Historically, soccer is a sport mainly played by those from poorer backgrounds. For example, Brazil is the most successful international team in the history of soccer, lifting a total of five World Cups. The players who have made up these teams have mostly been born and raised in the rough favelas of inner-city Brazil. This includes players like the legendary Ronaldo Luís, considered by many to be one of the greatest strikers of his generation. He honed his skills playing street soccer in Rio De Janeiro’s toughest districts.
One of the strikers who is heavily inspired by the iconic Ronaldo Luís is Arsenal star Gabriel Jesus. Jesus, much like Ronaldo Luis, grew up in a rough area of Brazil and showcased his impressive natural talent at a very young age on the streets of Sao Paulo, in an area called Jardim Peri. Such was Gabriel Jesus’s connection with the streets he grew up in that a local street artist painted a huge mural for him, in 2018. He is adored by the locals and showed exactly why during the first game of the season, where Arsenal beat Crystal Palace 2-0. He will have been keen to add to Arsenal’s incredible MNF (Monday Night Football) record this season. However, The Gunners are not currently scheduled to play on a Monday night for the duration of the season.
The third player we are going to take a look at today is another legendary star. This is a man who came from humble beginnings to rise to the top of world soccer, none other than ex-England and Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney. When Rooney was just 16, he ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run with a goal from 25 yards out on his Everton debut. What made this even more impressive was that the teenager had only been on the pitch for a few minutes.
He immediately announced himself on the world stage, tearing up Euro 2004 at the tender age of 17, showing why many analysts and fans considered him the most precocious talent of his generation. What happened after that is no secret to most soccer fans. He became a multi-league winning striker with Manchester United, a Champions League winner, and England and Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer.
Many people might not know that Rooney was born and raised in a poor, working-class area of Liverpool called Croxteth. He was also attending a comprehensive school in the area. His mother worked as a dinner lady in Wayne’s school, and he credits the area for teaching him a lot about life. Much like the Brazilian players we have discussed, Wayne perfected his craft by playing football in the streets of Liverpool. According to one story, the Everton manager at the time, David Moyes, had to drive to Croxteth to berate Wayne for playing in the street – Moyes did not want his star teenager getting injured when he had already named him in the Everton squad.
When it comes to sporting heroes, who doesn’t love a good underdog story? The penultimate player we will look at – Diego Armando Maradona – is arguably the greatest of them all. The Argentinian legend is considered by many to be the greatest player of the 20th century. He almost single-handedly drove Argentina to a World Cup victory in 1986 and won multiple trophies with Napoli, a city that still adores him, despite his tragic passing in 2020.
Diego Maradona grew up desperately poor, raised in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. The one thing he had in his life, his only way of escaping, was his magical brand of soccer, which brought so much joy to fans worldwide.
The final player we will look at today is another player who needs no introduction to fans across the globe. He is Luka Modrić, the Croatian maestro who has been the lynchpin in the middle of the park for European giants Real Madrid. His glittering career cannot be questioned, with him winning multiple league titles and Champions League titles. A true master of the midfield, he battled through adversity for most of his career before being picked up by Tottenham Hotspur.
When the Croatian War broke out in the early 1990s, Luka had only just turned 5 years of age. Tragically, very early in the war, his grandfather was murdered due to the conflict. The young Modrić spent this period working on his football skills by kicking a football around the car park of the refugee camp he was forced to stay in, due to the outbreak of the war in Croatia.