All that is needed for a game of soccer or football is a bit of open space, a ball and something to mark two goals. This accessibility has made soccer popular worldwide across poverty lines. Soccer has helped some of the world’s best players currently playing at the World Cup in South Africa to rise from rags to riches. Once they were living in the slums of Buenos Aires or Johannesburg, now they are proudly representing their country in the world’s spotlights.
Carlos Tevez (Argentina)
Carlos Tevez was born in Fuerte Apache, an extremely tough neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The young Tevez grew up among violence, drugs and poverty, and could have easily ended up living a life of crime if it had not been for soccer. Tevez has always claimed to be proud of his origins and refuses to get rid of the visual remainders of his deprived childhood: a scar on his face caused by an accident when he was just ten months old and his broken and crooked teeth from a street fight. His soccer skills and stamina brought him from a local team to Boca Juniors and then on to England.
Robinho was raised in the poor neighborhood of São Vicente in São Paulo, Brazil. He learned to play soccer on the streets from the neighborhood kids. He soon transcended all of them and started playing league soccer at the age of six. It did not take long before Santos, one of the most important teams in Brazil, spotted Robinho’s extraordinary talent.
Thierry Henry (France)
Thierry Henry grew up in the Parisian suburb Les Ulis, often considered a ghetto because of its high percentage of immigrants and its characteristic projects-like tall, concrete buildings. Henry’s parents had come from the French Antilles in search of a better life. Thanks to his parents’ support and motivation, he became a good student and an even better soccer player that led to his selection for the prestigious French Football Federation’s Clairefontaine Academy.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
Cameroon’s star player was born and raised in Douala. His family was not rich, the six children had to share beds in a cramped house, but in Cameroon’s context they lived better than many. To pass the time, Eto’o and his brothers played soccer barefoot with balls that they made out of plastic bags. Samuel’s extraordinary talent was soon noticed and at the age of 16, he left for Spain where he signed with Real Madrid.
Steven Pienaar (South Africa)
Host country South Africa’s star Steven Pienaar grew up watching television from the floor because he was within reach of stray bullets if he sat in the sofa. In Westbury, a drug and gang territory on the outskirts of Johannesburg, Pienaar witnessed his best friend’s violent death. He managed to stay away from crime and instead put his full focus on soccer, which paid off when he was spotted by talent scouts and signed with Ajax Cape Town. At the age of 18, he left South Africa to play for Ajax Amsterdam. His overseas success allowed his family to move out of the townships.