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The Beautiful Game

We celebrate the gallery of peoples, emotions and sacred football rituals together with Imago

“The game of football is a system of signs; it’s a nonverbal language,” said the oracular Italian writer Pier Paolo Pasolini. The football language is a unique language, capable of evolving and changing season after season; it’s a cosmopolitan and transversal idiom, learned among the stadium stands and the squares of every town; it’s a diverse and popular dialect, where morphology and syntax are shaped like scarves and flags. In the controversial drama of contemporary football, few actors continue to be pure and pristine: they are the beating heart of a global and globalized sport, they are the fans. Together with Imago, we have selected 10 images to celebrate the vast and multifaceted human dance of football, creating a photo gallery that, on the one hand, traces some of the most important milestones of the last season and, on the other, frescoes the eternal symbiosis between human beings and football. We asked each photographer to describe emotions and feelings related to these artworks – Welcome to ‘The Beautiful Game’ gallery.

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Ricardo Nogueira & Marjam Majd

Ricardo Nogueira

“I took this image about half an hour after the referee’s final whistle in the game that won Leo Messi’s first World Cup. I was shooting from the stands, high above the level of the playing field. With the end of the game and the handing over of the cup to the champions, I believe that I and the other photographers knew that the “game” was not over yet. The star of the night and the best player of recent times had yet to have his individual moment of glory. So, while editing the material produced on the computer, every now and then I peeked with my eyes to try to find out when and how Messi would appear to lift the 2022 World Cup alone. And the moment arrived: in the middle of the sea of people who were on the lawn, there was the ace with the cup in hand. I believe that this image has a lot to do with the Beautiful Game, because it synthesizes the glory and the fulfillment of an athlete’s dream, obviously represented by Leo Messi, and also that of an entire nation – represented by the fans who surround him.”

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Hester Ng

Hester Ng

“There are countless memorable moments in football history. During the Qatar World Cup, there was one particularly indelible – when Morocco defeated Portugal and earned their place in the semifinal. It was the first time in history where an African country made it to the semifinals. I was in London, where Moroccan fans hailing from diverse backgrounds came together in celebration. The joy and excitement displayed transcend nationality, race, and language, emphasising that sports have the unique ability to unite everyone. I was inspired to encapsulate the celebration of the Beautiful Game by exemplifying the universal appeal and global reach of football. It symbolises how the sport erases barriers and fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie among individuals from different cultures and across continents. This moment embodies the true meaning and power of football, demonstrating that the passion, connection, and spirit it ignites know no boundaries when it comes to sports.”

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Antonio Balasco

Antonio Balasco

“At that magical moment, under the Maradona mural in San Giovanni a Teduccio, there is a unique atmosphere. That mural is more than just a painting on a wall, it is a shrine embodying the passion and devotion of an entire community. It is a tangible symbol of the inspiration that Maradona gave to the whole world with his magic and talent. It is an irresistible call to the passionate hearts of those who believe in the power of sport to unite, excite and transform. Under that mural, people gather to celebrate, not only Maradona’s greatness as a footballer, but also his humanity, not by chance the artist Jorit calls him a human god, his strength and his passion. It is a moment in which differences dissolve and everyone is united in joy and admiration for a man who has left an indelible mark on football and the lives of millions of Neapolitans and Argentines. The presence of that mural is a testament to the fact that the Bel Gioco goes beyond the results on the field. It is the beauty of artistic expression, creativity and the ability to inspire. That moment is a reminder of the purity of the love for the game of football and for Diego Armando Maradona on his birthday by the Neapolitan people.”

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Antonio Balasco

Antonio Balasco

“The celebration of Napoli’s third Scudetto is a moment charged with meaning and power in the world of football, Napoli this year has in my opinion expressed the most beautiful game in Europe. The sacred images in the altar represent the faith and spirituality that accompany the Neapolitan people on their journey. The encounter between the sacred and the profane is very subtle in Naples. Each Scudetto is a trophy won with commitment, sacrifice and talent, and symbolises the achievement of a goal that seemed impossible. The streets fill with festive fans, embraced by happiness and emotion, creating a unique atmosphere of magic and unity. This celebration, with its unique mix of spirituality and sport, represents a moment of joy, emotion and gratitude.”

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Leandro Bernardes

Leandro Bernardes

“It marked a somber chapter in football’s history as Pelè, one of the all-time greatest football players, passed away after a courageous fight against cancer. However, his legacy shall endure eternally. In tribute to the profound significance Pelè holds, I dedicated three days to crafting a heartfelt gesture around the Vila Belmiro Stadium (home of Santos FC). My objective was to express the immense love people have for Pelè to the world. The jerseys I created were eagerly purchased in various Santos streets, quickly selling out.”

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Michael Erichsen

Michael Erichsen

“I wanted to capture some of the supporters in the stands ahead of this decisive qualification game. Their team (Örgryte IS) if loosing the game was going to be relegated so the atmosphere in the arena was intense and packed with emotions. A couple of masked supporters with smoke cans drew my attention. The smoke put a nice frame around them adding to the emotional build up to the game. I think this moment encapsulates the passion for their club and love for the game going all in with everything they can bring as supporters up in the stands.”

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Zabed Chowdhori

Zabed Chowdhori

“As a photographer, I went there to cover an event but in Bangladesh, there are some really crazy fans of football. People in Bangladesh celebrate the World Cup football matches like a festival. In many places in our country watch football matches by collecting money from area residents to set projectors. But in some places like this many people come from different locations to watch football matches live on the big screen. I chose this place as it was the most crowded place. Various classes of people come here to watch matches together. This is the most beautiful moment where there is no upper class or lower class, no religious differences, no political differences, only football lovers who laugh together cries together. In this place, they watch all the matches but I choose to cover the match of Argentina to show the craziness of football lovers as this match grabs more crowds. Their craziness or you can say the love for football of our country’s people inspired me to capture this moment.”

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Alejo Manuel Avila

Alejo Manuel Avila

“Football is a chosen religion, football is played with the feet and lived with the heart. It is the portrait of an inexplicable passion. Sweat, gritted teeth and throats burst when the “crack” of the team fulfils the dream of an entire society by scoring a goal. When this happens, the screams become one, and people raise their eyes to the sky. Argentine football has that illusion that is represented in the beloved blue and white. It occupies the front page of the newspapers, defines the Monday mood, encourages promises, gives hugs. It is a genuine expression of Argentinian identity, it is a cry that defines everything, displacing everything else: eyes and hearts rest there, where the ball rolls.”

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David Klein

David Klein

“The sense of togetherness between the Welsh team and fans is really shown in this one image. They had just bowed out of the tournament and yet the massed red wall serenaded the team, to show their continued support.”

Text by Gianmarco Pacione

Photo Credits: IMAGO, Ricardo Nogueira, Marjam Majd, Hester Ng, Antonio Balasco, Leandro Bernardes, Michael Erichsen, Zabed Chowdhori, Alejo Manuel Avila, David Klein

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