A simple napkin has made headlines after being sold for a staggering £762,400 at an auction. This wasn’t just any ordinary napkin; it was the one on which Barcelona committed to signing a 13-year-old Lionel Messi.

The auction for this “standard Spanish waxy napkin,” measuring 16.5 x 16.5 cm, started at £300,000. The napkin, now laminated and framed, bears signatures in blue ink from December 2000. The signatures include those of then-Barcelona director Carles Rexach, Josep Minguella, a transfer adviser, and Horacio Gaggioli, the agent who recommended Messi to the club.

London-based Bonhams offered The Napkin in an online auction on behalf of Gaggioli. This small piece of paper marks a pivotal moment in football history. Messi joined Barcelona a month after this deal was made, embarking on a journey to see him become the club’s all-time top scorer and widely regarded as one of the greatest players ever.

Messi made his first-team debut at just 16 years old and scored a record 672 goals in 778 games for Barcelona. He won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League trophies at the club. After leaving Barcelona in 2021, Messi played for Paris Saint-Germain and now plays for Inter Miami.

The napkin was signed during a meeting set up by Rexach, who had invited Messi's father, Jorge, to lunch. The Messi family had been worried about the lack of response from Barcelona following the teenager’s initial trial. The signed napkin read: “In Barcelona, on 14 December 2000 and in 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.”

Ian Ehling, head of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams New York, expressed his excitement: “Since the sale was first announced, it captured international attention, and fans worldwide 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 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 football moments to billions of fans around the globe.”

Some allegations about the napkin's ownership were raised in March, but these were not substantiated and have reportedly been retracted. Bonhams stated, “The consignor of the napkin has received a legal opinion which confirms to them that they have clear title and the right to sell the napkin under Spanish law, and the seller gives a full warranty of title with the sale.”

The auction of this iconic napkin highlights the profound impact a small piece of paper can have on the football world. It marks the beginning of Lionel Messi’s legendary career.

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