Behind the Viral Messi Photo

Argentina won the World Cup this year. So naturally, thousands of shots have appeared online to pay homage to the Argentian team who won the highly-sought championship, especially its star player, Lionel Messi.

The most viral Messi photo was that of Shaun Botterill, where Messi sat on Sergio Aguero’s shoulder while he was holding the World Cup trophy above his head. A simple but proud smile is etched on his face, and his eye gleam with happiness as he valiantly gives another win Argentinians would be proud of. Messi uploaded the photo on his Instagram account, which is now the most-liked photo in the social media site’s history. The image overtook another most-liked photo by the photographer who took Messi’s shot.

Botterill said several photographers positioned themselves in front of the stand near the advertising boards. After the ceremony bestowing Argentina with the World Cup, the team’s captain went over to their fans, leading hoards of photographers to rush into the Argentinian team wanting to capture the glorious and proud moment.

“I almost got trapped, but I got trapped in the right place. I think if most of us [photographers] are honest, you always need a bit of luck, and I had a bit on Sunday night. Messi was just there, and he didn’t move that much. Sometimes you get pushed around, and he just was doing all the bits, one-handed, two hands on the trophy,” Botterill recalled.

“We had no idea what was going to happen at the end. You can plan for the trophy lift, but you can’t plan for the runaround, and you don’t know how chaotic it’s going to be. I was pretty close to him. I’m probably like two meters away maximum,” he continued.

“It is quite a weird feeling, and it’s a bit surreal, you go: ‘Holy s**t,’ he’s right there where you want him to be, and that doesn’t happen often. Even his hands coming up [with the trophy], I think the way he’s holding it and smiling, he’s definitely got a moment with the fans.”

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Several versions of the Messi photo

Aguero, a former Argentinian player, carried his friend on his shoulders; Botterill knew it was the perfect moment to capture. So he immediately grabbed his equipment, took a shot, and sent it to his editors. Coincidentally, his son, another aspiring photographer, was at the editing desk that night and replied to his father about editing the photo he sent. Botterill recalled his son saying that the picture he took of Messi was good. Botterill said he had versions of the image he wished Messi uploaded other than the one he did on his Instagram account.

“I do remember thinking: ‘Blimey, how the hell have I ended up where I am?’ Because in those situations, you’re governed by where the masses are pushing you. When I look back, you can’t believe that guy is in front of you on the shoulders of Sergio Aguero, holding up the World Cup, showing that to his fans,” he said.

“It’s got that impact, hasn’t it? It’s got the happy face; it’s got the joy, the trophy and it kind of looks chaotic.”

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An unexpected feat

Botterill is not highly-immersed in social media. So initially, he needed to learn that the photo he took of Messi had already made history in a social media application. This Wednesday, Meta founder and the owner of Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg, announced that Botterill’s photo is already the most liked on Instagram. As of the latest count, the Messi photo has garnered 72 million likes and is still rising. Instagram’s most well-liked photo before Messi was a photo of an egg that got 57 million likes.

“That’s the funny thing for me because I’m not on Instagram. I wouldn’t even know how to crop an Instagram picture. So for me, it’s hilarious, the fact that you’ve got this 55-year-old bloke that’s not on Instagram, and he’s got two boys who think it is the funniest thing ever,” Botterill said.

“The youngest one said: ‘It’s at 62 million, dad.’ I’m from a little town in Northampton, so it’s quite bizarre. It’s kind of crazy because I didn’t really have a clue what was going on. It’s only when a colleague messaged me and said: ‘Oh, have you seen how many likes [your photo has]?'”

“So it’s slightly ironic that all of a sudden I’m this old guy not on social media that, obviously on the back of a great footballer, has put out a picture that’s been picked up a bit. So it’s quite funny really – I got off the plane and didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

Going into his passion, he said that 36 years in the industry did not bore him. He explained that the feeling he had decades ago is still the same feeling he has now, like someone who had just started capturing the world of sports’ most memorable scenes. Botterill covered the World Cup for the first time in 1967 and another in 1994. Botterill said he wants to enjoy the moment and share it with people worldwide.

“I think when you get a picture of a player or a sports person that is really up there, you know, they can debate whether is he the greatest ever; is it Pelé? Is it Maradona? But the bottom line is he [Messi] is up there, so if you get a really nice picture of a great player, it’s kind of a nice feeling.”

“He’s a great, he’s fantastic, he’s unbelievable. So that kind of gives you the buzz, to get a really good picture. Everybody else can decide what they think about the photo, but it’s a really nice picture of one of the greatest players ever, so that’s nicest bit for me. This is why you got to work.”