Why poverty is not necessarily a jail sentence

There is a bigger thing than discipline. It is passion. Small teams have beaten bigger and better teams purely on passion for the game.

It does not matter where you come from, a village in Africa or a slum in Latin America. You have the makings of a super star.

Life is about choices. Despite the vicious cycle in poor communities that lock entire generations in to violent feuds, escape is possible. It is telling that both Benni McCarthy and Sergio Agüero say many of their friends from their childhood are either in jail or dead from shootings. According to the Guardian, quoting Borocoto, the editor of El Grafico, in 1928, if a statue was erected to the spirit of Argentinian football, it would be a “pibe” (kid) with a “mane of hair”, “intelligent, roving, trickster and persuasive eyes” and “teeth worn down by eating yesterday’s bread”.

You could say the same about Diego Costa, Luis Suarez and many other superstars of top flight football the world over.

I suspect one could say the same thing about you. The hit South African hip hop song Caracara talks about the joys of living in the townships of an amazingly bashful country. You take your “Rands and Nairas” from Jozi to Lagos and you will find the same bashfulness in Nigeria and beyond to Ghana, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire. You also find the same poverty and its super star products Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor and Michael Essien. Not everyone can make it on the first 11 of a top flight European club but everyone can kick a ball, African style with panache, roving, trickster and persuasive eyes. It is a ghetto thing. It might be your ticket.

When Agüero was asked about pressure after joining Atletico Madrid, he was clear in his honest response, “pressure is growing up a villa.” Poverty can be a burden for sure. It is a burden. But as Agüero hints, surviving poverty is a lesson in life skills whether you come from a large family where you have to assert yourself such as the Khune brothers, from the gangster ruled Cape Flats, the favela, the villa miseria or “behind the sunset.” Poverty stares you in the face. It is the excessive alcohol that the adults in your township consume because they cannot cope. It is the way the police treat your parents. It is the violence that breaks out when too much alcohol has been consumed. It is the hopelessness of the situation you find yourself in and the lack of dignity.

Until you do a little bit of research on life outside poverty.

You can curse poverty and its misery or you can face it head on with your street skills. When you see and read about the stars with their super model wives, luxury cars and superb houses, you learn that many of them especially most of the best, came from a township like yours. You dig a little deeper and you begin to see what they did to escape financial poverty.

What are you going to do? Buy a gun or go in to the streets and play football, take up running, dancing or whatever will be your ticket out of the ghetto? You know what you are good at, what you are passionate about.

Our advice is focus on those attributes. Picture yourself receiving the Booker prize, running out at Anfield, the New York City Marathon or Broadway doing what you love most and are good at best and start working towards it. You will need discipline to get up every morning and face the world with a positive “I can do this” attitude. You will need the same discipline to ward off the sarcasm and teasing of your friends. Trust me, they are envious and don’t know how to ask to join you. Agüero grew up with the ball at his feet all the time. So did Suarez. You will need the same discipline to convince your parents to spend some money to buy you soccer boots and a little less groceries this month and that you will still do your school work. The same discipline will keep you humble once you make it to a local team because the bigger prize remains unconquered, 5 or 10 years hence. Too many youngsters lose their way with the first hint of fame and money. Stay the course.

There is a bigger thing than discipline. It is passion. Small teams have beaten bigger and better teams purely on passion for the game. If poverty is the big tree, you are the small passionate axe chipping away, steadily, passionately, striking with discipline and keeping at it until you bring down the monster that is poverty.

The UK Telegraph, reporting on Sergio Agüero, gives us the best possible conclusion to this article. One particular theme running through Agüero’s golden season has been a willingness to “fight ’til the end” in the words of the City faithful. After the September draw with Arsenal, Agüero said “we must keep fighting.” The following month, after victory over Aston Villa, the Argentine enthused that “we never give up.” After Tuesday’s remarkable hat-trick against Bayern Munich, Agüero simply observed: “always, always fight ’til the end.”

We suggest you do the same.


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