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 civil wars, here are 5 of the best African footballers who went from zero to hero...
From playing barefoot on gravel roads with their township’s locals watching on, to playing in sold-out stadiums around the world with a pair of sponsored boots – some of the past and present greats started with nothing but a dream. Perhaps they never imagined their lives turning out the way it did, but their success stories can provide inspiration for today’s youth.
The Cameroonian star grew up sharing a bed with a few of his six siblings in their cramped house in Doula. Eto’o and his brothers used to make soccer balls out of wrapped plastic and he was fortunate enough to be spotted by scouts, who lured him away to Spain where he started his professional career with Real Madrid. Today he has played over 450 professional games for several different top-flight clubs including Barcelona.
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’s 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 with Belgian outfit Beveren – from where he has gone on to ply his trade in Ukraine, Greece, France, Spain and England.
The Ghanaian attacking-midfielder who was named the Player of the Tournament at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, once had to sell ice-cold water to pedestrians in the streets of his homeland to earn money. Now 25-years-old, Atsu has represented Everton, FC Porto, Bournemouth, Malaga, Vitesse Arnhem and is currently on Newcastle’s books. He is currently valued at around £10 million.
Political asylum at its most vicious, future Arsenal 'invincible' Lauren was born in Cameroon, after his family fled Equatorial Guinea as a way of escaping the clutches of the Nguema dictatorship.
From Cameroon to Spain, the right back always lived in relative squalor, but helped to provide for his family after impressing for the likes of Levante and Mallorca, prior to his big money move to the Premier League.
Growing up in apartheid-era South Africa was a dangerous proposition for Steven Pienaar, who has described native Westbury – on the fringes of Johannesburg – 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 and harm her son – so he was restricted to sitting on the floor. The Bournemouth 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, an event Pienaar says is too painful to speak about at length.