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Photos of Young Lionel Messi and Baby Lamine Yamal Resurface After 16 Years

Photos of Young Lionel Messi and Baby Lamine Yamal Resurface After 16 Years

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — When Joan Monfort took pictures of Lionel Messi holding a baby nearly 17 years ago for a charity calendar, he knew the young man would become a significant figure in soccer. However, he couldn’t have predicted the same future for the baby.

The baby in those now-viral photos is Lamine Yamal, a Spanish wunderkind. At 16, he is already showing immense promise and drawing comparisons to the greats. Yamal became the youngest player to represent Spain and set a record as the youngest player in the ongoing European Championship in Germany.

One of the nearly forgotten photos from 2007 resurfaced after Yamal’s father shared it on Instagram last week, captioning it “the beginning of two legends.”

Joan Monfort, a 56-year-old freelance photographer working with The Associated Press and other outlets, recalled that the photo session took place in Barcelona’s Camp Nou visitors’ locker room in the autumn of 2007, when Yamal was just a few months old.

Barcelona players posed with children and their families for a calendar as part of an annual charity initiative by local newspaper Diario Sport and UNICEF. Monfort supervised the photo shoots, and it so happened that Messi was paired with Yamal’s family. Yamal’s mother, who hails from Equatorial Guinea, appears next to Messi and the baby in the photos.

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“We created the calendar with UNICEF’s support,” Monfort explained. “UNICEF held a raffle in the Roca Fonda neighborhood in Mataró, where Yamal’s family resided. They signed up for a chance to have their picture taken at Camp Nou with a Barcelona player and won.”

The assignment had its challenges, Monfort remembered, primarily because Messi did not know how to interact with baby Lamine, who was in a plastic tub for the shoot.

“Messi is quite introverted and shy,” Monfort noted. “He had just left the locker room and then found himself in another one with a plastic tub full of water and a baby inside. He didn’t even know how to hold him at first.”

At that time, Messi was 20 and already viewed as a significant talent. But it would still be a couple more years before he emerged as the most outstanding player of his generation for both Barcelona and Argentina.

Like Messi, Yamal progressed through Barcelona’s revered La Masia youth academy. Despite his youth, he has been one of Spain’s standout players at Euro 2024, where his team will face France in the semifinals on Tuesday. Yamal will celebrate his 17th birthday on Saturday, a day before the final in Berlin.

Monfort, 56, confessed that he did not recognize Yamal in those 2007 photos until a friend alerted him as they began trending online.

Having pursued a long career as a sports photographer since 1991, covering Barcelona globally, Monfort stated that he had never experienced this much excitement surrounding any of his photos.

“It’s exhilarating to be linked with something that has generated such a buzz,” he said. “Honestly, it’s a wonderful feeling.”

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Source: AP News