We look at top footballers in top clubs and all we see is the skill and the wealth. We rarely dig deeper to know how they got there and what pushed them to the pinnacle. Many did not have harsh backgrounds, Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku is not one of them.
Romelu was born 25 years ago to Congolese parents in Belgium without even a wooden spoon in his mouth. He was shielded by his parents from the harsh truths but not for long. Innocence was shattered when he was six years old and came home for the regular meal of bread and milk. This time, however, there was barely any milk; his mother had to add water all the while smiling and telling him all is fine.
He knew all was not fine. He knew he had to do something. This need lit a fire a Romelu that burned hot and fierce and is still burning. Making up his mind to help, he went up to his father and asked for when he could sign a professional football contract, and he was told at age 16.
“There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.
I knew we were struggling. But when she was mixing in water with the milk, I realized it was over, you know what I mean? This was our life,” he wrote in The Player Tribune.
From the moment he knew he could sign a contract at 16, he did everything to make it happen. For him, every football game was like a final.
“When I played in the park, it was a Final. When I played during break in kindergarten, it was a Final. I’m dead-ass serious. I used to try to tear the cover off the ball every time I shot it. Full power. We weren’t hitting R1, bro. No finesse shot. I didn’t have the new FIFA. I didn’t have a Playstation. I wasn’t playing around. I was trying to kill you.”
He was hungry and focused. Used used boots, his father’s boots, boots with holes in them but he kept playing. And when he turned, 16, he was signed by Anderlecht, one of the top clubs in Belgium as he promised his mother he would.
His drive to succeed did not die down and his exploits led to his move to the English premier league and now Manchester United where he was bought for a club record transfer fee.
To fully appreciate Lukaku’s journey, know that in 2002, he had no television and could not even watch the World Cup but here we are in 2018 and the world is watching him play at the World Cup.
“You don’t play around with a boy who’s hungry!”