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Capturing Lionel Messi’s Iconic Moment: Photographer Bagu Blanco’s Personal Account

Read in IMAGO Zine: La Liga Edition, a personal account from photographer Bagu Blanco, who captured one of the most iconic moments in Lionel Messi’s career.

From IMAGO Zine #3

“On 8 March 2017, Lionel Messi wasn‘t necessarily FC Barcelona‘s best player, nor the greatest architect of a historic comeback in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Paris Saint Germain (PSG). But it was his howling rejoicing and unforgettable celebration in the stands after the sixth goal which left us with one of the most iconic images in the club‘s history. By an irony of fate, PSG which was Messi’s new home, fell victim to an ablazed Barcelona in which Neymar and Rafinha Alcântara joined in on the outstanding performance. The three teammates reunited in the French club alongside frenzied fans who expected history to be made, but this time with the PSG crest on Messi’s chest.”

Capturing Lionel Messi's Iconic Moment: Photographer Bagu Blanco's Personal Account

I saw through the viewfinder that Sergi Roberto was initiating a clearance and that the Brazilian Neymar managed to combine intelligence and technique to put a masterful pass behind the Parisian defense. That ended in a goal, and while I was following its author with my camera, who was running in the opposite direction to my position, I suddenly saw Leo Messi cross in front of my frame in another direction. I decided to ignore Sergi Roberto and look for the Argentine. I discovered a crazed Messi. I had to stand up and shoot hand-held because other photographers to my left had stood up and blocked my field of vision. Leo had made his way to the stands and, perched on a billboard, was celebrating the goal with them. I saw him put his hand on the shield, and I shot, shot and shot. That gesture lasted barely half a second, no longer than the beating heart pulsing through the Barcelona shield on Messi’s shirt. I was lucky enough to capture that photo of Messi with his hand on his heart. At the time I didn‘t give it any more importance than any other photo of any other celebration in any other match, but when the next day I started to see it everywhere, I realized that this image would go down in history.

By then my photo had already been around the world several times, had made the front page of dozens of newspapers in several countries, and had gone viral in such a way that it was impossible to evaluate the millions of people who had seen it. Years later, I still find that photo on postcards, mugs, T-shirts and other merchandising products. But that was not the only photo from that night that will brand football history.

IMAGO / Pressinphoto / Bagu Blanco | Messi celebrates during the UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain at Camp Nou, Barcelona on March 8, 2017.
IMAGO / Pressinphoto / Bagu Blanco | Messi celebrates during the UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain at Camp Nou, Barcelona on March 8, 2017.