The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal (2024)

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“It was a difficult photo to take,” Joan Monfort tells The Athletic. “We can say I sweated some blood to take it.

“(Lionel) Messi is still shy now; he was much more shy when he was starting out and he finds himself there with a tiny baby in a plastic bath full of water. And with his mother. At the start, there was not much interaction. It was difficult for all of them. But, bit by bit, it started to happen and in the end, it’s a pretty good photo.”


In December 2007, Monfort took a photo of a 20-year-old Lionel Messi, who had begun his legendary Barcelona career just over four years earlier, and Lamine Yamal — who was just six months old.

It was published in a 2008 charity calendar organised by Barcelona’s club foundation and Catalan newspaper Diario Sport, with the money raised going to charitable organisations including UNICEF and different NGOs around Catalonia.

Members of the Barcelona squad were photographed alongside children. Hundreds of families collaborated with the initiative for a number of years and most of the photos have now been forgotten, outside of the families of the children who have treasured private memories.

It just so happens that Yamal, Barca’s teenage star of the future, ended up paired with the man who would go on to win the Ballon d’Or eight times.

The bathing photo, as well as a number of other images from the shoot, including one where Messi is seen cradling a baby Yamal in a towel and another where his mother Sheila Ebana helps wash her son, have returned to public view because one was posted on social media on Thursday night by Mounir Nasraoui, the father of Barca’s Yamal — the record-breaking 16-year-old who is starring for Spain at this summer’s European Championship.

“It’s something incredible,” Monfort says. “Back then, nobody could imagine that this baby would be who he is now — and you could not have known that Messi would become who he became, either.

“We are talking about 2007. Messi was only beginning at Barca then. Destiny plays an important role in these things.”

In December 2007, Messi had already won two La Liga titles and a Champions League, but was still just an emerging talent in a squad full of established stars including Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Thierry Henry and many other household names.


“They gave you a list of players — 12: one for each month,” Monfort says. “You have to take your time. Often footballers come in and say, ‘Let’s go, let’s do it. I’m in a rush; what do you want to do?’.

“It can be a bit cold, especially in a photo where you need interaction between two people who do not know each other. Then, when one is six months old and the other is 20, it can get difficult, but it turned out pretty well.

“The mother helped a lot. Her presence was super necessary, so the baby did not feel it was too strange. You look for a tender image — something sweet and nice.”

The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal (1)

Lamine Yamal has been a revelation for Spain at Euro 2024 (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Monfort says he always tried to make sure each family got a copy of the photos he took to keep themselves, especially in this case given the effort Yamal’s mother made to take him to Camp Nou from the town of Mataro, north-east of Barcelona.

“I’d always want to give them a photo; it makes them really happy,” Monfort says. “The player might not be too worried but the parents of the kids would be very excited. They lived in Mataro, 40km away from Barcelona. Not everyone would do that, with a young baby too. They would have to make the trip, then wait for the player to arrive; for everything to be set up.”

Six and a half years later, Yamal started to get the train regularly from Mataro when he joined Barca’s La Masia academy.

GO DEEPERWhat makes Lamine Yamal such a special footballer?

His progress has been phenomenal: a La Liga debut aged 15 in April 2023, an international debut at 16 last September, and now Yamal is a key part of the Spain side which on Friday beat Germany 2-1 to make the Euro 2024 semi-finals.

“It’s a one-in-a-million chance that this could happen,” Monfort says. “It’s such good fortune.

The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal (3)

Lionel Messi is currently playing for Argentina at the Copa America (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

“These days, it happens a bit more as people have their phones and share photos, but this is like the photo of Guardiola as a kid applauding (former Barcelona and England manager) Terry Venables being carried on players’ shoulders. When Venables died, Pep posted the image.”

This photo of a 15-year-old Guardiola, himself then a La Masia student and Barca ball boy, later a Barca player and coach, and now Manchester City manager, is from April 1986. Englishman Venables was then midway through his three-year spell as Blaugrana coach and was hoisted aloft by players Paco Clos and Migueli after the team came from 3-0 down and then won a penalty shootout in a European Cup semi-final against Goteborg.

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A post shared by PepTeam (@pepteam)

Monfort is still taking photos, these days for Madrid-headquartered Diario AS. He was surprised when a former colleague from Diario Sport contacted him after the photo of Messi and Yamal was posted and went viral.

“He asked me, ‘Was this my photo?’,” Monfort says. “I said ‘yes’. He sent me the photo and I asked him, ‘Who is the baby?’ and he started to laugh, and said ‘Lamine, Lamine’.


“He told me the father had put it on social media. In Sport, they could hardly believe it. They had just realised too.

“It’s been really surprising, all this. We take so many photos, so many images. Some of them will remain.

“For Lamine to grow up to be a footballer, and to have this photo, I’m just really happy it happened. It’s especially nice in today’s football, when so much is to do with money and power.”

GO DEEPERSpain's Lamine Yamal passes school exams during Euro 2024

(Top photo: Diario Sport/Joan Monfort)

The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal (5)The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal (6)

Dermot joined The Athletic in 2020 and has been our main La Liga Correspondent up until now. Irish-born, he has spent more than a decade living in Madrid and writing about Spanish football for ESPN, the UK Independent and the Irish Examiner. Follow Dermot on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal (2024)


The story behind the viral photos of Lionel Messi and a baby Lamine Yamal? ›

How did Lamine Yamal get selected to take baby photos with Lionel Messi? “UNICEF did a raffle in the neighborhood of Roca Fonda in Mataró, where Lamine's family lived. They signed up for the raffle to have their picture taken at the Camp Nou with a Barça player. And they won the raffle,” Monfort told AP.

Did Messi baptize Lamine Yamal? ›

Baptised by the 'GOAT': Throwback to when Lionel Messi helped Spanish sensation Lamine Yamal bathe, yes it did happen - The Economic Times.

What is the story about Lionel Messi? ›

Lionel Messi is a football player from Argentina who plays for Inter Miami. He has won the Ballon D'Or, the annual award given to the best player in the world, 8 times, 2022 FIFA World Cup winner and an Olympic gold medal winner in 2008. He was born in 1987 in Rosario, Argentina's third-biggest city.

What can we learn from the story of Messi? ›

Lionel Messi's life and career have an array of valuable lessons for all of us. His quotes reflect being humble, being unfazed by failure, and above all, knowing the true values of humanity. These beliefs are not unique to a sport but to life.

What age is Yamal? ›

After excelling against Georgia and the hosts, Yamal produced a sensational equalising goal to inspire Spain's semi-final victory over France on Tuesday night. It seems almost implausible that he is still only 16 years old.

Why did Messi take a photo with Yamal? ›

Players with Barcelona posed with children and their families for a calendar as part of an annual charity drive by Spanish newspaper Diario Sport and UNICEF. Monfort was in charge of the photoshoots and Messi was paired with Yamal's family. "We made the calendar with the help of UNICEF," Monfort said.

Is Ronaldo and Messi Catholic? ›

Messi and Ronaldo are widely seen as two of the. greatest footballers ever, and devout CATHOLIC.

Why did Messi marry his wife? ›

Long distance couldn't stop Lionel Messi and Antonela Roccuzzo from falling in love. The professional soccer star and Roccuzzo met as children and although Messi eventually moved away from Argentina to train in his sport, the two reconnected over a tragedy and eventually fell in love.

How many children does Messi have? ›

Messi and Roccuzzo, who were childhood friends and later reconnected in 2005, welcomed their first son, Thiago, in 2012. Their second son, Mateo, arrived in 2015, followed by their third son, Ciro, in 2018. The athlete later told FC Barcelona that fatherhood changed his entire perspective.

Who is better, Messi or Ronaldo? ›

Argentina star Messi has scored 108 goals in 184 international appearances – both all-time records for his nation. With 130 goals in 209 games for Portugal, Ronaldo holds both the all-time men's records for international appearances and goals.

What does Messi do in his daily life? ›

Training Sessions:

He engages in rigorous individual training sessions, focusing on improving technical skills such as dribbling, passing, and shooting. These sessions involve a combination of structured drills, simulated game scenarios, and intense physical conditioning to maintain his exceptional agility and speed.

What is the Messi famous for? ›

Born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1987, Lionel Messi is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time, and his illustrious career proves why. The Argentinean footballer, who holds a record eight Ballon d'Or awards, has displayed his talent early on and has always been destined for greatness.

Why is Lamine Yamal so good? ›

Barcelona have tried other pure dribblers in his position, and Spain have one on the opposite wing in Nico Williams, but what makes Yamal special is his gift for reading the game instantaneously and picking the best follow-on pass or shot on the fly.

What religion is Lamine Yamal? ›

Lamine Yamal is a Senegalese Muslim basketball coach who is the head coach of the Senegal national basketball team. He is a devout Muslim and a role model for many young Muslims.

Where is Lamine Yamal from in Spain? ›

Born in Esplugues de Llobregat, Catalonia, to a Moroccan father and an Equatoguinean mother, Yamal grew up in Granollers and Mataró. When Yamal was seven years old, his family moved to Barcelona where he joined FC Barcelona's youth academy. Yamal is a Muslim.

Did Lionel Messi bath Lamine Yamal? ›

Messi was bathing Lamine Yamal - the 16-year-old who is taking the European Championships by storm. His goal against France in the semi-final on Tuesday is one that will be talked about for decades. At 16 years and 362 days, the strike also made him the youngest man to score in the tournament's history.

What did Messi do for Ethiopia? ›

Messi announced on social media that he was honored to collaborate with assistive devices startup OrCam to offer visual assistance to Ethiopians. Impaired eyesight is one of the most serious public health issues in Ethiopia, with one study estimating that 1.18% of the population is blind.

Where did Messi go on his honeymoon? ›

The twin-island destination of Antigua and Barbuda. Argentine media reports placed him at the private-island Jumby Bay, A Rosewood Resort, confirmed by photos posted by Messi himself on Facebook.

Did Messi have a cousin? ›

Personal life. Emanuel Biancucchi is the cousin of Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi (the son of his mother's sister) and the younger brother of retired forward Maximiliano Biancucchi. He also has Italian citizenship, and is represented by his uncle (Jorge Messi, Lionel's father).

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