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Top 10 Footballers Who Grew Up Poor

Luis Suarez

Spent the first years of his life in Salto, he was playing shoeless football in the streets. Not until he was seven – driven by his father’s unemployment – did the Barcelona striker move along with his six siblings to the Uruguay capital Montevideo. Suarez’s family was often unable to furnish him with boots to play with, while his father left the family behind when Luis was twelve. He struggled for focus during formative days at Nacional after falling in with a rough crowd.

Franck Ribery

The tricky Bayern winger was forged in the hard-boiled Chemin-Vert neighborhood in his native Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France. As a two-year-old Franck sustained his distinctive facial scars when he was catapulted into the windshield of a car in an accident. Ribery later shone as a teenager for the Lille academy but would be sent packing for a questionable work ethic, going on to do construction work while battling through the lower French leagues. It was all certainly worth it – Ribery arrived in due time.

Alexis Sanchez

From the despair of Chilean industrial center Tocopilla burst forth Alexis, once a boy determined to succeed in order to improve his mother’s quality of life. With his father largely out of the picture, Sanchez’s mother looked to make ends meet by taking a cleaning job at his school – something that perturbed the Manchester United star. Sanchez washed cars to bring in extra income for his family while working his way through the ranks to professional status as a footballer. Had he not made it as a footballer Sanchez has noted that he likely would have ended up working in the local mine – but by 16 Alexis made his professional debut.



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Just four months into his life, Neymar’s mother and father believed they had lost their son after a car accident left him bloodied, with the car teetering on the edge of the cliff. Neymar Junior would emerge to become a prodigy, growing up in a cramped room in his grandfather’s house, shared with his sister and parents. He used his relatives as improvised goal posts and training dummies to simulate the necessary environment. So meteoric was his rise at Santos that Real Madrid (and later Barcelona) took notice of the then 13-year-old, flying him and his father to Spain.

Zlatan Ibrahimović

I saw the future

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Zlatan was raised in the Rosengard district of Malmö, a place more renowned for swallowing youngsters whole than spitting out brilliant footballers. The Swede’s Bosnian father was an alcoholic, his Croatian mother something of a hard case – the pair split when a young Zlatan was two. Ibrahimović was left to steal what he needed – at times, a bike to ride to training – developing his technical skills by playing a brand of street ball on a makeshift pitch in Rosengard with friends.

Steven Pienaar

Growing up in apartheid-era South Africa was a dangerous proposition for Steven, who has described native Westbury as a cauldron of violence and strife. Pienaar has recalled being banned by his mother from sitting on the couch to watch television, as she feared a stray bullet would come flying through the window – so he was restricted to sitting on the floor. The ex-Everton man has also recalled despicable instances of racism he faced because of the color of his skin – and the joy he felt when apartheid was lifted at long last in 1994. While Pienaar was able to escape the dangers of Westbury via football, many others weren’t – soon after joining Ajax, a close friend of his was tragically lost to the mayhem of Westbury.

Antonio Cassano


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Early life wasn’t kind to Antonio, widely regarded as one of football’s greatest talents to squander his potential due to a generally poor disposition. Born into the harsh reality of Bari, Cassano’s father abandoned the family before his son was old enough to even know what had happened. Life was difficult thereafter, with the boy’s mother struggling to support the family. It was in the streets that Cassano was first noticed by a Bari scout, who plucked him up, simultaneously discovering one of Italy’s greatest young talents.

Yaya Toure

Heading back to Manchester after a day full of emotion in Nairobi!!

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It wasn’t until the age of 10 that Yaya Toure had his very own football boots, having spent years knocking a ball about without shoes in the streets of his native Cote d’Ivoire. »Boots were very expensive,« Toure told The Guardian in 2011. »And when there are seven in your family and you say you want to buy a pair your father wants to kill you.« But in the Manchester City midfielder own words: »I just had a normal African childhood. Life was a struggle when I was growing up.« Toure clearly took his opportunities as they came. He used his distinguished youth career at ASEC Mimosas as a springboard to Europe, firstly with Belgian outfit Beveren.

Aleksander Hleb

The ex-Arsenal cult hero has a true tale of hardship behind him, having grown up in the shadow of the Chernobyl disaster as a youngster in Belarus near Ukrainian border. Hleb’s father volunteered to demolish houses left uninhabitable due to radiation, something that would later contribute to health complications. A young Hleb was limited to a single pair of worn-out boots and spent his time playing on concrete pitches in Minsk, building a reputation that earned him an opportunity with Bate Borisov – opening the door to later adventures with Arsenal and Barcelona.

Carlos Tevez

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Carlos has recounted tales of a childhood blighted by crime and deprivation, of walking to school in the morning past the bodies of slain neighbors in the street. He credits his dribbling ability to having to weave around shattered glass and syringes in an effort to avoid disease, all the while wearing boots so outgrown his toenails became stunted. The Argentine has called football ‘the best thing that can happen to you’ – and it was his focus on the sport, rather than the life of crime others around him fell into, that allowed him to take advantage of his innate, unique ability.


Sources: The Famous People, World Soccer, The Sportster


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