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Napkin which helped bring 13-year-old Messi to Barcelona sells for £762,000

A napkin on which a written commitment was made in 2000 to Lionel Messi when he was 13, that he would get a contract with FC Barcelona (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
A napkin on which a written commitment was made in 2000 to Lionel Messi when he was 13, that he would get a contract with FC Barcelona (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The napkin which secured footballer Lionel Messi’s move to Barcelona more than 20 years ago has been sold for £762,000.

The unusual document, which became legendary in the sporting world, was offered at Bonhams with a starting price of £300,000 in an online auction which ended on Friday.

The napkin, described by Bonhams as a “standard Spanish waxy napkin”, contains a pledge that the young Argentinian footballer will be signed by the club at an agreed fee.

Lionel Messi went on to score 672 goals for Barcelona
Lionel Messi scored 672 goals for Barcelona and helped the team win a string of titles (Mike Egerton/PA)

Ian Ehling, head of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York described the sale as “wonderful”.

He said: “Since the sale was first announced, it captured international attention and fans all over the world have anticipated this day.

“What a wonderful result for 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.

“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.”

The laminated and framed napkin, measuring 16.5cm square and written on with blue ink, was auctioned on behalf of Argentine agent Horacio Gaggioli, who recommended the young footballer to the Spanish club.

Lionel Messi napkin sale
The starting price for the napkin was £300,000 and sold for £762,00 at auction (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Messi had been on trial with Barcelona in September 2000 when he was 13, but by December his father Jorge had reportedly become frustrated by the lack of commitment to his son.

The La Liga club’s sporting director Carles Rexach made the decisive move, pulling out a square napkin at the Pompeia tennis club in the company of Josep Minguella, transfer adviser to the club, and Gaggioli.

Rexach wrote upon the napkin: “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.”

The napkin was signed by Rexach, Minguella and Gaggioli. That night, Barcelona president Joan Gaspart confirmed the agreement.

Messi went on to score 672 goals for Barcelona, winning the Champions League four times and 10 La Liga titles.

Messi, who currently plays for Inter Miami in Major League Soccer in the US, has won the Ballon d’Or eight times, and the World Cup with Argentina in 2022.