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The story of football players who grew up poor

The football world has witnessed young players growing up in impoverished areas to become professional athletes, but some players have endured the most challenging upbringing in football history. Even though it’s heartbreaking, poverty can be a source of inspiration. To support themselves, many disadvantaged youth have chosen to harness their abilities. Thus, football has helped them improve their financial situations. That’s why the world’s most famous footballers today are those who were inspired to overcome obstacles to success from their difficult childhoods. Let’s explore the top 10 football players who grew up poor with through the following article!

Footballers from humble beginnings

10. Alexis Sánchez

Alexis Sanchez was born on December 19, 1988, in Tocopilla, Chile. After his birth, his father left, leaving him with his mother, Martina Sanchez, a small-scale businesswoman, and two other daughters. Martina had to engage in other business activities like cleaning fish and selling flowers to make ends meet, but it wasn’t enough for all of them.

Football players who grew up poor: Alexis Sánchez
Football players who grew up poor: Alexis Sánchez

Alexis’s uncle helped the situation by taking in the young Sanchez and later enrolling him in a local club, Arauco’s youth academy. However, the struggle with football fees forced Sanchez to find work, where he washed cars and worked at a cemetery.

9. Ángel Di María

Di Maria is an Argentine currently playing as a midfielder for Juventus and the Argentine national team. He was born on February 14, 1988, in Rosario, Argentina, to Miguel and Diana Maria. They lived in poverty, lacking even basic amenities in Di Maria’s early life.

Footballers who grew up poor: Ángel Di María
Footballers who grew up poor: Ángel Di María

Due to his exceptional endurance and athleticism, his parents enrolled him in a local football club when he was just 4 years old. Living with his sisters, Di Maria couldn’t afford shoes and a football for training as his sisters would go without. However, after practice, he would accompany his father to a local coal yard to earn extra money.

8. Dani Alves

Dani Alves was born on May 6, 1983, in Juazeiro, Brazil, to father Domingos and mother Dona Lucia. His mother worked as a homemaker while his father was a farmer, and Dani assisted him by waking up at 4 a.m. to accompany his father to the fields, which were 30 km away, and help him without getting tired.

Footballers who came from poverty: Dani Alves
Footballers who came from poverty: Dani Alves

However, the fields in Saliter often faced seasonal challenges of heavy rain and drought, making farming a difficult livelihood. Nonetheless, he found time to play football with other children at nearby fields, which helped him achieve his greatest dream of becoming a professional footballer and one of the greatest right-backs in football history.

7. Luka Modric

Nicknamed ‘Lucky Luka,’ Modric was born on September 9, 1985, in Zadar, Croatia, to mother Radojka and father Stipe Modric. His mother was a textile worker while his father was a military mechanic specializing in repairing vehicles for Croatian soldiers during the war. However, this family were refugees fleeing Serbian invaders during the Bosnian War. This led them to work with very low incomes and in uncomfortable living conditions.

Football players who grew up poor: Luka Modric
Football players who grew up poor: Luka Modric

In his youth, he was deemed too small-bodied to play professional football. However, his enthusiasm, determination, hard work, and most importantly, his love for the game, changed his story, leading him to become the captain of Croatia and one of the world’s finest footballers.

6. Neymar Jr.

Neymar is a professional Brazilian footballer, playing as a forward for Paris Saint-Germain and the Brazilian national team. His career began in a small district in southern Brazil, a few rows of houses away from the local landfill. They lived a very difficult life, not even having enough money for prenatal ultrasound.

Footballers who grew up poor: Neymar Jr.
Footballers who grew up poor: Neymar Jr.

With Neymar’s passion for football, he signed his first contract at the age of 12, a move that caught the attention of top clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid. He made his debut at the age of 17, which marked a great start to a career that would make history in this sport.

5. Luis Suárez

Luis Suárez is a professional Uruguayan footballer, playing as a forward for Grêmio in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A and the Uruguayan national team. He was born on January 24, 1987, in Salto, where he spent his childhood playing barefoot football on the streets with peers.

Footballers who came from poverty: Luis Suárez
Footballers who came from poverty: Luis Suárez

At the age of seven, he moved with his parents and seven siblings to Montevideo, where he began his youth career. His father was a laborer, and he would have to leave them and seek better job opportunities elsewhere. Suarez’s parents later separated when he was nine, which had a significant impact on him, growing up to be a temperamental child.

4. Sadio Mané

Sadio Mané is a professional Senegalese footballer playing as a forward for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga. He turned 30 as of February 2023 and grew up in Bambali, a small town in the Sédhiou region of Senegal. Due to his background, Mané never attended school, and his father prohibited him from playing football, instead focusing on religion.

Football players who grew up poor: Sadio Mané
Football players who grew up poor: Sadio Mané

However, the boy still found ways to play with the neighborhood kids. Thanks to this, a French scout discovered him and brought him to France to showcase his exceptional talent, where he began playing for Metz. Sadio Mané’s career is intertwined with his childhood, and he always strives to help those in need in society. Unlike other sports stars flaunting cars, jewelry, and lavish lifestyles, he prefers to build schools and provide food and clothing for the poor.

3. Zlatan Ibrahimović

Zlatan Ibrahimović is one of the footballers who grew up in poverty. From a skinny, pitiful, clumsy boy, he transformed into one of the greatest footballers, known as ‘The Lion’. Zlatan grew up in a dangerous housing project in central Malmo, Sweden. His childhood was chaotic, plagued by stuttering, self-consciousness about his big nose, and often only attending school for lunch.

Footballers who grew up poor: Zlatan Ibrahimović
Footballers who grew up poor: Zlatan Ibrahimović

Zlatan’s parents separated when he was just two years old, making his situation even worse. This made him look at life differently and had to be strong, determined to survive the harsh realities of life. He broke free from constraints and became one of the most respected players of all time. His net worth is estimated to be around $190 million as of February 2023.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is a professional Portuguese footballer currently playing for Al Nassr in the Saudi Professional League and is the captain of the Portuguese national team. Many know him for his success as one of the greatest footballers of all time, but not many know he comes from humble beginnings. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in a Catholic household in Santo Antonio, Portugal. His father was a alcoholic while his mother struggled to raise four children, almost leading to Ronaldo being aborted.

Footballers who came from poverty: Cristiano Ronaldo
Footballers who came from poverty: Cristiano Ronaldo

On the other hand, Cristiano was a boy full of dreams. He was expelled from school at the age of 14 after throwing a chair at a teacher who disrespected him. However, he wanted to find a job to help his family, but his mother refused and urged him to pursue his dream of becoming a footballer. This was the breakthrough for the great Cr7, who is shaking the football world today. He has an estimated net worth of $690 million as of February 2023.

1. Diego Armando Maradona

Considered by many as the greatest footballer in history, Maradona was born in Villa Fiorrito on October 30, 1961. They lived in the harsh slums of Villa Fiorito outside Buenos Aires, but Maradona still envisioned himself as a great footballer. His father, Don Diego, struggled as a laborer and factory worker to support seven children and a housewife.

Football players who grew up poor: Diego Armando Maradona
Football players who grew up poor: Diego Armando Maradona

Maradona still gave his all on the field and signed his first professional contract at 15, supporting his family thereafter. He had a successful career, and at the age of 21, he joined Barcelona for a world record fee. Maradona passed away in November 2020 at the age of 60 due to a heart attack.


In essence, the journeys of these football icons underscore the universal truth that where one begins in life does not dictate where they can ultimately reach. Their unwavering dedication, coupled with the opportunities afforded by football, exemplifies the potential for individuals to transcend their circumstances and leave an indelible mark on the world. Through their triumphs on the pitch and their philanthropic endeavors off it, they embody the transformative power of perseverance, talent, and compassion. Their stories serve as beacons of hope, inspiring countless others to chase their dreams relentlessly, regardless of the challenges they may face along the way.

See more: Learn about the best Croatian soccer players