How Barcelona signed Messi's first contract on a napkin to become the greatest

How Barcelona signed Messi's first contract on a napkin to become the greatest

Barcelona's La Masia academy have produced some of the best players in the world.

The academy would have been limited to producing certain talents that shook global football because certain rules were broken.

Particularly a bold sign written at the back of the door of coaches room stating: “If you are offering us a youth player who is less than 1.8m tall, turn around and go home.”

That would have meant that the likes of fringe players like Andreas Iniesta, Xavi, Pedro and Lionel Messi would have not made it through the academy.

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But that sign was torn down by the late Johan Cryuff who started his managerial career in 1988 when Messi was still a toddler.

“He believed that talent was the key and height was irrelevant,” says former Nou Camp coach Laureano Ruiz.

“Small players have huge advantages over big players. They can start, stop and turn quicker... the best players are all small.”

The Dutchman's attitude made way for the Messi and likes and that single act has yielded massive results 16 years after for the Catalans.

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"I had a big network of scouts in South America and one of them told me there as a kid in Rosario who was only 12 but that he was unique," explains Josep Maria Minguella in Take the Ball, Pass the Ball , a new documentary on Pep Guardiola's Barcelona reign.

"Nowadays clubs invest in youngsters but it didn’t happen back then. It wasn’t easy but Charly Rexach helped and we decided to bring him over."

A former Barcelona manager, Rexach, who is the man responsible to have done more than most to bring Messi to Europe and to La Masia said: "I have always said it was an honour to have brought Messi to the club.

"My small part in his arrival was that I kept nagging until we signed him.

"If you went to the board back then and told them we needed to sign a 12-year-old kid their first reaction was, 'Let’s talk again in eight years,’ but I said, 'No, we have to sign him; he’s very good and one day he will be incredible.'

"Even back then it was already obvious that Messi was out of this world."

Messi and his parents flew from Argentina to Barcelona where they waited for a month for an agreement to be struck.

And the agreement was scribbled in a napkin to convince his parents that their son will have a career with the club.

"I told Rexach that I needed something in writing because his parents had been here a month and I kept reassuring them, but there was no official agreement," says Minguella.

"We were at the Pompeia Tennis Club on Montjuic and there were napkins on the table so Charly Rexach took one and wrote, "I, Carles Rexach, advisor to the president, confirm that Leo Messi has the necessary qualities to sign for FC Barcelona.'

"He signed it and then I signed it. We still have the napkin but it’s stored securely in the bank because it’s delicate and needs looking after."

Messi related with scenario many years back and admitted the club gambled to sign him into the academy.

"No-one wanted to take a risk with me," the five-time Ballon d’Or winner says now. "It was a big gamble to sign such a small kid from abroad and bring him to Barcelona.

"It was Charly Rexach who made it happen; he came to watch me play and told me that Barca wanted me. It was thanks to him and the coaches who wanted to sign me, although there were some who didn't!

"It was difficult at first, I was very young and everything was new. I'd left behind family, friends, and my country. It was tough to start with but I managed to settle in."

As at that time, Xavi had already made his debut for La Blaugrana's first team and years later he became a leader in the team before Messi found his way into the first XI and the rest became history.

"One of my friends worked in the youth academy when Messi was 14 or 15," he recalls. "I always asked him about the kids; which ones were good, who was special, and who was going to reach the first team.

"I remember him saying to me there was this kid from Argentina and that he'd never seen anyone with the talent he had.

"When Messi started training with us at the age of 16 we all realised he was special."

It was in 2005, when the Argentine was just only 18, the rest of Europe realized what only few people already knew.

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Fabio Capello asked for a loan move for the teenager after Barcelona played a pre-season game with Juventus in the Gamba-Cup.

But Frank Rijkaard refused and chose to nurture him as well as his successor Pep Guardiola over the next few years which helped Messi reach his peak. ( -> We keep evolving to serve our readers better.

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