Lionel Messi rolled the ball into the path of Andrés Iniesta and, suddenly, there was life. Quite literally. It was 6 May and it wasn’t just the players running into each others’ arms. Nine months after Iniesta’s famous last-minute goal at Stamford Bridge in the 2009 Champions League semi-final, there was a spike in the birth rate in Catalonia; 11 years after it, the Spaniard has marked the occasion by calling some of those children to say hello.
From lockdown in Japan, Iniesta made surprise video calls to two 10-year-olds born in Catalonia in late January 2010. Not so much happy birthday, perhaps, as happy conception day – although that did not come up in discussion.
“Has your mum shown you the goal?” Iniesta asks Ignacio, born on 18 January. Of course she had, Ignacio says: “You were a star.” His mother, Andrea Barri, tells Iniesta that she found out that she was pregnant just before travelling to Rome for the final against Manchester United. She didn’t tell her father until they were on the flight, just in case he suggested she shouldn’t travel. “It worked out perfectly,” Iniesta says, with a smile.
Josep Enric was born on 29 January, and comes to the call wearing a Barcelona shirt, with his brother. His father, Josep Salvat, says he remembers the shout, the moment – of the goal, that is – and jokingly revealed how his brother had done the calculations and said: “Josep Enric is an Iniestazo!”
If so, he was not the only one. “There will be a lot of love made tonight,” Gerard Piqué had said after Barcelona made it to the final and, it turned out, he was right. A spokeswoman for the maternity ward at the Quirón hospital in Catalonia said births were up from nine or 10 a day to 14 or 15 in her hospital alone. A subsequent study in the British Medical Journal recognised the potential bias of its Barcelona-supporting researchers but tentatively concluded that it was plausible to talk of a 16% rise.
“The heightened euphoria following a victory can cultivate hedonic sensations that result in intimate celebrations, of which unplanned births may be a consequence,” the report said, adding: “Ideally, to bridge the gap between observational and trial data, it would help greatly if Iniesta were willing to replicate his intervention – although the cost of such a study could be prohibitive, not to mention harmful to the reference group [Chelsea].”