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Photo surfaces of Lionel Messi with Lamine Yamal as a baby

When Joan Monfort took photos of Lionel Messi with a baby for a charity calendar almost 17 years ago, he knew the long-haired young man would make it big in soccer.

He could not have imagined the little boy would as well.

The baby in the photos — which have gone viral — was none other than Lamine Yamal, the Spanish wunderkind, who at 16 is showing such promise that he’s already being compared to the greats. The youngest to have played for Spain, he became the youngest player ever in the ongoing European Championship in Germany.

More than that, though, Yamal may well become the youngest player ever to play in the final of the continental competition, after his curling semi-final wondergoal helped Spain beat France on Tuesday and take a step closer to winning the trophy.

Just hours later, Messi doubled Argentina’s lead in the Copa America semi-final against Canada and the older man in the photo will most likely lead his team into the tournament’s final against Uruguay. The two games will again take place just hours apart.

Lamine Yamal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Mallorca in Barcelona, Spain
Lamine Yamal during a match between Barcelona and Mallorca in Barcelona, Spain, on March 8, 2024.Joan Monfort / AP file

One of the long-forgotten photos from 2007 resurfaced after Yamal’s father posted it on Instagram last week with the text “the beginning of two legends.”

Monfort, 56, who works as a freelance photographer for The Associated Press and others, said the photo shoot took place in the visitors’ locker room at Barcelona’s Camp Nou 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 drive by local newspaper Diario Sport and UNICEF. Monfort was in charge of the photo shoots — and it just so happened that Messi was paired with Yamal’s family. His mother, who is from Equatorial Guinea, is next to Messi and the baby in one of the photos.

“We made the calendar with the help of UNICEF. So 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 Barca player. And they won the raffle,” Monfort said.

It wasn’t an easy assignment, he recalled, mainly because Messi wasn’t sure how to interact with baby Lamine, who was in a plastic tub for the shoot.

Lionel Messi bathing Lamine Yamal during a photo shoot in Barcelona, Spain
Lionel Messi with Lamine Yamal in Barcelona, Spain in 2007. Joan Monfort / AP

“Messi is a pretty introverted guy, he’s shy,” Monfort said. “He was coming out of the locker room and suddenly he finds himself in another locker room with a plastic tub full of water and a baby in it. It was complicated. He didn’t even know how to hold him at first.”

Messi was 20 at the time and already considered a big talent, but it would take a couple of years before he made his mark as the most outstanding player of his generation for Barcelona and Argentina.

Like Messi, Yamal has gone through Barcelona’s renowned La Masia youth academy. Despite his age, he’s been one of Spain’s best players at Euro 2024. Yamal will turn 17 on Saturday, the day before the final in Berlin.

Monfort, 56, had no idea it was Yamal in those photos from 2007 until a friend messaged him as they started trending online.

He’s had a long career as a sports photographer since 1991, following Barcelona around the world, but said he’s never experienced this level of excitement around any of his photos.

“It’s very exciting to be associated with something that has caused such a sensation,” he said. “To tell you the truth it’s a very nice feeling.”

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