An old country residence built in 1702 has evolved into “La Masia” or in English, “the farmhouse” which now serves as a master academy for developing soccer geniuses in Barcelona, Spain. The facilities in Dortmund, Germany, drenched in black and yellow coloring, are home to one of soccer’s most recent technological advances, “the Footbonaut.” The impoverished dirt roads of small towns in Barranquilla, Colombia, where residents lack basic human necessities and their main concern is when they will have their next meal. A small village in Zadar, Croatia where a young boy once walked several miles a day just to find someone to kick a ball around with. How is it that people from such distinct backgrounds can all eventually come together with one common purpose in life?
These locations have served as not only homes but as soccer venues for players that are expected to take part in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil during the summer of 2014. Spain, Germany, Croatia and Colombia are examples of national teams at the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Rankings for international soccer. These countries are the lands that soccer stars grew up in as they grew a love for the world’s most popular sport. Growing up in these different towns and cities would eventually lead players like Andrés Iniesta, Mario Götze, Luka Modrić and Teófilo Gutiérrez to wear the colors of their homelands and represent their countries on a global stage.
It is truly remarkable that soccer stars can come from such different parts of the world, yet still be equally successful and come together once every four years at the FIFA World Cup. With a sport that requires so little material to play, it should not be so surprising that high-caliber players can come from anywhere in the world, irrespective of poor circumstances.
Of the countless number of soccer players in this world, the players previously mentioned are only some of the many that have unique stories of how they worked their way up in the soccer scene. The streets they grew up on are what has defined their upbringing and driven them to use the sport as a career and as a way of representing the homeland where their feet first formed a lifelong connection with the soccer ball.
Andrés Iniesta is a Spanish central midfielder who is best known for his small size, a fact that has never stopped him from beating opponents with his speed and skillful dribbling. Iniesta impressed the training staff at “La Masia” at a young age, leading him to eventually move to Barcelona to develop his skills and play for the youth academy of FC Barcelona, home of one of the most prestigious soccer cultures in the world. It was within the gates of this soccer factory in 2002 that Iniesta progressed enough to get a call-up to the first team at age 18. After years of playing with the youth level sides of the Spanish national team, he made his debut in 2006.
During an impressive and successful spell of seven years with the national team, Iniesta has won two UEFA European Championships and one FIFA World Cup title in the last World Cup in South Africa. He has also been nominated multiple times for the “FIFA Ballon d’Or” award that goes out yearly to reward the best soccer player in the world. Iniesta has made it clear that the road to stardom as a youngster was not easy for him, especially during the move from his hometown of Fuentealbilla to “La Masia,” at age 12. But nothing holds back his ambitions of winning back-to-back World Cup titles and celebrating in the rich land of Brazil.
Mario Götze is a young German soccer star that currently plays attacking midfielder for club Borussia Dortmund in Germany. His impressive creativity and highly-developed technical abilities lead many to believe that he will do great things for the German national side after the team’s latest few disappointing performances in previous World Cups. With the company of world-class players like Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira, Germany is one of the favorites to perform well in Brazil. Götze once belonged to the youth academy of Borussia Dortmund. This soccer academy is now home of the new soccer machine called “the Footbonaut,” which features a four-sided ball-feeding machine that provides non-stop soccer balls to a receiving player. Expensive technological advances like these can only be found in prestigious and wealthy soccer academies like the one in Borussia, where it was first introduced to the public. It is very unlikely for players like Mario Götze, that have been part of such developed soccer clubs, to fall short of getting to the next level in their soccer careers. However, not all countries and soccer clubs have such highly renowned youth clubs.
Croatia and Colombia are the respective homes of soccer players Luka Modrić and Teófilo Gutiérrez. Players like these two grew up in small villages where they were accustomed to playing on the streets and in many cases, on dirt, unlike the typical grass fields that players in famous youth academies in Europe were playing on.
Luka Modrić grew up in Zaton, a small village in Croatia. During the Croatian War of Independence, a trying time for his family, Modrić looked to soccer to help deal with the difficult circumstances. It was this same young boy that became a professional soccer player at the age of 16 and would eventually go on to play for the most successful club in Europe, Real Madrid, as well as captaining his national soccer team.
Gutiérrez, on the other hand, grew up in the poor streets of Barranquilla, Colombia, where the majority of residents live in poverty and are dependent on others to provide for them and help them survive the brutal circumstances. When playing for Racing Club of Argentina, Gutiérrez allegedly threatened his teammate with what appeared to be an air gun after a short argument with the captain of the team in the locker room. Many argue that this could have been because of his thug-like upbringing in a city in Colombia with much crime and theft due to poverty. However, this is where Gutiérrez started his soccer career, a career that has seen him play for multiple clubs in South America, North America and Europe over the past few years.
These diverse experiences show that not all of today’s famous professional soccer players who will be in Brazil next summer have had the same upbringings. They will all be competing with each other despite their different pasts.
The national teams of Colombia, Croatia, Spain and Germany are all soccer clubs in the top 10 of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Rankings. Teams from the countries of Argentina, Portugal, England, Italy and Ecuador currently stand in the top 10 as well. These are just some of the countries that, after qualifying, will meet in Brazil at the FIFA World Cup of 2014.
The players will battle against one another to achieve victory for their team, themselves, their country and the hometowns where they either first began playing soccer or followed their dreams of being on the grandest soccer stage of all.