Soccer is often seen as a rags-to-riches sport. Most players have shared stories of rough upbringings and have the game to thank for bringing them immense wealth. Everyone loves such a story. But much like every other aspect of life, not everything is scripted the same way.
Players such as Diego Costa, Neymar, Robinho and Samuel Eto’o are just a few of the huge number of players who have had to fight tooth and nail to make it out of poverty through sport. Yet there are some footballers who have never known what it is like to struggle and would probably be rich whether or not they kicked a ball for a living.
The lucky ones who were born into riches and had the way paved for them seldom have their stories heard. After all, those are way less exciting.
Be that as it may, such stories are still worth telling. And what’s especially touching is the fact that most of those more fortunate players have been very humble throughout their careers.
In a sport chiefly governed by money and the love of it, it’s always refreshing to know that there are players out there who give everything on the pitch simply because they are passionate about the game.
Here are 15 of them.
19 Gerard Pique
Spanish centre-back Gerard Pique has it all. He plays for Barcelona, one of the biggest sports clubs in the world, and also happens to be married to stunning Colombian singer Shakira. It seems that life has always been good to Pique, as he didn’t have to struggle financially, having come from a wealthy family.
The player’s father, Joan, is a successful attorney and businessman, while his mother, Montserrat, is the director of a prominent hospital in Barcelona that deals with spinal injuries. Pique's grandfather Amador Bernabeu – as Madrid-ish as it sounds – is a former director at Barcelona FC.
So just how could the defender go wrong ? He is a six-time La Liga winner with Barca and has won the Champions League on four occasions, as well as the Premier League title at Manchester United.
17 Frank Lampard
The Chelsea legend had to work very hard to get to where he’s at right now, but when it came to finance, Frank Lampard didn’t have to worry.
His dad, Frank Lampard Senior, played as a left-back for West Ham and made a pretty comfy living. Harry Redknapp, a respected English coach who currently works as an adviser and football director, is also his uncle on his mother’s side, making him the product of a footballing family, which also brought us Jamie Redknapp.
Lampard Junior completed his schooling at Brentwood school in Essex, an institution considered to be one of the more prestigious private schools and obtained 11 GCSE’s. Starting out at West Ham, Lampard would rise to fame at Chelsea. To date, he is the Blues’ highest-ever scorer and it’s entirely likely that he’ll be their manager one day.
The Brazilian midfielder currently plays his football in the MLS for Orlando City. Born Ricardo Izecson dos Santos, he picked up the nickname Kaka from his younger brother, who struggled to pronounce Ricardo as a toddler.
Unlike many footballers who hail from Brazil, Kaka wasn’t raised in poverty and never had to choose between football or academics, as all his needs were taken care of. His father, Bosco Izecson Pereira Leite, was an engineer, while his mother, Simone dos Santos, was a school teacher.
A devout Christian, Kaka continues to credit God with all of his success. A spinal fracture suffered when he was only 18 nearly ended his career prematurely, but he made a complete recovery, something he says could have never happened without divine intervention.
14 Robin van Persie
The Dutchman broke many hearts when he ditched Arsenal to join their rivals Manchester United. And he broke even more hearts when he won the Premier League title with the Red Devils after eight years of not winning it with the London side.
Van Persie’s life could have taken a very different turn, however. As a teenager, he was in constant problems at school and was one of the worst-behaved students, often missing class due to his petulance. His father, Bob, is a renowned artist and sculptor, while his mother Jose Ras is a painter, designer and teacher.
His parents split up when he was a young boy and he was brought up by his father. It was expected that he would focus on the finer arts when he grew up, but Robin chose something way more entertaining.
Despite his decision to plot his own path, the striker was never left wanting and always had the full support of both parents.
The Egyptian forward came to the fore in the early 2000s during his time at Ajax and was rated quite highly. Referred to as the ‘King of Cairo’, ‘Prince of the Nile’ and ‘Young Pharaoh’, Ahmed Hossam became the world’s most famous Egyptian since biblical times.
As a youth, he skipped school and played street football for money, but it wasn’t because he needed to, as he came from a reasonably wealthy family. His father, Hossam Wasfi, had been a player himself and opened a travel agency later on.
Mido had all the skill in the world, but perhaps he let his attitude get the better of him. At Ajax, he would form a great partnership with another hothead in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But the Swede, who had a rough upbringing, has gone on to achieve so much, while Mido - who did win league titles in Holland, as well as the Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt – didn’t quite live up to expectations.
12 Ciprian Marica
Ciprian Marica is regarded as one of the best football talents to hail from Romania. At one point in 2005, it was claimed that the forward was better than Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney.
Marica, who is now retired, played for the likes of Dinamo Bucuresti, Shakhtar Donetsk, Stuttgart and Schalke 04. He won two league titles in Romania with Bucaresti and won as many in Turkey with Shakhtar.
His father, Mircea Marica, is a wealthy businessman, who gave his son a sports car for his 18th birthday. And in his younger days, there were concerns over the player’s desire to succeed because of his rich lifestyle.
However, Marica showed that he was a reliable scorer over the course of his career and represented his country on 72 occasions, scoring 25 goals in the process.
11 Shaun Wright-Phillips
Shaun Wright-Phillips wasn’t exactly born into money, but he was raised with plenty of it around anyhow. Adopted by former Arsenal striker Ian Wright as a three-year-old, while the forward was only 19 and the current New York Red Bulls attacker went on to play for two of the biggest teams in England.
He was released by Nottingham Forest as a youngster, yet would make a name for himself at Manchester City before Chelsea snatched him up in 2005.
He returned to Manchester City three years later when they got their money, but much like during his time at Chelsea, people were left underwhelmed. The winger was later sold to Queens Park Rangers and spent four years there before moving to his current club New York Red Bulls.
Wright Phillips made 36 appearances for England in his prime years and managed six goals. He never reached the expected heights as a footballer, but you would never be able to tell from looking at the money he’s made in his career.
10 Mario Gotze
Borussia Dortmund’s prodigal son Mario Gotze did not come from humble beginnings. The 24-year-old, still widely regarded as one of the best young talents in Europe, is son to Jurgen Gotze.
Gotze joined Dortmund as an eight-year-old back in 2001 and it is believed that his father’s money and influence had a bit of and impact on his progression. That is not to take away from his obvious talent, as he would have blossomed into a German international anyway, but having a respected parent does get you places.
Jurgen Gotze (Prof. Dr. Ing.) is a professor at the Dortmund University of Technology and held a research position at the Computer Science Department of Yale University in the early 1990s.
9 Al-Saadi Gaddafi
This footballer's last name should say it all. Al-Saadi Gaddafi is the son of former Libya leader Muammar Gaddafi. The 43-year-old was obviously born into a rich family and probably had no business getting involved in football, yet he dabbled anyway, because everyone loves football.
Gaddafi played for Alahly Tripoli and Al-Ittihad Tripoli, and had reportedly signed for Maltese side Birkirkara FC, before it was reported again that the move had broken down.
He would sign for both Udinese and Sampdoria, but would only make one appearance for Udinese and none for the latter. Before that, he had signed for another Italian club, Peruga, and even employed Diego Maradona as a personal consultant. He never got to play for the team, though, as he failed a drug test.
8 Hugo Lloris
Hugo Lloris currently captains Tottenham Hotspur and the France national side, and is one of the best goalkeepers in Europe at the moment. Joining Spurs from Lyon four years ago, the 29-year-old is one of the more coveted stoppers in the game.
Lloris grew up the son of an upper-class family in Nice. His mother was an attorney and his father was a banker. The Frenchman's first love was tennis and he was ranked quite high in his age bracket in is country. He only changed his focus to football at the age of 13.
Things haven’t always been fine and dandy, however. The keeper would lose his mother while playing a match for Nice in 2008 and won national acclaim after refusing bereavement leave to feature in another match two days later.
7 Marcelo Bielsa
Better known for his stints as a manager, Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa played football in Argentina before retiring early at the age of 25.
Bielsa came from a very wealthy family of lawyers and politicians, but decided to veer off track and immerse himself in the beautiful game.
He began his career as a defender for Newell’s Old Boys and then moved on to coaching. His grand exploits would take him to Europe, where the South American would continue to impress.
A bit of a controversial character, Bielsa quit his role as Marseille boss this year and then took up a job at Lazio, only to quit eight days later.
6 Oliver Bierhoff
Former Germany international striker Oliver Bierhoff is quite the stranger to humble beginnings. Now 48, he is the general manager of the German national side, having represented the likes of AC Milan, Udinese, Ascoli and Monaco as a player.
Bierhoff won the Serie A with Milan and also helped his country win the 1996 European Championships by scoring the first-ever golden goal in major international football.
His father, Dr. Rolf Bierhoff, was an energy giant who provided everything for his son, but also drilled work ethic into him. It is said that Dr. Bierhoff once poured water onto a patch of grass in the family yard and made the ex-player practice diving headers on the cold turf after ice had formed, as a result of a teenage Oliver coming from football practice every day with spotless uniforms.
5 Mario Balotelli
‘Super Mario’ Balotelli is one of the most colorful characters in football today. The 26-year-old is always up to something, and it’s almost always very controversial. Balotelli was born in Palermo to Ghanaian immigrants Thomas and Rose Barwuah, but was adopted by Francesco and Silvio Balotelli because his parents couldn’t afford to take care of him. The Balotellis were a wealthy family who lived in an affluent part of Brescia called Concesio.
The Barwuahs claimed that they tried to get their son back after a while, as the agreement was initially a one-year fostering program, but the Balotellis fought to keep him and were able to afford lawyers while they could not.
In the end, the player took up the Balotelli name, much to the disappointment of his biological parents. He never had to struggle growing up and could have had a great career if he was disciplined.
Fortunately, though, it’s not too late and he might be turning things around with Nice in France.
2 Andrea Pirlo
The Italian star spent many years playing at top level, representing the likes of Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus. So it’s fair to assume that Andrea Pirlo raked in a truckload of cash along the way. He now plies his trade at New York City FC in the MLS, presumably getting that last big payday like most stars do when they decide that they can’t rub shoulders on the European stage anymore.
In Pirlo’s case, however, it has never been about the earnings, as the 37-year-old was born to a very wealthy family. His father, Luigi, owns a steel company, which was founded in Brescia in 1982 and the player owns a stake in it.
Regarded as one of the best deep-lying playmakers ever to grace the sport, Pirlo will go down as a legend. Yet it seems he would have made a man of himself even without football.
1 Gianluca Vialli
Gianluca Vialli, famed for his exploits at Sampdoria, Juventus and Chelsea as a player, went on to coach the Blues as a player-manager, leading them to five trophies in a very productive spell. During his time as Chelsea manager, the Italian won the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup and a Community shield.
He also won two Serie A titles, as well as the Champions League, whilst playing in Italy.
Much like fellow Italian Andrea Pirlo, Vialli was born into riches and was raised by his father, a self-made millionaire, in a 60-room castle called the Castello di Belgioioso in Cremona along with his four siblings.
Vialli, like the posh chap that he is, also plays golf and has featured at the Alfred Dunhill links championship pro-am event, which is one of the richest golf tournaments played in Europe.