Gervinho’s superb individual goal for Ivory Coast in its 2-1 defeat by Colombia marked a remarkable rise from childhood poverty to World Cup star. The 27-year-old twinkle-toed winger — like a lot of his Ivory Coast teammates, 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 said.
“But now my father has been able to retire, and my mother can look after the family. Today they are proud of their son. Today I am happy to be able to feed my family.”
The life-changing experience for Gervinho came when as a youngster he was accepted into the Sol Beni Academy in Abidjan.
It was also where he first came across several of his present teammates such as the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, and Salomon Kalou among others. “Oh yes, Sol Beni... I will never forget those moments in that football school, I spent eight years there,” he mused wistfully.
“I was in the third batch, Kolo (Toure) the first, Yaya (Toure) the second. 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.”
Gervinho subsequently left with the Frenchman and his fellow academy students for Europe and the unglamorous Belgian team Beveren. “This was a very difficult time for me. “When I went home every night I rang my family. Ah, and I forgot about the climate! The cold for an African was the first thing that we noticed about Europe! The winter is challenging in Beveren.”
However, it was at modest French club Le Mans that Gervinho met his second mentor — Rudi Garcia. “I had already been put out on the wing by previous coaches at the club because they thought my ability to run from deep and dribbling skills were ideal for the wing.
“Then Rudi (Garcia) arrived and that is when everything clicked into place. Garcia is my favourite coach.”
“A group of artists in Ivory Coast recorded a song about me,” Gervinho told The Guardian. “The lyrics said the country had gone through some very difficult months (a civil war) and seeing me on TV with the title enabled the people to forget their troubles.”