Auction Results

£750,000 Messi napkin that changed football history


Lionel Messi pre-contract agreement on napkin

The napkin on which Lionel Messi promised his future to Barcelona has sold for £762,000 at auction. 

Back in December 2000 a then 13-year-old Argentinian schoolboy promised his future to the Catalan club and a legendary partnership was forged. 

By the time he quit them in 2021 he had won 34 trophies. They included 4 Champions League titles, 10 La Liga crowns, and 7 Copa del Rey wins. 

With Barcelona he set national league records for goals scored, hat tricks and assists. His 672 goals in total for the team are the most by any player for a single club. 

He won eight Ballon d’Ors, the award gifted by journalists to the player they consider the greatest. 

And it all started with a napkin. 

The story is that Messi had impressed on trial at the club, but was yet to sign a contract the family believed they had been offered.  

And his representatives were impatient to secure a deal. 

Lionel Messi playing for Barcelona. His signature isn’t even on the informal pre-contract agreement. Image By Darz Mol

Barcelona’s president wasn’t yet convinced.

Messi was small (and remained so), despite his amazing ability with the ball. Was he too much of a risk? 

On the other hand, losing a possible great to rivals Real Madrid would be unthinkable.

Messi’s agent Horacio Gaggioli played tennis with Carles Rexach of Barcelona and, at lunch following the game, joined by transfer advisor, Josep Maria Minguella, they pressed Rexach on the deal. 

Rexach made a promise to sign, writing (in Spanish): “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 was enough to push Barca into a more formal agreement later that day, and Jorge (Lionel’s father) was satisfied.

Gaggioli owned the napkin and it remained a mysterious but legendary artefact until Messi left the club in 2021 and the agent loaned it to the Barcelona museum to show. 

In January Bonhams announced its sale for Gaggioli via an online auction that closed on May 17, 2024 with a winning bid of £762,400 (£600,000 plus premium). 

With a starting price of £300,000 that’s an impressive performance. 

Messi is by common consent the world’s greatest current footballer. Probably the greatest ever. 

He is also a highly collectible celebrity. 

Last year, a set of Argentina shirts he wore on his victorious 2022 World Cup campaign auctioned for $7.6 million in New York. 

Contracts can be valuable documents for collectors but not always. For example, fight contracts for Muhammad Ali’s biggest bouts can be found for a few thousand dollars. 

To be really valuable they must be iconic in some way. For example, a famously frugal deal struck by a young Jimi Hendrix and over which he was later sued, was listed for sale with a $200,000 estimate in 2014. 

The Messi document obviously fits that bill, and is further distinguished by the fact that it is not signed by the main subject and the figure over whom all the fuss is made. 

It’s an extraordinary item and the sort of one-off oddity only the world of collectibles can produce. 

Just Collecting