Barcelona, and was instrumental in giving some of the most glorious moments of soccer to billions of fans around the globe.”

Messi was intrinsic to Barcelona’s success. He remains the club’s all-time top scorer, with 672 goals to his name. In addition, he has received eight Ballon d’Or awards and won more than 40 trophies for club and country. And it all started with a napkin.

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