Famous footballers and their humble beginnings — from Messi to Ronaldo

Channel 4's new series Football Dreams: The Academy is sharing a behind the scenes look at exactly what it takes to develop the next generation of football talent.

The six-part series follows a young group of footballers who are trying to achieve their dreams of going professional at Crystal Palace FC's Academy.

The club's Academy has produced some world-famous footballers, including Wilfried Zaha, Gareth Southgate and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

The first episode will air tonight and features three 11-year-olds at the Academy who have grown up together, playing with each other since the young age of five.

As the series gives an insight into what the early lives of footballers look like, we've taken a look at how some of the world's most famous footballers started out.

Lionel Messi

Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina and first began playing football at a very young age.

From the age of five he was coached by his father at a club called Grandoli and later moved to Newell’s Old Boys.

Messi showed signs of a promising footballing career, but it was all nearly ripped away from him when he was diagnosed with a growth hormones deficiency that required intensive treatment.

Speaking about his treatment routine to América TV, Messi revealed: "I injected my legs once every night. I started at 12 years old. It was not something that left an impression on me."

He added: "At first my parents gave me the injections from when I was eight years old until I learnt. It was a small needle. It did not hurt, it was something routine for me that I had to do and I did it with normality."

His parents were having to pay a reported $1,500 (£1,226) a month for the treatment and were struggling to afford it until his former club Newell's Old Boys offered to pay for some of it.

In 2001, at the age of just 13, Messi and his parents moved to Spain so that he could try out for Barcelona.

Not only did he end up playing for the club, but they also covered all of his medical costs until he finished the hormone treatment when he was 14.

Messi had to make some big sacrifices to stay at the club, he said: "It was not very difficult for me to come to Barcelona. I adapted quickly but my family did not. My siblings wanted to go back and they did.

"I was left alone with my father and he asked me 'What should we do?' I told him 'I want to stay."

By 17, Messi had joined the first team of the club and just a year later he made his international debut with Argentina.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo started playing football when he was just seven years old.

He played at Andorinha and his father was the kit man of the club.

At 10 years old Ronaldo moved on to play for the club Nacional, which is based in Madeira, Portugal.

The Man United star spent two years at the club before he signed with Sporting CP at the age of 12.

He went on to make his professional debut for the club at just 17 years old in 2002.

A year later the footballing star joined Manchester United.


Neymar started playing football as a child after taking inspiration from his father, who was also a professional football player.

In 1999 he joined the Portuguesa Santista Youth Club in São Vicente.

His footballing skills were spotted quickly and in 2003 he was offered a contract from famous Brazilian club FC Santos.

He joined the youth side of the team at just 11 years old and made his professional debut at the age of 17 in 2009.

In 2009 Neymar also represented the Brazil U-17 team at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

The Brazilian stayed with Santos for another five years, before making the move to Spanish club FC Barcelona in 2013, at the age of 21.

Kylian Mbappé

Like several other world-famous foobtallers, Kylian Mbappé's career started under the training of his father.

The French footballer started playing for AS Bondy when he was just six years old.

He then moved onto the elite Clairefontaine Acadamy and his impressive performance there quickly caught the attention of world-renowned clubs.

Mbappé travelled to London when he was just 11 years old to play a game for Chelsea's youth team, but he eventually chose to play for AS Monaco's youth team instead.

He went on to make his debut with the senior Monaco team in 2015 at the age of 17, before moving to PSG in 2017.

Mohamed Salah

Egyptian footballing legend Mohamed Salah's passion for football started when he was around seven or eight years old.

Speaking about his early experiences with football, Salah told Liverpool FC: "I first fell in love with football when I was a kid, around seven or eight years old.

"I remember watching the Champions League all the time and then trying to be like the Brazilian Ronaldo, Zidane and Totti when playing out in the street with my friends. I loved those kinds of players, players who played with magic."

At first, Salah would play with his brother, who he's admitted is "not that good", but he also played with his friends too.

Salah started off by playing for a youth team half an hour away from his village Basyoun before signing for another team an hour and a half away in Tanta.

At 14 years old he signed with Arab Contractors El Mokawloon and began playing for the youth team.

He had to travel at least four hours, five days a week to get to training at the Cairo club and had to get special permission to leave school early.

Eventually, he went on to play for the first team of the club.

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