• Sports
  • Soccer

The Napkin That Secured Lionel Messi’s First Barcelona Contract Set For Auction 

2 minute read

The paper napkin that secured a deal between international soccer star Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona’s team will be auctioned at a starting price of £300,000 ($381,500). 

The artifact was offered to international auction house Bonhams on behalf of Argentine agent Horacio Gaggioli. Fans will be able to participate in the online auction from March 18-27. 

At age 13, Messi moved from Argentina to Barcelona to play in FC Barcelona’s under-14 soccer team. Agents and coaches were initially hesitant to sign Messi due to a number of things, including his young age, height, and the fact that he was not European. 

“In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and the presence of Messrs Minguella and Horacio [Gaggioli], 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 reads in blue ink. 

More From TIME

The contract outlined on the small 16.5 x 16.5 cm napkin was officially transferred to a real document later that night, bringing Messi to the squad, Bonhams' press release says.

The napkin was not signed by Messi himself, but rather, includes signatures by Gaggioli, Rexach, a technical director, and Josep Maria Minguella, a transfer advisor to the club. The three men agreed to sign Messi in 2000 after the young teen impressed coaches and staff during a two-week trial run in Barcelona.  

Just three years after the contract, Messi had an informal debut with FC Barcelona and later went on to become one of the best players in the sport’s history. 

"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. 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,” Ian Ehling, Head of Fine Books and Manuscripts at Bonhams New York, said in a statement. 

Messi’s leadership helped Argentina secure their first World Cup win since 1986. That win, along with numerous other accolades, secured the Inter Miami star the title of the 2023 TIME Athlete of the Year

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com