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Barcelona, Lionel Messi and the Napkin: Oral History of his Transfer, Arranged 20 Years Ago

"In Barcelona, on Dec. 14, 2000, in the presence of [Josep Maria] 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 above words, scribbled on a napkin following a game of tennis in Barcelona, have gone down in football history. They were hastily written by Rexach, Barca's sporting director at the time, in an attempt to assure Jorge Messi that the Catalan club was committed to signing his son. Rexach signed the napkin, as did the agents, Minguella and Gaggioli, as witnesses.

Messi's father had grown anxious about his son's future because of Barca's apparent hesitation to complete a deal. There was a debate behind the scenes at Camp Nou about the merits of signing a 13-year-old, but within minutes of watching him during a trial game in Barcelona in September 2000, Rexach was convinced they had to act. When the prospect of Messi moving elsewhere arose, with the threat of Real and Atletico Madrid being offered a chance to sign him, Rexach took matters into his own hands to settle the family's nerves.

Twenty years later, Messi has scored more than 600 goals for Barca and is closing in on Xavi Hernandez's appearance record for the club of 767 games. (He's also one goal shy of tying Pele's record for the most goals for one club.) He also has been named the best player in the world a record six times and is considered by many to be the best player of all time.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the signing of the napkin, ESPN spoke to the three men who signed it: Rexach, Minguella and Gaggioli, along with Barca's president at the time, Joan Gaspart, about the events leading up to a moment of improvisation that would change the club's fortunes over the next two decades.

Read entire article at ESPN