Life
Life beyond style
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As Neymar completed his record-breaking $263 million transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, the world was once again thrown into a vicious debate surrounding how much footballers get paid (reportedly $701,781 per week in Neymar’s case) and whether or not they’re worth the money.

While it’s easy to understand those who complain that they’re overpaid in comparison to other, more benevolent professions, it should be ridiculous to suggest that they somehow haven’t worked hard to get where they are or that they don’t deserve to make a cut of the billions of dollars the football business generates every year.

Just like any other athletes, footballers have had to make sacrifices and dedicate themselves to years of hard work and determination in the face of adversity, stress and pressure to get where they are today. It takes a certain type of person to make it as a pro in any sport, let alone the most-played and most-watched sport on the planet.

To find out exactly what it takes, we sat down with four of the world’s top players — Manchester City’s İlkay Gündoğan and Gabriel Jesus, Chelsea’s Álvaro Morata, and Celtic’s Moussa Dembélé — at the launch of adidas Athletic’s new Z.N.E Pulse Hoodie. The premium comfort hoodie is designed to take athletes from the street to the pitch, so with that in mind, we asked these four explosive and exciting talents to tell us how they made it from their childhood parks to sold-out stadiums.

İlkay Gündoğan

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What are you earliest memories of playing football?

My earliest memories of playing football is behind my parent’s house. I don’t know how old I was, but can’t have been more than four, five, or six maybe. We had all these garages then. Then we looked at the garages, picked one, and that was the goal. I always used to play with my brother, who is two years older than me, so we were always competing against each other out there. Basically, it started on the streets.

When and how did you know you were going to make it?

Late. I mean, my parents say that I started to play for the club (German club SV Gelsenkirchen-Hessler 06) officially when I was three years old — they used to call it the “Pampers” league. But I can’t remember, to be honest. So I started early but it was always just about having fun, you know, getting to know other kids spending some time together.

When I was 15 or 16, I changed to the youth of a professional football club (VfL Bochum). That was the first time I was playing for a youth team of a professional team. Then, of course, I had the dream to become a professional one day. But I didn’t take it for granted, to be honest, because I knew it was going to be hard. But when I was 17 I trained for the first time with the professional first team. That’s when I knew that I had the chance to do it, to reach all my dreams.

What does it take to become a professional footballer?

You need to have the mentality. You need to be disciplined, you need to be focused. I know a lot of people, a lot of friends of mine who I played with in youth teams, and they were talented and maybe some of them were even more talented than me. But they just didn’t make it, because they were not focused enough. They had friends, or girlfriends, or they wanted to go to party. I just spent all my free time with a football.

I came to a point where football was maybe more important than everything else, more important than all my relationships with my family, and my best friends, even school. You can be very talented, but if you are not clear in your mind, and you don’t have that mentality, it’s really difficult to become a professional footballer.

Álvaro Morata

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What are your earliest memories of playing football?

My first memories of football are with my father and grandfather. There was a football pitch near our house and I used to spent all day there with the ball. I even used to wake up my father when he was on siesta to ask him to go and play there!

What does it take to become a professional footballer?

I think to make it as a professional footballer it takes a lot more than just talent. Other than the injuries, it’s all about your mind and your mental state. I have seen a lot of incredibly talented players but they didn’t have the mental strength.

What advice do you wish you had as a young athlete?

Nothing, everything happened so fast. I wouldn’t change a thing.

How do you deal with the stress and pressure of playing in front of thousands of fans every week?

It’s not an easy thing to deal with. Even if you try not to let it, it’s still gets to you. But when they critique you or talk about you, you have to work harder and use it as motivation. If there’s bad news about me, I’m only going to work harder. When it gets tough, I like to think about the positive things like my friends and my family — that helps.

Moussa Dembélé

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What are you earliest memories of playing football?

My earliest memory of playing football is playing on the street with my brother. I think that’s where I learned how to play football and where I first fell in love with the game.

When and how did you know you were going to make it?

That’s hard to say. I think when you are young, your dream is to become a professional footballer. That’s been my aim since I can ever remember. That’s what I always wanted to do and I finally made it possible when I signed my pro contract in 2013, aged 17.

You might say I’ve made it, but it’s not finished now. It’s like an eternal restart. I restart every day. Every day is a new day and every day you have to work hard to make sure that you reach new goals.

What does it take to become a professional footballer?

It takes a lot of sacrifice, a lot of hard work, and you need to believe in yourself. For me, that was the most important thing. I’ve traveled a lot from a young age, and so I always had to believe in myself. I always knew that if I worked hard, I would reach my dream.

What advice would you give to a young athlete today?

Work hard, believe in yourself and listen to the right people. If someone is younger than me, older than me, it doesn’t matter — I will listen to them. But there’s some advice you have to take onboard and some not. Sometimes you have to make your own decisions. Learn from the ones who have more experience, the ones who have been in your position before and know what you have to do to progress. Those people have usually made mistakes too, so they don’t want you to make the same mistakes as them.

Gabriel Jesus

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What are your earliest memories of playing football?

My first memories of football came when my mom gave me a football as a gift. Me and my friends would play with it all day and night on the streets in Brazil. Now whenever I’m playing I’m reminded of these old times and, of course, my mom.

When and how did you know you were going to make it?

Since I was very little I always looked at myself as a professional player. Ever since I was born I could not imagine myself doing anything but being a professional football player.

What advice would you give to a young athlete today?

My advice to a young athlete today would be to never give up and always keep trying. There will be many obstacles along the way and a lot of people will shut doors on you, but you need to keep trying and keep believing in yourself.

The adidas Athletics Z.N.E Pulse hoodie will be worn by other athletes from a range of sports including Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba, and James Harden. It’s available to cop for $200 on August 31 over at adidas.com.

Next up, here’s how Real Madrid and Spain legend Sergio Ramos starts his day.

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