In the meantime, we had to work through the bureaucracy, for want of a better word. We were greatly assisted by Joan Lacueva, from the executive board. He was great at doing his job and he made the effort to make it feasible to sign him.
We had Messi play with several of the youth teams. The A and B teams, and occasionally the C team. Always friendly matches, because we couldn’t include him in any official competition. But neither he nor his dad were comfortable in those circumstances. They were getting tired of waiting. Additionally, Messi had been injured by then. He broke his fibula, and he couldn’t play for two months. That is a difficult situation for anyone, but even more so for a kid.
Being in another country, in a different city, away from the people close to you (his mum had gone back to Argentina), without your friends – and, on top of everything, you can’t even play football.
“We were aware the piece of paper was worthless, but it made clear my commitment – I wasn’t going to be the fool who let him go”
One day, his dad called me over the phone: “What are we going to do? My son and I are not going to be messed about. If we don’t settle this soon, we’ll go back to Argentina.”
His irritation was mostly justified. He told me they had been to the club many times, but they were always asked to come back the next day.
So I had a meeting with him and Horacio, who was representing the Messi family, at a well-known tennis club in Barcelona that was run by Josep María Minguella – another agent, with whom I have a great relationship. And it was there, as we were talking, that I asked the waiter for a piece of paper, and I ended up writing on a napkin.
“In Barcelona, on December 14 2000, with Mr Minguella and Horacio as witnesses, I Carlos Rexach, director of football at Barcelona, commit to sign under my responsibility, and despite some contrary opinions, the player Lionel Messi, as long as we stick to the sums that we have agreed.”
We were aware that piece of paper was worthless, that it did not have legal weight, but I made clear my commitment, as Barcelona’s football director, to sign him. In a way, it was also a relief for me. Messi’s situation wasn’t easy, but at least with that piece of paper there was proof that, if Messi ended up succeeding somewhere else, I wasn’t the fool who had let him go.