The napkin upon which Lionel Messi’s first Barcelona agreement was informally written will be sold at auction.
Bonhams — a privately owned, London-based international auction house — will run the auction between March 18-27, with a starting price of £300,000 ($381k), on behalf of Argentine player agent Horacio Gaggioli.
The agreement was reached on December 14, 2000, with Barcelona director Carles Rexach desperate for the club to sign Messi, then aged 13.
Messi had impressed during his two-week trial with Barcelona in September 2000, but the club was initially reluctant to sign such a young, non-European player.
Rexach became concerned that the Catalan club would miss out on the signing of Messi, who had returned to his home city of Rosario in Argentina.
Gaggioli told The Athletic last year that he had informed Rexach in December 2000 that if they could not commit to signing Messi — the teenager would be offered to other clubs, including Real Madrid.
Rexach invited Gaggioli to dinner in Barcelona to make a final decision over Messi, but there was one problem: Rexach did not have time to draw up or print out a contract but needed the relevant signatures on a document that would later become legally binding.
His solution was to take a napkin and write down contractual words which would then be signed by the relevant parties, to signal a legal commitment.
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The napkin read: “In Barcelona, on December 14, 2000, and in the presence of the gentleman (the agent, Josep Maria) Minguella and Horacio (Gaggioli), Carles Rexach, technical secretary of FCB, commits under his responsibility, despite the opinion of others who are against signing Lionel Messi, as long as the agreed fees are maintained.”
Rexach signed the napkin along with football agents, Minguella — who had worked on multiple Barca deals in the past, including Diego Maradona — and Gaggioli.
“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. “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 football to billions of fans around the globe.”
Commenting on the event years later, Gaggioli called it a “marvellous moment”.
“That napkin broke the deadlock,” he added.
“My lawyers looked at it. The napkin had everything: my name, his name, the date. It’s notarised. It was a legal document.
“It’ll be a part of me for the rest of my life. The napkin will always be at my side. I live in Andorra and I’ve kept the napkin in a safe inside a bank.”
On Wednesday, Minguella told Catalunya Radio that the napkin had been in his office for years and that he had offered Barcelona the chance to display it in the club’s museum.
He claims he did not receive a response from Barcelona and that he will now ask lawyers to discover who is the legal owner of the napkin and how anyone can prove that they legally own it to put it for sale.
Minguella has insisted he does not wish to profit from the napkin, but that he would prefer to see it in Barcelona’s museum or that if it is sold, for the money to go to the club’s foundation.
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