Gervinho: From barefoot student to twinkle-toed winger

June 23, 2014 03:40 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 06:48 pm IST - FORTALEZA



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.

"Oh yes, Sol Beni... I will never forget those moments in that football school, I spent eight years there," he mused wistfully.

"I had the luck to have amazing teachers like Jean-Marc Guillou, people who helped us become the people we are today. 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, whose present name was given to him by Guillou as the diminutive form of his first name Gervais, subsequently decamped with the Frenchman and his fellow academy students for Europe and the unglamourous Belgian team Beveren.

"This was a very difficult time for me. It was really tough living alone without my parents, as I had to look after myself and grow up. 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. It seems I have been dribbling ever since I was born! Then Rudi (Garcia) arrived and that is when everything clicked into place. Garcia is my favourite coach, the one who knows me best, someone who I would follow everywhere."

It was with Garcia that he tasted his greatest moment: the Ligue 1 title with unfashionable outfit Lille, ending a long trophy drought for the team and inspiring a song to be written about him back in the Ivory Coast.

"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."

Another goal against Greece on Tuesday and it could well be a whole album will be dedicated to him — the boy with no boots has come a long way.

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