Top 20 rags to riches football stars
Everyone loves a good story of rags to riches and there are a bunch when it comes to the world of football. From extreme poverty to self made, here are 20 of the best footballers who went from zero to hero.
Top 20 rags to riches football stars
This might well seem the odd one out but no rags-to-riches tale matches that of Villarreal’s story, this writer’s favourite. The club from Vila-Real have spent most of their history in Spain’s third division but since the late 1990s they have been on the rise. Built from virtual scratch by president Fernando Roig, who invested heavily in the club and promised to take them to the Spanish first division and make them challengers for the championship, Villarreal now are part of La Liga’s elite. After gaining remarkable success in the UEFA Cup, the Yellow Submarine made the footballing world drop its jaw when they reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2005-2006 and were only a penalty away from securing a place in the final. In their second ever season in Europe’s top club competition in 2008-2009, Villarreal had reached the last eight.
19. Collins John
Collins John might not be a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo and will never be but his story is as much heartening and inspiration. The former Fulham striker’s father was murdered by guerrillas in Liberia in 1991 when John was only six years old. Two years later John, his mother and younger brothers escaped and immigrated to Netherlands and lived in a refugee camp in Rotterdam for two years, eventually they gained Dutch citizenship. As Collins John recalls, “I had nothing more than a pair of underpants. We didn’t have food every day. It was a real struggle because of the civil war.” His story inspires many.
18. Juan Roman Riquelme
Generally described as an “enigmatic genius” and accepted as a throwback to modern football. Juan Roman Riquelme is without a doubt a world class playmaker and one of the world’s finest and most incisive players. Like several of his compatriots, the Boca Juniors playmaker had a terribly deprived childhood. Born in a family of ten and raised in Don Torcuato. Riquelme was forced by his father to play in matches that formed the basis for illegal gambling rings when he was only 10. Riquelme, though, continued to progress and led Boca Juniors and Villarreal to glory, becoming one of the most creative genius of all time.
17. Carlos Bacca
In football, 20 is an age when young footballers usually become full-fledged professionals. But in Carlos Bacca’s case, at that age, he was living in his hometown in Colombia, working as bus driver’s assistant to make ends meet. “The doors of football had been closed to me for some time and at my age, it wasn’t something I could count on anymore. But that year I trialled for Junior de Barranquilla and, thank God, they took me.”After playing in the local leagues in his hometown. Bacca began his professional career with Atletico Junior before moving going on a few loan moves. It wasn’t until 2009, at the age of 23 that he played in his first professional league match. Now the player earns around €3.6m yearly.
16. Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese star is one of the richest athlete on the planet. With a net worth estimated to be $300 million, Ronaldo is among the richest athlete. But it hasn’t always been all fun and games for him. The Portuguese ace had a difficult childhood. His father was an alcoholic and his mother wasn’t sure if she wanted him, she wanted an abortion. Ronaldo had underwent heart surgery at age 15, and five years later his father died. Ronaldo is a teetotaller. He often donates blood and has also been involved in several charity activities and events.
15. Lionel Messi
5 times Ballon d’Or winner, his story is not exactly a rags-to-riches tale but Lionel Messi’s journey from a growth hormone deficiency-stricken lad to the world’s finest player and most likely candidate to become El Diego II is quite inspiring. When Messi was only 11 years of age, he was diagnosed with a growth problem that would have cost around $800 per month to be cured. His club at the time, Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys, couldn’t arrange the funds and Messi could well have gone to waste and remained small and fragile had a certain FC Barcelona not come into the picture. The Catalan club moved Messi and his family to Spain, paid the expense for the lad’s treatment and now have the world’s best player on their books.
14. Alexis Sánchez
With his father leaving their family at an early age and his mother working as a cleaner, Alexis Sanchez had one of the toughest times while growing up. His mother used to sweep in the same school he studied in, and this was something which disturbed him very much. He always wanted to change his fate and leave this lifestyle of poverty. In order to support his family, this Chile national did use to wash cars and might have probably ended as a mine worker if not a footballer. His talent shone through from an early age, earning him the nickname “El Nino Maravilla” (Boy Wonder), and he quickly realised football offered a way out that would also allow him to help his mother and family.
A fallen star he might be and perhaps a moral criminal for having wasted the God-gifted talent he was blessed with. That too only in our eighth birth, Adriano’s rise from miserable poverty is as much inspiring as incredible. Born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in Vila Cruzeiro. A notorious neighborhood that made the headlines when TV Globo journalist Tim Lopes was cruelly murdered in 2002 by druglords. Adriano grew up poor but dreaming rich. As he himself acknowledged, “When you’re small, you dream of having a big car. Your mother is the most important person in your life, and you dream of giving her a big house. Then you see the top footballers with beautiful and glamorous women.” Only, in the subsequent years Adriano got more of such luxuries and could never fulfill the talent he was gifted with.
12. Luis Suarez
Luis Alberto Suarez Diaz was born in the Uruguan city of Salto to an unstable family in January 1987. His father was a porter by trade and the money was never enough to support the family.At the time when he was taking first few steps towards a career at the Club Nacional de Football, Suarez’s family had broken apart and he had no energy left for studies with football practice draining him. Suarez grew up in tough times and swept the streets of Montevideo during his childhood. It was in these streets that he found Football and it is all Suarez ever had and lived for ever since. Suarez now earns £200,000 per week.
11. Jamie Vardy
Jamie grew up in Hillsbrough, his father was a crane driver and his Mother was a legal secretary. But suffered a crushing blow as a 16-year-old when Sheffield Wednesday rejected him for not being good. From there, Vardy’s career in football looked dead in the water. He took to studying sports science at college. Then he ended up working in a carbon fibre factory along playing football for Fleetwood club. In May 2012 the 25-year old was bought by Leicester City from Fleetwood from 1 million euros, a record fee for a non league player. And you all know what happened next on the pitch. After an incredible scoring run this term, he smashed Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s 12-year record and became the only man to score in 11 consecutive Premier League games.
10. Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima
These days he might be seen with models, supermodels and at times transvestites. But once upon a time no one knew him and he was just another kid who wanted to play football. He was struggling to keep himself afloat. Born in a poverty-stricken family in Rio de Janeiro. Ronaldo once couldn’t garner the bus fare to take him to a trial with Brazilian club Flamengo. Thereby mitigating his chances of becoming a professional footballer. But the later-to-become three times FIFA World Player of the Year and one of the greatest strikers of all time who still is admired by the best strikers at this time. Did not lose heart and went onto play for Cruzeiro. And subsequently went onto have the world prostrating at his feet.
9. Luka Modric
Currently one of the worlds best midfield maestro, the Croatian was 5 years old when a war broke out in his country. It eventually forced Mordic’s family to flee their home and take refuge in a hotel. While his grandfather was murdered in the same conflict, with grenades passing nearby, Modric never ceased from playing Football. It was such passion and determination which made Luka Modric a midfield maestro first at Tottenham and then with La Liga Giants, Real Madrid.
8. Roberto Carlos
As a child, Roberto Carlos used to play barefoot with the ball filled with sand rather than with air and until he turned 20 his family didn’t own any vehicle other than a bicycle. Also, as one football writer observed, “…..from an early age he was a sort of human ox, spending hour after hour in the fields alongside his father pushing or pulling outrageously heavy pieces of farm machinery.” Now that same “human ox” is a footballing legend and a free-kick God to many, having won everything there is to be won in the game and having played for the world’s biggest club and for the world’s most popular and successful national team.
7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan saw his childhood grow in abject poverty, his father was caretaker and his mother was a sweeper. His parents separated when he was just 2 years old. His football idol was Ronaldo Lima. Aside from football when Zlatan was a teenager he had a bike that meant the world to him. The bike had got stolen, so he started stealing bikes himself. Later revealed that one of the bikes which he had stolen without knowing the owner was his assistant manager’s bike at Malmö FF. Now he is one of the highest paid player in the English premier league and a world class striker.
6. Franck Ribéry
Raised in one of the poverty-stricken ghettos on the fringes of the city. Ribery and his family met with a near fatal accident, when he was two. He was left with more than 100 stitches on his face, leaving two deep scars. Something he has vowed to never remove, as they are a part of his identity. Prior to joining Stade Brestois as a 20-year old in 2003, Ribery worked as a construction worker with his father, to make ends meet. He calls the period a learning experience. However, life soon changed for the better for him. FC Metz bought him for free after his stint with Brestois. And, Galatasaray and Les Bleus soon came calling, with Marseille signing him up later, before eventually selling him to Bayern Munich. Ribery now earns €160,000 per week.
5. Juan Cuadrado
Juan Cuadrado was left traumatised by the murder of his dad when he was just four years old. Cuadrado hid under the bed as armed gunman mowed down his father in their native Colombia. He was brought up by his mum after the appalling tragedy. Cuadrado’s parents heard the sound of gunfire and ordered him to hide. When he emerged from his hiding place his dad Guillermo had been fatally injured. His mother Marcela said: “Perhaps the death of his dad made him grow up quicker.” The gunmen were never brought to justice.
4. Carlos Tevez
Carlos Tevez was born in Fuerte Apache, a small neighbourhood located in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t the most pleasant area to live in. A town where violence and drugs, as well as a high crime rate, all in some way connected to its poverty, made it one of the most dangerous places to live in Argentina. The striker suffered third degree burns down his face, neck and chest due to an accident with boiling water when he was just 10 months old. His teeth, broken and crooked, is the result of a street fight during his much blighted childhood. Apparently, Tevez suffered this as he was having a row over money.
Edison Arantes do Nascimento, otherwise known as Pele. Grew up in abject poverty he couldn’t afford a proper football and either played with a sock stuffed with newspaper or a grapefruit. His father was a footballer too but he could never earn enough to feed his family. And suffered consistent injuries. Pele himself worked as shoe polisher when he was seven and initially didn’t dream of becoming a professional footballer. Often considered the greatest footballer of all time.Since he could not afford a football. Before becoming a three time World Cup winner, the legendary striker would work as a servant in a tea shop. Pele was elected “Athlete of the Century” by the International Olympic committee and in 1999, was voted “Player of the Century”.
Here, after all, was a child born into abject poverty in a favela near Recife, Brazil. A child so malnourished that he lost teeth and became bow-legged. A child that lost his father in a car crash when he was 15. And here was a young player who would think nothing of walking the 15-mile round trip to and from training every day. Rivaldo lost his father Romildo Ferreira in the year 1989. But the tragedy did not derail his ambitions of becoming a footballer. And in the same year he became a professional when he signed a contract with Paulistano Futebol Clube. Despite all of the many obstacles in his way, he became the world’s greatest player and one of the highest paid player at his time.
Maradona saw himself as a great football player, even as he faced the harsh realities of living in the slums of Villa Fiorito outside Buenos Aires. Maradona’s family was unfortunately poor. His father, a bricklayer and factory worker, struggled to provide for three boys, five girls, and his stay-at-home wife. Poverty, however did not snatch away the dreams of a young boy destined to experience unprecedented glory and greatness. Maradona was given his first football by his cousin, Beto Zarate, on his third birthday. He would practice dribbling and other skills with the ball as long as he could stand. He is the only footballer to set world-record for contract fees twice. Firstly to Barcelona for a then world record £5m, and secondly, when he moved to Napoli for another record fee of £6.9m. On June 26 1983, Maradona became the first Barcelona player to be applauded by arch rival Real Madrid fans for his superb solo goal in the El Clasico.