Photographer Captures Beginnings of Soccer Legends Messi and Yamal for Charity

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Nearly two decades ago, behind the hallowed doors of Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium, Joan Monfort found himself in an impromptu photo shoot that would later echo through the soccer world’s corridors of time. Monfort, a seasoned 56-year-old freelance photographer, known for his work with various reputable media houses, was capturing images of promising soccer player Lionel Messi for a charming UNICEF charity calendar.

What he didn’t realize, however, was that he was capturing one of football’s coming stars, cradled in the arms of one of its current ones. Lamine Yamal was the baby in the photos that, years later, caused a sensation across the Internet, his unlikely beginnings plucked from oblivion by his father’s nostalgic social media posts captioned, “the beginning of two legends.”

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Flashback to a golden Camp Nou autumn in 2007, the locker room pulsating with energy and anticipation as Barcelona’s players readied themselves for an unusual day. Instead of preparing for a heart-racing match-up on the field, they were posing with their youngest fans and families, details of their encounters to be immortalized in a charming charity calendar organized by local newspaper Diario Sport and UNICEF.

Lamine Yamal, then only a few months old, was among these starstruck infants. Hailing from the Roca Fonda neighbourhood in Mataró, young Yamal made his debut at Camp Nou not as a future player but a lottery winner. His family had signed up for a UNICEF lottery with hopes of having their picture taken with a Barcelona player. Their number came up serendipitously for a meeting with Messi.

The memory of the shoot still triggers a smile on Monfort’s face, coupled with a reminiscing shake of the head. Messi, just 20 years old at the time, was guarded. A promising talent on the cusp of becoming the epoch-defining player for Barcelona and Argentina, he was initially at a loss with baby Lamine, who was resting in a plastic tub. Monfort recollects how Messi fumbled and hesitated, uncertain of how to hold the infant.

Fast forward to the present, and the infant in the photo, Lamine Yamal, now aged 16, has already made giant strides in soccer. Like his photo buddy Messi, he has passed through the hallowed training grounds of Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy. And despite his tender age, he has emerged as one of Spain’s powerhouse performers at Euro 2024, hoping to lead his team to victory against France in the upcoming semi-finals.

Yamal’s 17th birthday falls on Saturday, precariously close to the final showdown in Berlin. As his country holds its collective breath in anticipation of the match, Monfort can only marvel at the sheer serendipity of it all. He had only discovered it was Yamal in those photos from 2007 when a friend alerted him to their viral status.

This unexpected virality of his work is new territory for Monfort, who, despite three decades of chronicling Barcelona’s ups and downs through his lens, has never witnessed such a global frenzy around his photos.

“Exhilarating, that’s how it feels,” Monfort admits. “My work instigating such a worldwide stir, linking me to a narrative that has enthralled so many. It’s an incredibly heartening sensation.” He added with a satisfied grin.

Monfort didn’t know it at the time, but in the autumn of 2007, he unwittingly captured the humble beginnings of two soccer legends, forever immortalizing that moment in the annals of soccer storytelling – the beautiful game continues to write its enchanting story.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.