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5 ball boys who went on to become famous footballers

The beloved Philipp Lahm started out as a ball boy
The beloved Philipp Lahm started out as a ball boy
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Emmanuel Ayamga

It is always a delight to see talented footballers on the pitch or on our television screens. However, what many people do not know is the amount of work these athletes put in to get to the top. Majority of these footballers did not have things easy during their formative years.

In fact, for all amazing the goals, tough tackles and stupendous saves we see, it is fair to say there is a story behind each and every player who pull them off. Talent alone is not enough, sometimes it takes that extra determination and zeal to carve a successful career.

As wafting up the ladder is the idea, there are players who spent their initial years serving as ball boys, before finally rising to become the men they are today. Their successes have made them popular today, but it is only right to also acknowledge their service and humility when they were novices and youngsters.

Below are five ball boys who went on to become famous footballers.


#5 Fabio Cannavaro

Cannavaro developed at the Napoli academy where he was a ball boy
Cannavaro developed at the Napoli academy where he was a ball boy

Italy legend Fabio Cannavaro started his career as a ball boy. The retired defender was nurtured at Napoli’s academy, where he usually watched Diego Maradona play. Cannavaro may have made his name with the Italy national team and Real Madrid, but the road wasn’t always smooth.

In 2006, he captained Italy to the World Cup and capped off the year by winning the FIFA Best Player award. He also tasted cup successes wherever he played, including at Real Madrid, Parma and Juventus.

Currently, Cannavaro cannot be left out of any credible list that concerns with the top 10 best defenders of all time. That is enough recognition for a player who began his career chasing balls on the touchline.

Cannavaro was always determined and willing to serve, and that is how come he developed into an all-time football great in and outside Italy. He’s a massive example for all young footballers.

#4 Raul Gonzalez

Raul was a ball boy at the Atletico Madrid academy
Raul was a ball boy at the Atletico Madrid academy

Raul Gonzalez is regarded as one of the all-time greats when it comes to Spanish football. The former Real Madrid captain scored so many goals during his playing career, but even he had to once serve as a ball boy.

Raul started his career at Atletico Madrid, where he spent two years in the club’s youth team. There, he occasionally served as a ball boy during match days, as he learned his trade. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the former Spain international went on to achieve a lot for himself, especially at club level. Raul ended his career at Real Madrid as the club’s all-time top-scorer with 323 goals, until he was eventually overtaken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

He also won a host of trophies with Los Blancos, including multiple LaLiga tiles, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League. Not bad for a man who was once a ball boy.

#3 Mateo Kovacic

A young Mateo Kovacic was ignored by Gerrard when he was a ball boy
A young Mateo Kovacic was ignored by Gerrard when he was a ball boy

Croatia international Mateo Kovacic is still very young but he has done very well for himself, considering how his career started. There’s an iconic photo of the midfielder, where he tried to get the attention of Steven Gerrard during a UEFA Champions League game in the mid-2000s.

Kovacic was a ball boy for that game, and Gerrard unfortunately snubbed him. Over a decade later, the 24-year-old can boast of playing in a World Cup final and also winning the UEFA Champions League. That is how Kovacic’s career has transcended.

The Croat is currently on loan at Chelsea from Real Madrid, and it is fair to say his career has just started. For a player yet to hit his peak, Kovacic has already played for three of Europe’s elite clubs – Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea.

Considering that he started as a ball boy, the on-loan Chelsea star has done tremendously well to put himself in the limelight when it comes to football.

#2 Philipp Lahm

Philipp Lahm is now a World Cup winner
Philipp Lahm is now a World Cup winner

Very few footballers can claim to have won the Bundesliga, World Cup and the UEFA Champions League during the careers. However, Philipp Lahm can. The former Germany and Bayern Munich captain is the perfect example to point to when it comes to hard work, service and humility.

Having joined Bayern as an 11-year-old, Lahm finally made his first team debut for the Bavarians in 2002 at the age of 19. But before then, he had to serve as a ball boy when he was at the club’s academy. It is the kind of service that made him grow to embody everything the club represents.

Indeed, the player himself later admitted to enjoying how close he always was to his senior colleagues. According to Lahm, he loved serving as a ball boy because it brought him close to the real action on the pitch.

Just after announcing his retirement, he cleared the air on his days as a ball boy, saying:

"That's how Bayern tempted me a little bit. It was just amazing to be so close to all the action."

#1 Wesley Sneijder

Frank Rijkaard with a young Wesley Sniejder
Frank Rijkaard with a young Wesley Sniejder

Another athlete who worked his way from a ball boy to becoming a famous footballer is Wesley Sneijder. The Netherlands legend has enjoyed so much success in his career that people easily forget his humble beginnings.

The former Inter Milan and Real Madrid midfielder developed at the famous Ajax academy. In the years he spent there, Sneijder was often used as a ball boy, before he eventually made the step up to the senior team.

Since his breakthrough, though, the veteran attacking midfielder has gone on to make a name for himself in the football world. He boasts 131 caps for the Netherlands national team, having played a key role in the country’s journey to the World Cup final in 2010.

Sneijder was also an integral part of the Jose Mourinho’s all-conquering Inter Milan side that won the Serie A, Italian Cup and the UEFA Champions League in 2010. Such a distinguished career for a man who was a ball boy at age seven.

Edited by Akarshak (Ishu) Roy
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