Back Streets to the Bernabéu: Footballers Who Ascended from Poverty


SEATTLE — Soccer, or football as it is called in most of the world, can surely be said to be the world’s most popular sport. According to FIFA, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was watched by roughly 3.2 billion people around the world, and the final match alone was watched by 1 billion people. A result of this is that there is an immense amount of money involved in soccer. Each year, billions are spent to acquire and sign players, to build football pitches and to purchase advertising. But behind the immense wealth of teams and players, many viewers are unaware of the footballers who ascended from poverty, and how they are giving back to help the world’s impoverished.

Cristiano Ronaldo One of the Most Famous Footballers Who Ascended from Poverty

Even in America, the name Cristiano Ronaldo is a familiar one. The name evokes the image of a brazen and precise soccer player, whose immense skills and talents have colored his career with nearly unparalleled success. Ronaldo is very wealthy; Sports Illustrated estimates his net worth to be $400 million.

But things were different in his youth in Madeira. In an article for The Players’ Tribune, he recounted the struggles of his childhood: “At that time, we didn’t have much money. Life was a struggle back then in Madeira. I was playing in whatever old boots my brother passed down to me or my cousins gave me.” It was from these humble beginnings that one of the greatest players of his generation was made.

But when Ronaldo reached the top, he made it a priority to help those in need. One of his most recent projects is to jointly fund a pediatric hospital in Santiago, Chile. Furthermore, earlier in 2017 Ronaldo auctioned off his 2013 Ballon d’Or trophy for $705,000 and donated all of the proceeds of the sale to the Make-A-Wish foundation. Yet, these two examples of Ronaldo’s charity only scratch the surface of the long list of charitable donations and actions which have spanned his 16-year career.

Senegal’s Sadio Mané Uses His Fame to Help African Youths

It is not only soccer players of Ronaldo’s caliber, however, who have taken major steps to help reduce global poverty. Liverpool footballer Sadio Mané is among the footballers who ascended from poverty. In an interview with, the Senegal native recounts that when he went to football trials in the capital of Dakar, one of the organizers commented that his shoes were in terrible shape and that his shorts were not proper soccer shorts. Despite this material disadvantage to some of the other testers, Mané prevailed and became a successful international soccer player.

Mané also values the importance of charity and has recently taken the initiative to combat HIV/AIDS in Malawi. The Liverpool Echo reported that the Liverpool football club’s charity organization and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine “have launched a joint programme to encourage youngsters in the African country to access education and health services to help in the fight against HIV.

Mané recently lent his support to the program and remarked to the Echo, “It’s an initiative very close to my heart,” Furthermore, the newspaper reported that “as part of the program, Mané has recorded a special message that will be shown to young males in Malawi demonstrating how they can use a swab test on themselves to check for HIV.”

What is illustrative about these two cases is that in the football world, charity is a virtue common to both players known around the world and players who do not get quite the same exposure. These athletes are just two examples of the many footballers who ascended from poverty, but even as they rise out of poverty through sport, millions do not have this same opportunity, and in realizing this they have acted to make the world a better and more equitable place.

Furthermore, in their stories, one learns that a potential for great things is found irrespective of material deprivation, and it is imperative that this potential is given the opportunity to be realized no matter where it is uncovered.

– William Menchaca
Photo: Google


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