Lionel Messi’s ‘Napkin Contract’ With FC Barcelona Set To Score Hundreds Of Thousands At Auction

In the world of sports memorabilia, there are items that capture moments of triumph, grit, and glory. But rarely does a simple paper napkin rise to such lofty heights. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening as one of the most pivotal documents in soccer history goes up for auction at Bonhams: the napkin on which a promise was hastily scribbled, securing a young Lionel Messi’s future with FC Barcelona.

The year was 2000, and a 13-year-old Messi was a promising talent, already turning heads with his prodigious skills. Barcelona had taken notice, flying the young Argentine and his father to Spain for a tryout. But as negotiations stalled, Messi’s future hung in the balance.

Lionel Messi napkin contract
Lionel Messi napkin contract. (credit: Bonhams)

Enter Carles Rexach, Barcelona’s sporting director at the time. Sensing the urgency of the moment during a fateful lunch meeting, Rexach grabbed a napkin and penned a commitment that would change the course of soccer history. The napkin contract reads:

“In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and 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.”

That napkin, a mere 16.5 x 16.5 centimeters, is now up for bidding at Bonhams auction house through May 17. It’s estimated to sell for upwards of $600,000. The napkin contract is being offered by Horacio Gaggioli, the Argentine agent who brought Messi to Barcelona’s attention and was present at that fateful lunch.

The story behind the napkin is a testament to Rexach’s eye for talent and his willingness to take a risk. Despite Messi’s obvious skills, his small stature (he was under 5 feet tall at the time) and the financial investment required to sign such a young player had some in the Barcelona hierarchy hesitating.

But Rexach was convinced. “We have to sign him,” he told his coaches after seeing Messi play for less than five minutes. And with that napkin, he made it happen.

Messi went on to become not just a Barcelona legend, but arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen. His list of career accomplishments is staggering: a record eight Ballon d’Or awards, 10 La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles, over 750 career goals for club and country, and a World Cup champion for Argentina.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi during the Ligue 1 football match between FC Lorient and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) on April 30, 2023 at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France. (Photo by Victor Velter on Shutterstock)

But it’s not just Messi’s individual brilliance that makes this napkin so significant. His signing transformed Barcelona, already a storied club, into a dynastic powerhouse. With Messi as the centerpiece, Barcelona sides of the 2000s and 2010s achieved a level of dominance rarely seen in the sport, their tiki-taka style of play reshaping modern soccer tactics.

For Barcelona fans, the napkin represents the start of an era that brought unparalleled joy and success. For soccer fans worldwide, it’s a reminder of the serendipity that can shape the beautiful game — how a chance meeting, a gut instinct, and a hastily scribbled note can alter the course of the sport.

As Messi’s storied career nears its end, the significance of this artifact only grows. It’s a tangible link to the origins of a legend, a reminder of the uncertain beginnings of a player who would go on to redefine what’s possible on the pitch.

“This is one of the most thrilling items I have ever handled. Yes, it’s a paper napkin, but it’s the famous napkin that was at the inception of Lionel Messi’s career,” says Ian Ehling, head of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York. “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.”

Messi collectibles have already sold for millions of dollars. Last year, a set of six jerseys Messi wore during Argentina’s World Cup title run in 2022 scored nearly $8 million at a Sotheby’s auction. Messi’s 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Gold Prizm /10 is his highest-selling card, fetching $522,000 in April 2022.

Auction Notice

Per Bonhams, “Allegations concerning the ownership of the Napkin were raised in March but have not been substantiated and appear from recent press comment to have been retracted. The consignor of the Napkin has received a legal opinion which confirms to them that they have clear title and the right to sell the Napkin under Spanish law, and the seller gives a full warranty of title with the sale. A copy of the opinion will be provided on request to any bidder approved to participate in this sale.”

HobbyListings editor Matt Higgins contributed to this report.

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