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Messi’s promised Barca contract, on a napkin, up for auction

A guest photographs a napkin, written on by Barcelona’s Sporting Director Carles Rexach on December 14, 2000, promising a contract to secure 13-year-old Lionel Messi for FC Barcelona, on display at Bonhams Auctions in New York City, U.S., on March 06, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

To the untrained eye, it might look like just another used napkin.

But the serviette, expected to fetch up to $635,000, was actually soccer legend Lionel Messi’s springboard to greatness at FC Barcelona, and records the promise of a contract made to him at the tender age of 13.

The napkin has gone on show in New York to drum up interest, ahead of the start of bidding on March 18, against a backdrop of soaring interest in soccer memorabilia.

Though officially estimated to go for between $380,000 and $635,000, Ian Ehling, the head of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York, said “I do expect it to sell for much more.”

Last December, a set of six shirts worn by the number 10 during Argentina’s victorious Qatar World Cup campaign in 2022 sold for $7.8 million at auction at Sotheby’s, exceeding estimates.

The story of the napkin has already been told many times in profiles of “Leo” Messi, one of the greatest players in soccer history, who now plays for Inter Miami.

Born in 1987 into a working class family in Rosario, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Buenos Aires, Messi was 13 when he was spotted by Barca.

But not everyone there was convinced, and the deal dragged on and on, making Messi’s father impatient.

That was until a fateful meeting on December 14, 2000, at a Barcelona tennis club, between the club’s sporting director Carles Rexach and agents Josep Minguella and Horacio Gaggioli.

To confirm the club’s interest, Rexach reached for the napkin and wrote on it in blue ink that he agreed “under his responsibility and regardless of any dissenting opinions, to sign the player Lionel Messi, provided that we keep to the amounts agreed upon.”

A formal contract would later be drawn up, but Argentine agent Gaggioli kept the placeholder agreement for almost 25 years, until deciding to sell.

Messi won the Spanish league 10 times with Barca, playing there until 2021, becoming its all-time top scorer with 474 goals.

“The inception of Messi’s career is documented here. It’s just incredible,” said Ehling.

After New York, it will be exhibited in Paris and London until the auction which will run until March 27.

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