From Poverty to Power: Top Footballers Who Started with Nothing
Poverty can be a motivator, even if it is heart-breaking in nature. That’s why many underprivileged youngsters have decided to make money off their talents. Therefore, football has helped them improve their financial circumstances to a great extent.
This is why most famous footballer in the world today are those who were motivated by their tough upbringing to fight hardships for success.
Let’s see how a difficult childhood has helped these players transform to the soccer gods on the pitch.
Here’s a list of top footballers that grew up in the ghetto and have become billionaires out of their humble backgrounds.
Let’s see how a difficult childhood has helped these players transform to the soccer gods on the pitch.
1. Diego Armando Maradona
Maradona is among the rags to riches football stars. The greatest football player in history was born in Villa Fioriotio, Argentina on October 30, 1961.
In his childhood dreams, 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.
Before becoming a legend, Diego grew up in the shanty town of Villa Fiorito, where he shared one room with seven siblings. Sanitation facilities were somewhat crude and one night, when still a toddler, Maradona fell into the family cesspit after losing his way in the dark.
Fortunately, his Uncle Cirilo, screaming "Diegito, keep your head above the shit", was on hand to rescue the youngster. "It wasn't easy, eh? Nothing was easy,' commented Maradona.
"He had nothing else but football," said Jose Trotte, a local resident. "He was not educated, he had no sophistication. He was shirtless and barefooted. He was just this street kid with a gift from God."
Raised in poverty, Maradona signed his first professional contract at age fifteen, and supported his family thereafter. At twenty-one, he joined F.C. Barcelona, for what was considered a world-record fee.
Maradona's net worth is estimated to be around $100,000 (£75,000).
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, born 3 October 1981, is a Swedish professional footballer who plays as a striker for Serie A club A.C. Milan.
Ibrahimovic was raised in the Rosengard district of Malmö, a place known for swallowing youngsters than spitting out brilliant footballers.
Zlatan’s father was an alcoholic, so his parents split when he was only two. Ibrahimović was left to steal what he needed. He developed his technical skills by playing a brand of street ball on a makeshift pitch in Rosengard with friends.
The school authorities hired a special teacher to work with Zlatan because of his special character, but the added humiliation was more than he could bear.
When his teacher came out to watch him play soccer one afternoon, Ibrahimovic lined a long-distance shot off her head. A few days later the teacher quit and a lesson was learned: The world can be a cold, cruel place, but with a soccer ball at his feet, Ibrahimovic could make that world bend to his will.
“I wanted to stand up to the whole world and show everybody who’d doubted me who I really was,” Zlatan wrote in his autobiography “I Am Zlatan.”
“And I couldn’t imagine anyone who’d be able to stop me.”
The football player who was born poor has currently gathered a net worth of approximately $90 Million, which makes him the 14th richest soccer player in the world.
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3. Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane was born on April 10, 1992 in a very poor family in Senegal so much so that the family couldn’t even afford his education.
Sadio is also among the players who started football with nothing. He found his passion for football very early in life, and since there was no money to go to school, playing with other kids in the neighborhood was the best alternative.
At age 15, a French scout accidently found him in Senegal and took him to France to exhibit his outstanding talent. There he started to play for the Metz.
Because of his childhood background, his heart is always with the poor and helpless people. He looks for every opportunity to help underprivileged people in Senegal.
Mané moved to Anfield from Southampton in 2016 for £34 million and it was recently reported that he has agreed a contract extension with the club to stay at Anfield until 2023.
Now, as the Liverpool player, Mane said in an interview, "Why would I want ten Ferraris, 20 diamond watches and two jet planes? What would that do for the world? I starved, I worked in the fields, I played barefoot, and I didn't go to school. Now I can help people. I prefer to build schools and give poor people food or clothing."
"I have built schools, a stadium; we provide clothes, shoes, and food for people in extreme poverty. In addition, I give €70 per month to all people from a very poor Senegalese region in order to contribute to their family economy."
Mane earns on average 90,000 pounds a week that is $121,000 a week. His estimated net worth is $24 million.
4. Angel Di Maria
Angel Fabián Di María, born 14 February 1988, is an Argentine professional footballer who plays as a winger or attacking midfielder for French Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the Argentina national team.
Growing up as a poor kid in Argentina, Di Maria had to work in a coal yard to help his family make ends meet.
They were so poor he didn’t even have shoes to play his youth soccer games.
Due to the low income his family earned, purchasing football boots and keeping up with Di María's hobby was difficult for his parents. Di Maria family lived in a house which was also a grocery store.
Before becoming one of the best player of his generation, Di Maria had to fight during his childhood to become a footballer. Football literally saved his life and his family from misery and homelessness..
“It’s something I will always keep inside me. For me to play football and have boots meant my two sisters went without,” said Di Maria in an interview. "Me and my sisters worked in the coal yard as well. I started aged 10 and by the time I was 15, I was helping with deliveries. It was hard work.”
Angel suffered from hyperactivity so his parents consulted a doctor and were advised only sport could help his unhealthy condition and that’s how the love story between him and football got started.
In 2019, Di Maria signed a two-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain, tying him to the French champion until 2021.
The Argentine professional footballer has an estimated net worth of $22 million.
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5. Luis Suarez
Suarez spent the first years of his life instead in Salto, playing shoeless football in the streets. His father was a porter who desperately needed a good job, hence leaving Suarez and his six siblings behind.
Suarez has always attributed his success in football to the hardship he faced as a youngster.
Suárez was the middle one of seven brothers growing up in Salto, almost 500 kilometers north of Montevideo in Uruguay, and when he was seven his family moved to the capital.
Luis's parents separated when he was nine and he felt it deeply.
"They were tough times. My parents had split up and there was all the problem of us being a family that never had the possibility of choosing anything. I was never able to tell my mother or father, 'I want these trainers', and have them buy me those trainers. It was the pure reality," Suarez said in an interview.
In 2014, Suárez signed a five-year contract with Barcelona. The transfer fee was £64.98 million (€82.3 million), making him one of the most expensive players in world football history.
It is estimated that Suarez has a net worth of $70 million.
6. Luka Modric
Growing up during the peak of the Croatian War of Independence, Modric had a troubled childhood. However, Luka continued playing football during his difficult childhood years.
Due to the poor financial conditions of his parents, Modric spent most of his childhood at his grandparents’ house. He worked as a goat-shepherd at the age of 5. His grandfather was later executed by Serbian rebels. Their home was burned down, and as a result, the family was forced to leave the area.
Modric had been fascinated by football ever since he was a kid. Although he was short and thin for a kid of his age, he had a natural knack for playing football.
Modric was signed by the team ‘Dinamo Zagreb,’ as he showed steady growth in his height and frame, signing a 10-year contract.
In 2012, Luka moved to one of the best football clubs in the world, Real Madrid. It turned out to be the most successful part of his career.
Modric led his national team to the finals of the 2018 ‘FIFA World Cup’ and received the ‘Golden Ball Award’ that is given to the best player of the tournament.
According to reports, Modric has a net worth of $7.5 million.
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7. Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo was nearly aborted pre-birth by his mother, Dolores Aveiro, before he was born in the impoverished San Antonio neighborhood of Funchal, in the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.
He was the youngest child of Maria Dolores Dos Santos Aveiro, a cook, and Jose Dinis Aveiro, a municipal gardener.
Ronaldo lived his early life in poverty, sharing a single room with his mother and two sisters but apparently he knew how to forge a path to glory.
He got expelled from school at the age of 14 because he threw a chair at a teacher who disrespected him, Ronaldo nearly had to go to work to support his family, when his mother intervened, telling her son to follow his dream and to reach the top of the world”.
Ronaldo started playing at the age of 8 in the youth ranks of Clube Futebol Andorinha de Santo António. In 1997, he packed his bags and left San Antonio and left for Lisbon at the age of 12.
At the beginning of his career, the coaches were concerned about Ronaldo's slim posture and therefore, they fed him extra food after training.
In 2003, Ronaldo was signed by Manchester United. When he joined the club, he asked for the No28 but received the No7, instead. This motivated him to honor the number and to be known as CR7.
Ronaldo's net worth is roughly $460 million, making him one of the richest athletes in the world.
8. Dani Alvez
Daniel Alves da Silva, born 6 May 1983, is a Brazilian professional footballer who plays as a right-back for São Paulo FC and captains the Brazil national team.
One of five children, Alves was born and raised deep in the countryside where football was a form of relief for families who spent their days working on the land.
"Daniel would have gone to work in the field carrying a machete on his shoulders," says Antonio Damiao Oliveira da Silva, who lives nearby.
"A lot of people here work the land. When people think of the north-east, they just think of dry land and poverty."
Alves hit the headlines when he calmly took a bite of a banana thrown at him in a racist gesture by a rival fan.
The 31-year-old defender is one of only a handful to make it from the north-east of Brazil, an often overlooked region that suffers lingering prejudice and under-investment.
Alvez is estimated to have a net worth of $60 million.
9. Neymar Jr.
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, born 5 February 1992, known as Neymar Jr. or simply Neymar, is a Brazilian professional footballer who plays as a forward for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain and the Brazil national team.
Quit surprisingly, Neymar was a poor footballer whose journey to a record-breaking transfer fee of US$262 million started in a small district of southern Brazil, a few blocks from the local dump.
The son of a journeyman soccer player for Brazil’s smallest teams, Neymar was born in the industrial city of Mogi das Cruzes, some 60 kilometers north of Sao Paulo, the country’s biggest metropolis.
It was a tough time for Neymar’s parents since they could not even afford an ultrasound scan prior to his birth.
Neymar often had to survive without electricity and live only by candlelight in his young family's tiny home.
Juninho became Neymar Jr. after signing his first contract at 12, a move that made Barcelona and Real Madrid start to take a very close interest in the youngster.
On the field, Neymar quickly adapted from the indoor game, often playing against much older opponents, and he fully embraced being a Santos player despite growing up as a fan of rival club Palmeiras.
He made his professional debut at 17, in a match against Oeste in the 2009 Sao Paulo state championship, the start of a career that was set to make history in the sport.
The most sought-after soccer player's net worth is now approximately $185 million.
10. Alexis Sanchez
Alexis Alejandro Sánchez Sánchez, born 19 December 1988, also known simply as Alexis, is a Chilean professional footballer who plays as a forward for Serie A club Inter Milan, on loan from English club Manchester United, and the Chile national team.
Unarguably one of the best players in the world, Manchester United forward Alexis Sanchez grew up in the poor mining town of Tocopilla, Chile.
Sanchez struggled so much growing up that despite his talent, his family couldn’t afford to buy football boots for him to play in top team.
Sanchez’s mother looked to make ends meet by taking a cleaning job at his school, something the Arsenal star wasn’t proud about.
“When she was cleaning in the school I hid because I didn’t like to see her there,” Alexis has said.
However, Sanchez used to wash cars, do acrobatics in the street to bring in extra income for his family while working his way through the ranks to professional status as a footballer.
Many believe that his poor background made him so hungry for success on the pitch! The Chilean soccer player’s net worth is estimated to be around $50 million.
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11. Frank Ribery
Ribery grew up in a low-income and disadvantaged French neighborhood of Boulogne-sur-Mer. This means that he came from a lower class family background. In fact, he believes that it was football that saved him from poverty and unemployment.
As a two-year-old, Franck sustained his distinctive facial scars when he was catapulted into the windshield of a car in an accident.
They were involved in a car accident in his hometown, colliding with a lorry. Ribery suffered serious facial injuries that resulted in more than one hundred stitches, leaving two long scars down the right side of his face and another across his brows.
Prior to joining Stade Brestois in 2003, he worked as a construction worker with his father, which Ribéry referred to as a "learning experience".
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.
The 30-year-old star acknowledged in an interview that he is lucky to enjoy a stellar career after a difficult upbringing and claimed that his early life helped to turn him "into a fighter".
The winger has a net worth of $70 million. He earned his net worth through his successful football career.