Napkin That Aided Barcelona in Signing Lionel Messi Sells for Nearly $1 Million

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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A paper napkin that played a key role in Lionel Messi joining FC Barcelona sold at auction Friday for nearly $1 million.

The napkin served as a sort of unofficial agreement to sign a 13-year-old Messi after his father, Jorge, threatened to take Messi back to Argentina if a deal wasn’t agreed to. An official contract was drawn up days later and Messi went on to become the most famous player in the club’s history.

The napkin was sold by the British auction house Bonhams for £762,400, or about $965,000. Bidding on the unique piece of memorabilia began in an online auction on May 8, with a starting bid of £300,000 ($381,000).

The unusual document was drawn up during a meeting at a Barcelona tennis club in December 2000 between two agents, Josep Maria Minguella and Horacio Gaggioli, and Carles Rexach, who was at the time Barcelona’s sporting director. Rexach asked a waiter for a piece of paper to write down what the men had agreed upon and was given the napkin instead, according to the Associated Press. Gaggioli held onto the napkin for nearly 25 years before it was put up for auction.

The writing on the napkin 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.”

“This is one of the most thrilling items I have ever handled,” Ian Ehling, the head of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York said in a statement when the auction was announced in late January. “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.”

Dan Gartland


Dan Gartland is the writer and editor of Sports Illustrated’s flagship daily newsletter, SI:AM, covering everything an educated sports fan needs to know. Previously published on Deadspin and Slate, Dan also is a former Sports Jeopardy! champion (Season 1, Episode 5).