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Napkin used to secure Messi's first contract with FC Barcelona to be sold at auction

The famous napkin is to be offered by Bonhams from March 18 to 27.
Bonhams
The famous napkin is to be offered by Bonhams from March 18 to 27.

Perhaps one of the most important moments in soccer history was commemorated on a napkin. It was used to unofficially sign 13-year-old Lionel Messi to FC Barcelona, where he would go on to become one of the greatest soccer players of all time.

The napkin will now be sold in an online auction at Bonhams — a privately owned auction house based in London — on behalf of Argentine agent Horacio Gaggioli. The starting bid is about $380,000.

In blue ballpoint pen, the agreement stated the following, translated from Spanish: "In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and the presence of Messrs [Josep] Minguella and Horacio [Gaggioli], 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."

Gaggioli first brought Messi to the attention of Carles Rexach and Josep Minguella, another agent, who together arranged for Messi to try out for the club a few months prior to the signing.

However, the negotiations were met with obstacles; the club was initially reluctant to sign Messi due to his short height, young age and the fact he wasn't European.

Messi's father, Jorge Messi, had become impatient with the deadlock. So during a lunch meeting between the club leaders, "Rexach, sensing that things had reached a crucial moment, pulled a paper napkin from a dispenser on the table ... and began to write," said the auction house press release.

"The napkin was a valid document legally, according to what my lawyers told me, and it changed everyone's life," Gaggioli said in a 2020 ESPN interview.

The moment would mark the beginning of a new chapter for soccer.

Messi trained for the club's youth academy for years thereafter before making his first official appearance for the team in 2004, when he was 16. In his career, he has broken multiple records as FC Barcelona's all-time top scorer, and has won many awards — including eight Ballon d'Or awards and a record six European Golden Shoes. In 2022, he led Argentina to the World Cup championship.

"This is one of the most thrilling items I have ever handled," said Ian Ehling, head of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York in the press release. "Yes, it's a paper napkin, but it's the famous napkin that was at the inception of Lionel Messi's career."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Diba Mohtasham
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