From barefoot to sparkling striker

From barefoot to sparkling striker

Gervinho’s superb individual goal for Ivory Coast in their 2-1 defeat by Colombia marked a remarkable rise from childhood poverty to World Cup star.

The 27-year-old twinkle-toed winger — who had an outstanding season with Roma after a difficult spell with Premier League giants Arsenal — like a lot of his Ivory Coast team-mates, now enjoying the riches that come with being a top footballer, began in very modest surroundings.

He was brought up in the tough neighbourhood of Abobo in Abidjan where his father tried his hand at football, and Gervinho is delighted that because of his success in Europe things have changed radically for his family.

“I am from a large family, frankly life was not easy,” Gervinho told AFP.

“But now my father has been able to retire, and my mother can look after the family. Today they are proud of their son, they are happy to see what has become of me, the level that I have reached. Today I am happy to be able to feed my family.”

The life-changing experience for Gervinho, who showed his versatility by scoring with his head against Japan in the opening 2-1 win, came when as a youngster he was accepted into the Sol Beni Academy in Abidjan. It had been founded by the man who would turn out to be one of the two great influences of his life, former French international Jean-Marc Guillou, who himself experienced a World Cup finals in 1978.

It was also where he first came across several of his present team-mates such as the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, and Salomon Kalou among others.

“I had the luck to have amazing teachers like Jean-Marc Guillou, people who helped us become the people we are today.

At the Academy, you start playing with bare feet, because there are exercises to go through before being able to wear shoes, and that lasts three years, which is amazing.”

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