Three footballers that grew up in the midst of a war

The majority of footballers have humble upbringings some of which are easier than others. Here are three footballers that couldn’t have had it much tougher…

Edin Džeko

Former Manchester City striker Edin Džeko was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1986 and grew up at the height of the Bosnian war which claimed over 100,000 lives. On one particular day his Mother, Belma, refused to let him play football which caused a distraught Džeko to burst into tears. It was his Mother’s instinct which ultimately saved his life as moments later a grenade exploded in the fields where he would have been playing, killing and injuring many of his friends. In an interview with the Sun, Džeko said “There were hard years for all of us in my country. There wasn’t much to eat, hardly ever three meals a day. I was afraid. We always had to hide when shots were fired and bombs were falling. My house was destroyed so we went to live with my grandparents. The whole family was there, maybe 15 people staying in an apartment of about 35 square metres. It was very hard. We were stressed every day in case somebody we knew died.”

Following the conflict in 1995, Džeko joined his hometown club of FK Željezničar Sarajevo whose pitch had to be cleared of mines prior to the commencement of any football. The now 31-year-old progressed through the Bosnian side’s youth teams before making his first team debut in 2003. Three years on from his debut he joined FK Teplice and then on to VfL Wolfsburg where he made a name for himself. In 2009, Edin became Bosnia’s first UNICEF’s ambassador and is considered a superstar when he returns to his homeland. His close friend and former AS Monaco footballer Muhamed Konjić said “People love Džeko at home, not just because of his success but his heart. He can empathise with them because he has lived through what they have.”

Saido Berahino

England under 21 international Saido Berahino lost his Father when he was just four years old. He was just one of the 300,000 casualties of the Burundian Civil War which spanned twelve years, causing over 1.5 million people to flee their homes including Berahino himself. Born in Bujumbura the capital city of Burundi, Saido left his homeland at just ten years old due to intense conflict. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2014 Berahino said, “It was a tough time for me. I didn’t really understand what was happening around the country because I was still a young boy. In the late 1990s we had to leave the country, I separated from my mother and stayed with one of her friends. We flew to Tanzania, from there we had to catch buses, we had to walk. I was kept apart for two years before meeting my mother in England.”

Following his call up to the England under 21’s in 2013, Berahino credited England with saving him and his family from war-torn Burundi by granting them asylum, giving him a second chance in life. In 2015, Berahino founded his own charity which aims to improve the lives of those in Burundi. Speaking about his foundation he said, “Nurses in the UK will treat someone, then change their gloves. One nurse out there will be looking after 1000 patients with no fresh gloves. They have to use the same ones. It’s that easy to get any sort of infection out there. There’s HIV/Aids, Malaria, all sorts of illnesses. We can turn on taps and there’s water. They can’t. They have to walk many miles to a lake to get water. My first project is to get as many water pumps into as many villages as possible, and teach people how important it is to have clean water. My ultimate dream is to build a hospital.” Whilst the 24-year-old may have hit a rough patch recently, it’s a far cry from life in his native Burundi where sporadic fighting still occurs.

Rio Mavuba

Former Lille and Bordeaux footballer Rio Mavuba was born on a boat in international waters in 1984. At the time, Rio’s parents were so desperate to escape the brutal Angolan Civil War they would take any step necessary. The civil war they fled would go on to become one of the bloodiest civil wars this world has ever seen, resulting in the displacement of over one million people and the loss of over 500,000 lives stretching over a 26 year period. The now French citizen dislikes speaking about his past and in a brief interview with BetShoot he said “In my passport it says ‘born at sea’. As for the rest of it, I do not ever talk about it. In fact I never wanted to know the history of our migration. What I know is that I was born on a ship, which secretly started one night off the coast of West Africa, then followed the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula before reaching the French port of Marseille in March 1984.”

Sadly, Rio lost both his parents as a child and used football as a method to cope with his grief. In 2002, he joined Bordeaux and made his debut for the first team the following year. He would go on to make 127 appearances for the French club who in turn assisted him with obtaining citizenship. Mavuba was selected for the 2014 World Cup, following in the footsteps of his Father Mafuila ‘Ricky’ Mavuba who represented Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) in the 1974 World Cup.

Enjoy this article? Why not check out three footballers that grew up in extreme poverty?

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