The small napkin reads: “In Barcelona, on the 14th of December of 2000 and in the presence of Josep Minguella and Horacio (Gaggioli), Carles Rexach, F.C.B technical secretary, it commits under his responsibility and despite some views against it to sign the player Lionel Messi, as long as we stick to the amounts agreed upon.”
What’s in a napkin? What’s the value of a piece of paper whose sole purpose is to exist and then be quickly disposed? Which sits in the centre or the corner of a table, waiting to cleanse someone even as it is dirtied in the process. Yet there was a napkin, a rare one, that didn’t land in the bin. All this while it languished in some safe, we think, like it was a prized possession. On it was pinned the hopes of a family, which was desperate to secure the future of its 13-year-old child. On its surface was written the career of one of the greatest footballers and the future success of a club. Here is the story of a napkin that stands as an example for the rest.
“It’s a napkin that myself and many colleagues believe has changed the history of Barcelona. If it didn’t exist, Leo would have played for another team.” – Horacio Gaggioli, who helped broker the deal between the Messi family and FC Barcelona.
In a story recently published in Sports Illustrated, Horacio Gaggioli, the man in possession of the napkin, was interviewed. The story of the napkin was revisited with more details. Its value was highlighted by Gaggioli, who believed that its right place was in the Barça museum. According to news reports, FC Barcelona’s museum is the second-most visited museum in Spain and considering it is an object vital to the club’s second-highest scorer, we second the owner’s opinion that the napkin needs to be framed and hung on a wall or sealed in a glass case for the world to admire, to be a topic of conversation.
“He looked all around, trying to find some scrap of something to write on, but there was nothing, so he pulled out one of the napkins.” – Josep Minguella, who worked with Joan Gaspart during his presidency.
“The family asked us for a paper to confirm the deal so they could be confident about his signing for Barcelona. I had nothing else to write on, so I used a napkin.” – Charles Rexach.
What must the napkin be thinking as it was picked out by Charles Rexach, then FC Barcelona’s technical secretary, or more importantly, the man who prevented a catastrophe and made the signing of the century. Did the napkin know that it would be a symbol of hope and trust, and that on it a temporary agreement would be written? That it would become part of football history? It would be this napkin that would ultimately make a tiny teenager leave his parents in Argentina and move thousands of miles away to Barcelona. In the initial few days in his new home, the child would cry. His tears would flow. Even a napkin couldn’t wipe the tears.
“(The museum) is the place it should be. But I’ve never received a phone call from the club about the napkin. I never earned a single euro from the club or from Messi. But I don’t know if I would want a fee, they’d have to call first.” – Gaggioli.
The napkin, much like the player whose name it features, has beaten all odds. It may be a bit frayed, but it survives. Unlike the player who has given it a new lease of life, it is waiting for its worth to be acknowledged. A decade later, its time has arrived. It is the destiny of this napkin to be seen, to be the envy of football agents and other club representatives and be the object of awe for aspiring footballers and families. It is time for the napkin, a mere object, to be an artifact.
Image credit: AP Photo/Manu Fernandez