Football; the most famous sport in the world, also happens to be the source of the most heartwarming stories of resilience of all time. European football in particular has the attention of the whole world as it is considered a gold mine thanks to its huge fan following. The other reason why European football is so famous is because of its diversity. Anyone that proves themselves to be the best can make it big in Europe and as it has been proven again and again, the best footballers don’t always come from the peaceful paved streets of London and Madrid. From Zlatan Ibrahimović who had to steal to survive to Bebe who nearly died in a refugee camp, here is a look at the 10 most inspiring rags to riches stories that have ever touched European football stadium carpets.
From a garbage collector to a world cup winner, N`golo Kante’s rise to fame is one that will inspire the children of emigrant parents in France for centuries. Kante was is the son of Malian Emigrants to France who could hardly afford to live. Kante’s father died while he was still little leaving his poor mother as the sole parent of four children. Kante had to help his mother to pay the bills, so he started collecting garbage before he was 8.
During the 1998 World Cup, Kante would go to the stadiums to collect the trash left behind by the fans. He later joined the football academy where his determination and skill astonished the coach. He helped his childhood academy start winning trophies but he never bragged. Kante never brags actually. Everyone knows him as the silent shy guy whose only joy is when he is helping his team on the pitch.
Carlos Tevez has a third-degree burn scar extending from his neck and chest which he acquired while just 10 months old. Details are scarce about how he got the scar but his mother was an alcoholic and they were very poor which may give some insight. His parents abandoned him at a young age forcing him to move in with his uncle Segundo Tevez. It was his uncle that finally gave him his second name.
Life at his uncle’s wasn’t any easy either because it was all happening in the famous Fuerte Apache slums of Buenos Aires where gun violence and drugs are the order of the day. The family was too poor to afford football boots for the boy which partly caused the delay in joining the academy. He had to go hungry on many occasions and as a teenager, had to take care of his uncle’s entire family on his allowance from Boca Juniors. He still managed to leave his past behind to become one of the highest-paid footballers in the world at one point.
Luka Modric was awarded the golden ball for being the best player in the 2018 World cup in Moscow. He is still regarded as the greatest midfielder of his generation and also one of the greatest rags to riches stories ever heard. His family was forced to flee their home when he was just six during the Croatia’s war for independence from Serbia in the early 90s. The family only managed to carry whatever could fit in their car and fled to the Zadar refugee complexes. The family couldn’t even afford to feed the boy right and he was too small for his age by the time the coach of a local football academy found him playing football in the hotel parking lot. He was taken in by the academy and had to train while watching and ready to run for their lives whenever grenades started landing on the training grounds.
Zlatan Ibrahimović’s boisterous character sometimes overshadows his humble beginnings. There is no doubt about the fact that he is one of the greatest footballers of all time with excellent records in all major leagues in Europe and abroad. The AC Milan star has been a survivor since his childhood, doing anything legal or illegal that would help him get a meal for the day at one point. His parents gave birth to him in Sweden but they were refugees from Yugoslavia.
His father was an alcoholic, so Zlatan and his siblings had to fend for themselves and that is how he learned to pinch bikes and pickpocket people in the neighborhood. He continued pinching bikes, including his coach’s bike right outside the team locker room. He said if football hadn’t worked for him, he would have ended up in prison. Thank God it did.
Sadio Mane holds the record for the fastest hattrick at 2 minutes 56 seconds. He is obviously one of the best talents English football has ever witnessed. Mane’s roots are very humble, if not somewhat distressing. He was born in a small village called Bambala in Sedhious Senegal. His parents couldn’t afford to take him to school and there was obviously no money for buying balls and football equipment. The family could only afford food, so Mane had to find other boys playing in the streets and use the chance to play with them.
He never got the opportunity to go to school but he got a chance to participate in a local championship and his talent won over the whole town. When he decided to go to the capital Dakar to play competitively, the whole town had to contribute to get enough money for his transportation. His story changed as he met agents from France who allowed him to join an academy and later play in Ligue 1. He now uses his money and position to change the look of football in his poor hometown.
Alex Fergusson agreed in 2009 that he had never seen Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, aka Bebe, play. He still signed the player for £7 million from Vitoria De Guimaraes because of the story behind the man and the talent. His didn’t meet the demands of Old Trafford but he went ahead to make a name for himself in La Liga. 18 months before that signing Bebe had been living in a homeless shelter and the streets in the outskirts of Lisbon. His parents abandoned him at a young age before his grandmother dropped him off at a catholic run shelter in the outskirts of the city promising to come back for him after two weeks but she never did. Bebe was only seen by the agents of the small club Loures while playing with fellow homeless teenagers in the streets.
Neymar Santos Da Silva Jr was born in the outsides of Sao Paulo and while he wasn’t born in the rough favelas like most of his Brazilian counterparts, his life wasn’t any better. The parents couldn’t afford electricity so young Neymar had to study using candlelight. His father was a professional footballer too but he was injured in an accident that damaged his hip forcing him to retire. He had to work three jobs to keep the family alive and at one point, just couldn’t manage and the family had to move in with Neymar’s grandmother.
Neymar said his parents were so poor they couldn’t even afford ultrasound while he was growing up. One day when his mother couldn’t afford to buy him a cookie, he told her not to worry and that she would make lots of money in football and buy her a whole cookie factory. Well, now he is the highest-paid player in the world and the most expensive after signing for PSG from Barcelona for a record $256 million.
Juab Cuadrado ever playing in European football was a miracle in itself. He was born in Necocli, Colombia, one of the places where drugs, cartel wars and police violence are part of daily life. He watched his father short at the age of 4 and had to hide under the bed to avoid getting shot at himself. His mother was a maid who later switched to selling bananas and little Cuadrado was her right-hand man. Life was tough, and football was the boy’s only solace. He had to move in with his grandmother because his mother just couldn’t afford to fend for him. It was there at the age of 13 that local football coaches saw his talent and signed him up to the local youth league and so began his journey to the Premier League.
Alphonso Davies was born to Liberian refugees in a refugee camp in Ghana. The conditions in the camp were so bad that his father said keeping a gun was essential for survival. The family was accepted in Canada when Davies was just 5 years old. In Vancouver, his father struggled to make ends meet but the boy excelled at the charity football academy set up in his neighbourhood for boys from poor backgrounds. He joined Vancouver Whitecaps FC as a teenager and became the youngest person to ever play in Canada’s Major League Soccer. His transfer fee to Bayern was also the MLS’s highest ever on record.
Victor Moses was born in Lagos Nigeria where he hardly had any schooling and didn’t know how to speak English. He used to play street football, and was out on one such game when his parents were killed because of a religious conflict. The 11-year old’s life was also in the line in Lagos, so family and friends desperately contributed money and sent him to send him to London as an asylum seeker. He was finally given to a foster family in London and managed to land a scholarship and admission to the Crystal Palace academy.