12 of the Best Footballers Who Went From Rags to Riches

90min Staff

Everyone loves a good story of rags to riches and there are a bunch when it comes to the world of football. From extreme poverty to civil wars, here are 12 of the best footballers who went from zero to hero...

1. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona of Argentina
Diego Maradona of Argentina / David Cannon/GettyImages

It is said that one of the best players to have ever played the game was given a football for his 3rd birthday, which doesn't sound like someone too stricken by poverty.

However, the future Argentinian skipper and 1986 World Cup winner did come from very modest upbringing and was raised in a house where he shared a bedroom with all seven of his siblings.

2. Victor Moses

Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

From South America to Africa now, Victor Moses' life could be made into a heart-wrenching feature film one day, after the Chelsea man was forced to seek asylum in London as an 11-year-old, following the murder of both his parents in war-torn Nigeria.

Raised in poverty playing barefoot football, the winger was taken into a foster home in South London where he would eventually join Crystal Palace's academy. Moses is now on his way to becoming a Premier League winner if he continues to contribute to the Blues' run of good form.

3. Roberto Carlos

FUSSBALL: WM 2002 in JAPAN und KOREA, FINALE, GER - BRA 0.2 / Gunnar Berning/GettyImages

The legendary Brazilian full back is part of a group of players that grew up in the many poor slums, with the former Real Madrid man raised in one such township, Garca, a neighbourhood in Sao Paolo famous for its coffee plantations where both of Carlos' parents worked.

Known for his powerful shots and incredible stamina, one may attribute it to the fact that Carlos was in work by the age of 12, in order to help support the family, building his muscular body as part of his role moving heavy machinery in a textile factory.

4. Collins John

Fulham's Collins John celebrates scoring
Fulham's Collins John celebrates scoring / ADRIAN DENNIS/GettyImages

By no means the biggest superstar on this list with John's time at Fulham in the Premier League arguably his biggest claim to fame, yet the story of the one time Dutch international's upbringing is nonetheless inspiring. 

Born in Liberia, John's father was killed as part of the civil war and along with his mother and brothers (one of whom, Ola, is also a professional footballer), John struggled to find food on a daily basis. Escaping Liberia, the family reached the Netherlands, where they had to live in a Rotterdam refugee camp for years prior to their acceptance as citizens.

5. Bebe

Ajax Cape Town v Manchester United - Pre-season Friendly
Ajax Cape Town v Manchester United - Pre-season Friendly / Gallo Images/GettyImages

An incredible story of rags to riches, Bebe went from living on the streets in Portugal to signing for Manchester United for £7m. The now 26-year-old striker has struggled to make it in the big time but his rise to stardom is simply miraculous.

Abandoned by his parents at a young age, Bebe was taken into the care of a church just outside of Lisbon, before he went to live on the streets. Almost selected for the national homeless side, Bebe received his break after being spotted playing in amateur football.

6. Ian Wright

Ian Wright of Arsenal
Ian Wright of Arsenal / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

The original Jamie Vardy, Ian Wright became Arsenal's all time top goalscorer at the age of 33, but just over a decade earlier the striker was working as a factory worker and had spent two weeks in prison, with his wife living in poverty expecting their first child.

Yet, the future England international would receive his big break when Crystal Palace spotted him playing non-league football and he would go on to become one of the most lethal strikers in the early years of the Premier League.

7. Rio Mavuba


Mavuba's personal career highlight is probably his participation for his adopted nation France at the 2014 World Cup and to think where the 32-year-old midfielder started in life, it is simply astonishing to comprehend the journey he has made.

Officially "born at sea" as his parents (both of whom were dead by the time Mavuba reached his teenage years) tried to escape the civil war in Angola, Rio would eventually settle in France where he would gain citizenship years later.  

8. Rivaldo 

Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo kicks the ball during
Brazilian midfielder Rivaldo kicks the ball during / DANIEL GARCIA/GettyImages

Coming from true rags, the future Ballon d'Or winner was impoverished as a child and the malnourishment caused Rivaldo to lose several of his teeth, develop bowleggedness and 

a very thin frame.

However, the playmaker overcame his extreme poverty upbringing in the slums of Recife to become one of the best footballers on the planet and playing for the Selecao, as well as Barcelona and AC Milan at club level.

9. Adil Rami

Real Madrid v Sevilla: UEFA Super Cup
Real Madrid v Sevilla: UEFA Super Cup / Michael Steele/GettyImages

Born to Moroccan immigrants in France, Adil Rami was not exposed to the same humble beginnings as some of the South American or African players in this list, but the defender was forced to work hard in order to achieve his dream.

Now at Sevilla following spells with AC Milan, Valencia and Lille, the centre back worked as a garbage man in Frejus as a way of financing his life prior to making it as a footballer.

10. Lauren

Arsenal's Lauren shoots for a goal durin
Arsenal's Lauren shoots for a goal durin / CARL DE SOUZA/GettyImages

Political asylum at its most vicious, future Arsenal 'invincible' Lauren was born in Cameroon, after his family fled Equatorial Guinea as a way of escaping the clutches of the Nguema dictatorship. 

From Cameroon to Spain, the right back always lived in relative squalor, but helped to provide for his family after impressing for the likes of Levante and Mallorca, prior to his big money move to the Premier League.

11. Juan Cuadrado

Juventus v GNK Dinamo Zagreb - UEFA Champions League
Juventus v GNK Dinamo Zagreb - UEFA Champions League / Valerio Pennicino/GettyImages

The northern Colombian city of Necocli has constantly been ravaged by violence and gang warfare, an environment where Juventus' on loan star from Chelsea, Juan Cuadrado was raised.

The pacy winger saw his father shot before his eyes and spent his childhood playing football barefoot in the street, prior to making it as a professional footballer for local side Independiente Medellín. 

12. Pele

Brazil's 'Pele' aka Edison Arantes do Na
Brazil's 'Pele' aka Edison Arantes do Na / AFP/GettyImages

Often considered the greatest footballer of all time, Pele was so poor as a child that he used to play with either a sock stuffed with newspaper and tied with a string or a grapefruit, since he could not afford a football.

Before becoming a three time World Cup winner with Brazil, the legendary striker would work as a servant in a tea shop, in order to earn some extra money.