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Messi, Lamine Yamal and Jana’s rubber duck

The backstory of the iconic 2007 photograph where Messi is seen holding a five-month-old baby named Lamine Yamal, now a Spain international.

The backstory of the iconic 2007 photograph where Messi is seen holding a five-month-old baby named Lamine Yamal.
Joan Monfort

In December 2007, thanks to the initiative of Oriol Canals, then the marketing director of Spanish newspaper Sport, a charity calendar was being prepared in collaboration with the Barça Foundation and UNICEF, the club’s sponsor at the time, to promote the paper among its readers. It was the second edition of a calendar where each month was illustrated with an image of a player accompanied by children.

The first edition had been rushed out in 2006, and the newspaper had ended up using children most of whom were the offspring of its employees or their relatives. These were mainly white children, which did not align that well with the work UNICEF was doing worldwide.

Lamine Yamal’s parents chosen to go to the Camp Nou

For the second edition, prepared with more foresight, the United Nations agency spent several months selecting children from Catalonia, in the north-east of Spain, who were involved with its projects. In Rocafonda, a neighborhood in Mataró where the organization was active, a lottery was organized among the parents of babies interested in participating. As luck would have it, the parents of a five-month-old baby named Lamine Yamal signed up and won the lottery. One December day, they were invited up to Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona.

Messi with Lamine Yamal
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Messi with Lamine YamalJoan Monfort

There, photographer Joan Monfort and Oriol Canals welcomed them and took them to the visiting team’s locker room, where most of the photoshoots took place. It was the first time Lamine’s parents had entered the stadium, of course no one was predicting what would happen 16 years later...

The choice of the players who participated in the calendar was the decision of the club’s marketing department, which chose the players it was interested in and assigned them a day for the photo shoot.

Chance would have it that on the day that baby Lamine Yamal entered the Camp Nou for the first time, the player chosen by the club was one young Leo Messi. A kid who showed promise but who was in no way the star of a team whose heroes were Ronaldinho, Deco or Etoo.

How Messi ended up bathing Lamine Yamal

That day, before heading out of his house, photographer Monfort, who had been snapping photos for several days, thought of creating a unique look for that day’s photos, different from the ones he had already taken.

After bathing his daughter Jana with his patient partner Mercè, an idea struck him (probably Mercè's idea, as she was the thinker in the household) to take a photo using the baby’s bath. So, before heading to the stadium, Joan grabbed a basin from home, the towels they used for Jana, and to lighten the mood, since photographing babies isn’t always easy, he took Jana’s yellow rubber duck, which she played with every night during her bath.

Messi with Lamine Yamal
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Messi with Lamine YamalJoan Monfort

When it was time for the photo, Joan filled the basin, and a very shy Messi, who had never held a baby before, carefully placed Lamine in the water under his mother’s watchful eye. It wasn’t easy until Jana’s duck appeared. With that, the tension eased, and Monfort clicked the shutter.

UNICEF sent the published photo to all the families who participated, and last Friday, before Spain’s European match against France, Lamine Yamal’s father found the photo and shared it on his social media. Naturally, Sport had it in their archive, and Joan Monfort, now a photojournalist for the paper, had it stored somewhere. After two days of searching (thanks, Mercè), the unpublished photos from the calendar shoot emerged. This session, a product of an unimaginable serendipity, was made easier by Jana’s rubber duck, which also sported the colors of the LGBTQ flag.

Lamine va por Fàbregas
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Lamine Yamal celebrating Spain's first goal against Germany at Euro 2024TOBIAS SCHWARZAFP