Footballers who came from poverty: Zero to hero stories in soccer

Footballers who came from poverty: Zero to hero stories in soccer

Samuel Lisubila
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:24 PM
In this article:
Cristiano Ronaldo logo
C. Ronaldo
Al Nassr FC logoFPortugal logo
Dani Alves logo
D. Alves
-DBrazil logo
Lionel Messi logo
Inter Miami CF logoFArgentina logo
Luis Suárez logo
Inter Miami CF logoFUruguay logo
Sadio Mané logo
S. Mané
Al Nassr FC logoFSenegal logo

Football is one area that has given everyone from all walks of life a chance to fight poverty and live a life they only dreamt of. While these players have proven that talent is a God-given way to escape poverty, they have not only escaped the mishap but also grown to be some of the wealthiest people in the world. Read on and find out about the footballers who came from poverty and climbed up the ladder to immense wealth.

Footballers who came from poverty
From left: Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Maradona and Neymar Jr. Photos: Yasser Bakhsh, David Cannon and Tnani Badreddine. (modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Poverty can be a great motivator to do great things even if it is heartbreaking in nature. The world has been able to see amazing stars rising up from the hardest upbringing to become soccer gods and earn a spot among the greatest. Read on and find out about famous footballers who came from poverty.

Soccer players that came from poverty

Many see the amazing talents on their screen in every match, every tournament and competition from the best soccer leagues in the world but do not get to see the work behind the scenes. Some of the best players have undergone a tough childhood and had to work extremely hard to get to the point they are at the moment.

While this is the case, some might not be willing to share with the public their harsh upbringing, while some proclaim it to motivate any child that might be of the same calibre. Here are football players who came from nothing:

10. Alexis Sanchez

Soccer players who came from nothing
Alexis Sanchez of FC Internazionale gestures during a training session at the club's training ground Suning Training Center at Appiano Gentile on 3 May 2022 in Como, Italy. Photo: Mattia Ozbot
Source: Getty Images

Alexis Sanchez was born on 19 December 1988 in Tocopilla, Chile. After his birth, his father left leaving him with his mother, Martina Sanchez who was a small-scale businesswoman and two other daughters. Martina had to be involved in other ventures such as washing fish and selling flowers to try to bring ends together but it was not enough for all of them.

Alexis’ uncle helped the situation by adopting little Sanchez and later on enrolled him in a local club, Arauco’s youth school. However, struggles with football fees forced Sanchez to look for a job, where he washed cars and worked in a cemetery.

9. Angel Di Maria

Footballers from poor backgrounds
Angel Di Maria of Argentina celebrates following the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match against France at Lusail Stadium on 18 December 2022 in Lusail City, Qatar. Photo: Jean Catuffe
Source: Getty Images

Di Maria is an Argentine who currently plays as a midfielder for the Serie A club Juventus and the Argentina National team. He was born on 14 February 1988 in Rosario, Argentina to Miguel and Diana Maria. They were poverty-stricken, lacking even the basic amenities at the early stages of Di Maria’s life.

Due to his unusually good stamina and his active nature in sports, his parents enrolled him at a local football club when he was four. Living together with his sisters, Di Maria could not be bought shoes and a football to practice as his sisters would be deprived. However, after practice, he made it a habit to go work with his father at a local coal yard where he would earn additional money.

8. Dani Alves

Famous footballers who came from poverty
Dani Alves attends the Earth shot Prize 2021 at Alexandra Palace on 17 October 2021 in London, England. Photo: Neil Mockford
Source: Getty Images

Dani Alves was born on 6 May 1983 in Juazeiro, Brazil to his father Domingos and mother Dona Lucia. His mother was a housewife while his father was a farmer whom he worked with. He would wake up at 4 am to follow his father to the fields, 30 kilometres away and would help him tirelessly with no rest.

However, the fields of Salitre had a recurring issue of wet and dry seasons, a situation that made agriculture a difficult way to earn a living. He however found time to play football with children in the nearby fields, which led him to achieve his biggest dream of becoming a professional football player and one of the greatest right-backs in football history.

7. Luca Modric

Soccer players that came from poverty
Luka Modric of Croatia applauds fans after the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group F match between Morocco and Croatia at Al Bayt Stadium on 23 November 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. Photo: Francois Nel
Source: Getty Images

Nicknamed ‘Lucky Luka’, Modric was born on 9 September 1985 in Zadr, Croatia to his mom Radojka and dad Stripe Modric. His mother was a textile worker while his father was a military mechanic who repaired cars for Croatian soldiers at war. The family, however, were refugees who fled from Serbian aggressors during the Bosnia war. This made them work with very low income and an uncomfortable living environment.

During his childhood, he was looked at as too small-bodied to play football professionally. However, his zeal, determination, hard work and most importantly love for the game made him change the narrative and went on to be the Croatian captain and one of the best players in the world.

6. Neymar Jr.

Soccer players who came from nothing
PSG's Brazilian forward Neymar cries at the end of the UEFA Champions League final football match against Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on 23 August 2020. Photo: David Ramos
Source: Getty Images

Neymar is a Brazilian professional footballer who plays as a forward for the French team Paris Saint-German and the Brazil national team. His career started in a small district in southern Brazil, which was a few blocks from the local dump. They lived a very difficult livelihood they could not even afford an ultrasound scan before his birth.

With Neymar’s interest in football, he signed his first contract at 12, a move that made top teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid take a close look at the youngster. He made his debut at 17, which gave him an amazing start to a career that would make history in the sport.

5. Luis Suarez

Soccer players who grew up poor
Uruguay striker Luis Saurez in action during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match against Korea Republic at Education City Stadium on 24 November 2022 in Al Rayyan, Qatar. Photo: Stu Forster
Source: Getty Images

Luiz Suarez is an Uruguayan professional footballer who plays as a forward for Campeonato Brasileiro Série A club Grêmio and the Uruguay national team. He was born on 24 January 1987 in Salto, where he spent his early childhood playing shoeless football in the streets with his peers.

While he was seven, he moved with his parents and seven brothers to Montevideo where he began his youth career. His father was a porter and he would have to leave them and look for a better job elsewhere. Suarez's parents later separated when he was nine and this greatly affected him and grew up being a bad-tempered kid.

4. Sadio Mane

Soccer players who came from nothing
Sadio Mane of Liverpool arrives during the Liverpool FC arrival on 27 May 2022 in Paris, France. Photo Sebastian Widmann
Source: Getty Images

Sadio Mane is a Senegalese professional footballer playing as a forward for the Bundesliga team Bayern Munich. He is 30 years as of February 2023 and grew up in Bambali, a small town in the Sédhiou district of Senegal. Because of their background, Mane never went to school and his father banned him to play football and rather focus on religion.

The kid however made his way to play with the kids in the neighbourhood. Thanks to this, a French scout discovered him and took him to France to exhibit his amazing talent and there he started playing for the Metz. Sadio Mane’s career is greatly driven by his childhood and he always tries to help the needy in society. Unlike other sports stars who flaunt expensive cars, jewellery and lifestyle, he prefers to build schools and give the poor food and clothing.

"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." He said, in an interview.

3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Footballers who came from poverty
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is seen during Milan Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 on 24 September 2022 in Milan, Italy. Photo: Arnold Jerocki
Source: Getty Images

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the soccer players who grew up poor. Nobody knew a skinny, poor, awkward boy would turn out to be one of the greatest footballers and get to be named ‘Lion’. Zlatan was raised in the dangerous housing project in the centre of Malmo in Sweden. His childhood was a mess, having a lisp, was self-conscious of his big nose and often go to school only for lunch.

Zlatan’s parents split up when he was two, making his situation worse. This made him look at life a different way and had to be strong and fierce to survive the harsh reality of life. He managed to escape the bondage and become one of the most respected players of all time. His net worth stands at an estimated $190 million as of February 2023.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Who is the greatest football player of all time
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal receives the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2013 trophy at the Kongresshalle on 13 January 2014 in Zurich, Switzerland. Photo: Martin Rose
Source: Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo is a Portuguese professional footballer currently playing for the Saudi Professional League club Al Nassr and captains the Portugal national team. Many know of his success as one of the greatest footballers of all time, but not many know he is one of the footballers from poor backgrounds. He grew up in a poor neighbourhood in a Catholic Christian home in Santo Antonio, Portugal. His father was an alcoholic while his mother had a tough time raising four kids, that almost led to her aborting Ronaldo.

Cristiano, on the other hand, was a boy full of dreams. When he went to school but got expelled when he was 14 after throwing a chair at a teacher who disrespected him. He however wanted to look for a job to support the family but his mother refused and asked him to follow his dream as a footballer. This was the breakthrough of the great Cr7 that is now rocking the football world. He has an estimated net worth of $690 million as of February 2023.

1. Diego Armando Maradona

Who is the richest footballer?
Diego Armando Maradona holds the World Cup trophy after Argentina defeated West Germany during the 1986 FIFA World Cup at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, Mexico on 29 June 1986. Photo: Bongarts
Source: Getty Images

Popularly referred to as the greatest footballer in history, Maradona was born in Villa Fioriotio, on 30 October 1961. They lived in the harsh slums of Villa Fiorito outside Buenos Aires, but Maradona would still envision himself as a great football player. His father Don Diego struggled as a bricklayer and factory worker to sustain seven kids and a stay-at-home wife.

Maradona still pushed his craft on the field and managed to sign his first professional contract at 15 years old and supported his family thereafter. He had a successful career and at 21, he joined Barcelona at a world-record fee. Maradona died in November 2020 at the age of 60 due to cardiac arrest.

Who is the richest footballer?

Without a doubt, Cristiano Ronaldo is the richest player in the world. He has an estimated net worth of $690 million, all thanks to his career earnings. He currently plays as a forward for the Saudi Professional League club Al Nassr and captains the Portugal national team.

Who is the greatest football player of all time?

The great Lionel Messi is widely considered the greatest football player of all time. With fair competition from his counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi cemented his name after winning the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The seven-time Ballon D’or winner has 794 goals and 350 assists in his career as of February 2023.

Who is the greatest football player of all time?
Lionel Messi of Paris Saint-Germain reacts during the Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain and Stade Reims at Parc des Princes on 29 January 2023 in Paris, France. Photo: Xavier Laine
Source: Getty Images

This article clearly shows how some of the best talents in the world never got it easy. The footballers who came from poverty used that as a motivating factor to reach heights that no one knew they could. As they continue to motivate the masses, they have created a great impact not only in soccer but the whole world at large.

READ ALSO: 15 best footballers who smoke: A list of footballers who take the occasional puff.

Sports Brief published an article on soccer players who take the occasional puff. While addiction might be a great cause of underperformance that leads to failure, these players have made it to the top. Read on and find out if your favourite player is listed.

Samuel Lisubila photo
Samuel Lisubila