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29th Mar 2022

How Lionel Messi was signed for Barcelona on a paper napkin

Simon Lloyd

Lionel Messi

Messi’s time at Barcelona began with a contract scrawled on a napkin

In 778 appearances, Lionel Messi scored a staggering 672 goals for Barcelona, propelling them to the most successful period in their storied history. His long association with the club, however, may never have come to be.

Were it not for a few hastily scribbled words on the back of a paper napkin, Messi could have easily slipped through Barca’s fingers.

Messi spent the early years of his life in the Argentine city of Rosario, where he was born. His talent with a ball at his feet quickly became obvious and by the age of six, he was playing for Newell’s Old Boys junior sides. Before he had reached his teens, he had caught the attention of some of European football’s most prestigious football clubs, and a move across the Atlantic seemed inevitable.

Barcelona became early frontrunners. Through a combination of their then-sporting director Carles Rexach, agents Fabian Soldini, Martin Montero and Horacio Gaggioli, the club arranged a two-week trial in Barcelona in September 2000.

messi barcelona napkin

Messi’s arrival in Barcelona

Messi had just turned 13 at the time he and his family landed in Barcelona. Having been diagnosed with a growth hormone disorder, he was noticeably smaller than the players he came up against in the trial games. This, however, did not matter, as the youngster shone throughout.

Having only caught a glimpse of Messi in action, Rexach was so impressed that he instantly gave the order to sign him, stressing to president Joan Gaspart that Barca could not afford to miss out. Gaspart, without even seeing Messi play, gave his blessing.

messi barcelona napkin

Messi was signed by Barcelona on a napkin

Despite the successful trial and key figures in agreement that the club would sign him, weeks went by without confirmation. Internally, there were questions as to whether signing such a young player represented a risk. With the end of the year in sight, Messi’s family had grown anxious at Barca’s hesitance and were increasingly open to taking him to other clubs.

Firmly of the belief Barca would regret missing their chance to sign him, Rexach decided he had to intervene. On December 14, 2000, he played tennis with Gaggioli at the Pompeia del Montjiuc club, a few miles from the Camp Nou. Afterwards, they were joined for lunch by Josep Maria Minguella, a player agent who had already brokered numerous deals with Barcelona.

Gaggioli and Minguella pressed Rexach to make a final decision on Messi, stressing how impatient the youngster’s father, Jorge, had become.

“I suppose [Jorge] didn’t trust [Barca] and he seemed desperate, so one night I met with Minguella and Horacio at the Pompeya tennis club,” Rexach told ESPN in 2020.

“Speaking with Jorge on the phone, he told me, “If this isn’t sorted soon, we’re going. I have to return to Buenos Aires and I don’t see anything happening.” That was when, thinking on my feet, I decided everything.”

Taking out a pen, Rexach then scrawled on the back of a napkin:

‘In Barcelona, on December 14, 2000 and in the presence of Messrs. Minguella and Horacio, Carlos Rexach, Technical Secretary of F.C.B. is committed under his responsibility and despite some opinions against signing the player Lionel Messi as long as we maintain the agreed amounts.’

The trio signed the napkin, with Messi officially signed by Barcelona within a month. The club also funded the hormone treatment Messi required – a gesture that, as other European teams attempted to lure him away from the Camp Nou, saw him stay loyal to the club in the years to come.

Messi made footballing history at Barcelona

Messi was promoted from the youth ranks to Barca’s senior team for the 2004/05 season, making his first official appearance in a La Liga game against Espanyol on October 16, 2004, coming on as a substitute for Deco.

Messi went on to win ten La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey and four Champions Leagues with Barca, where he also won seven Ballon d’Or titles.

He left the club in 2021 for Paris Saint-Germain.

messi barcelona napkin

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