Off The Ball

Babies and the beautiful game

Brazil is joined in his 'rocking the baby' samba by Romario and Mazinho.
© Getty Images

"Wow, what a blessing that is," announced Joey Barton on Twitter after the birth of his son Cassius Joseph on 28 December 2011. "The minute I saw him, I instantly knew I'd love him for the rest of his life. That's the closest I can get to describing this moment. Everything else is insignificant. Forget kicking a ball around or any of that other nonsense we get caught up in."

With that one tweet, the Marseille midfielder summed up a sentiment that surely thousands of footballers would understand, with players across the globe having gained a new perspective on life after starting a family. now shines a light on the special link between babies and the beautiful game.

Like Barton, a long list of footballers have turned to the internet to share their joy after a new arrival. Just at Barcelona alone, for example, no fewer than six players – Gerard Pique, Pedro, Pinto, Victor Valdes, David VillaandCesc Fabregas – have announced a birth on Twitter in the last year. The Catalan baby boom does not end there either. While his team-mates used the net to pass on their message, so too did Lionel Messi – only in his case there was a goalkeeper standing in front of it.

Celebrating the joyous event
The four time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner has made a habit of spreading the word during goal celebrations, stuffing a ball up his shirt to announce his girlfriend's pregnancy during a 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifier between Argentina and Ecuador in June 2012. Five months later, he then marked the birth of his son Thiago by sticking his thumb in his mouth after scoring for Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League game against Celtic.

The baby's dummy routine is by no means a Messi trademark either, with the likes of Brazilian striker Fred, Argentina's Carlos Tevez and French forward Bafetimbi Gomishaving also caught the eye with similar post-goal playfulness. Up in Iceland, meanwhile, a goalscorer for FC Stjarnan – specialists of eccentric celebrations – even mimed giving birth after hitting the target for his team.

Of course, the most iconic celebration of all came at the 1994 FIFA World Cup, when Brazil marksman Bebeto began rocking an imaginary baby after pouncing in a quarter-final against the Netherlands. "That was a unique moment for Bebeto," his Auriverde colleague Romario told some time afterwards. "His wife had just had the baby at that time, and it was quite an interesting celebration. He invented that on the spur of the moment. He scored the goal and started doing it. Mazinho, who was next to him, joined him and I, being next to arrive, just had to follow suit. The three of us made that gesture together."

He invented that on the spur of the moment. He scored the goal and started doing it. Mazinho, who was next to him, joined him and I, being next to arrive, just had to follow suit.

Introduced to the world in such memorable fashion, the youngster in question has since developed into one of the brightest prospects in the Brazilian game. Now an attacking midfielder for Flamengo, Matheus de Oliveira even played alongside his father in a friendly match organised by Bebeto and Romario on 27 April to celebrate the reopening of the Maracana.

A week before that match, Jonathan Sorianomade headlines after a hugely eventful day. The Salzburg forward spent the early afternoon with his wife as she gave birth to their third child, a daughter named Abril – but if that brought a flurry of emotions, many more lay ahead. The Spaniard promptly spirited himself to the Red Bull Arena, where his side were due to take on Wolfsberg. Brought on with the scoreline 2-2 in the second half, Soriano notched his 23rd, 24th and 25th goals this term to help Salzburg prevail 6-2.

Having racked up 146 strikes in 418 Premier League games, Louis Saha clearly knows a thing or two about scoring goals as well, and he is another player whose take on life has evolved since becoming a father. "When I feed my baby, I follow the movement of his mouth like a coach follows the movement of his striker," he explained last June. Unfortunately for Saha, however, he has not managed to add to his goal tally since, despite spells with Sunderland and Lazio. In contrast, Tianjin Teda forward Mao Biao once suffered a 1,014-day barren spell before rediscovering his touch with a pair of efforts in five days. Perhaps significantly, the Chinese striker celebrated the birth of a child between his two strikes.

Branded for life
Consistency in front of goal was never a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who found the net 272 times in 517 outings during his career. So deadly was the Norwegian, in fact, that Manchester United fans dubbed him the 'Baby-faced assassin' during his Old Trafford stay, on account of his cherubic features.

Possibly hoping for similar exploits, the Red Devils splashed out for another forward with a childlike nickname in 2010, swooping for Portuguese prospect Tiago Manuel Dias Correia – otherwise known as 'Bebe' – who is now on loan at Rio Ave. Bebe is the Portuguese word for baby, of course, but in Brazil the locals prefer the term 'Nene', and that is the sobriquet of former Paris Saint-Germain player Anderson Luis de Carvalho. "I was the skinniest kid back then and the others used to say I cried all the time," explained the Al-Gharafa forward recently. "Unlike Anderson, there were no other Nenes."

Meanwhile, plenty of players have named their little treasures after fellow footballers, with Antonio Cassanochristening his son Lionel and Ivica Olicdubbing his boys Luca and Toni. Still, despite those affectionate homages, nothing can beat the passion of supporters when it comes to naming new-borns after the heroes of the game.

One Burnley fan referenced not one player from his favourite club but 14 as he left his son with a real mouthful of a moniker, the youngster now answering to a name that begins: Jensen Jay Alexander Bikey Carlisle. Yet even that is nothing compared to the Liverpool fanatic in the 1960s who did likewise – but also added the names of all the club's members of staff, board members included. And over in the blue half of the city, one imaginative Evertonian had the bright idea of calling his daughter Eva-Toni-Ann.

As for Manchester City, their supporters can rival anyone's in the commitment stakes, with Joe Hart recently revealing that he was once asked to sign a fan's baby. "It just goes to show that there are strange people in this world," commented the goalkeeper. "I couldn't believe anyone would ever ask me to do something like that." Nevertheless, the lengths that some players will go to in order to keep the crowd on side can also be extreme, with Aston Villa defender Fabian Delph making it clear last month that he would not attend the birth of his child if it coincided with a match day. "I want to see my baby being born and hope it happens," he explained, at a time when his club looked in real danger of relegation. "Ideally, it will happen on a Wednesday."

If anything, Delph's stance serves to highlight the thin line separating the euphoria of fatherhood from the burdens that come with it. Indeed, a few weeks after his tender tweet upon the birth of his son, Joey Barton himself was moved to post: "Several hours of uninterrupted sleep! Didn't have to get up to feed the baby. The joys of an away match!"

Recommended Stories

Off The Ball

Heroes of the back-heel

19 Apr 2013

Off The Ball

A club for life, and beyond

14 Dec 2012

Off The Ball

Heroes set in stone

30 Nov 2012