In an age where the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are nursed into the professional game as teenagers, late bloomers in football are becoming a rare breed.
We’re not talking young stars who have spent years in academies and merely taken time to find their feet in the senior game. By late bloomers, we’re on about the true zero to hero stories. The ones that weren’t meant to make it, but did.
Academy football has always been a huge step up from the grassroots level, so when a player is picked out from a non-league or semi-pro level and thrust into the full-time game, they’ve got to be really, really good.
It’s a commitment, too, and far from an easy decision to make. Sure, we might all dream of being professional footballers as kids, but the reality of making it is very different.
Football is a short enough career as it is. So to leave behind a life of normality to enter the professional game late, unaware of what level you might end up playing at, is a massive risk that many cannot afford to take.
Taking that risk is no common offering, either, with clubs so reliant on signing players for fees and making use of their academies. It takes a lot to be spotted so late on when you’re not in the world of elite football, and even more to be offered the chance to make the jump.
So, in appreciation for those who truly have gone from zero to hero, ditching the difficulties of reality to try and make a dream come true, GIVEMESPORT has compiled a list of players who had ‘normal jobs’ before making it as footballers.
Chelsea working on two huge transfers (Football Terrace)
11. Carlos Bacca
Now fondly remembered for his rampant goal scoring exploits throughout Europe with Club Brugge, Sevilla and AC Milan, Bacca had to balance his early football career with a job while playing for Atletico Junior in Colombia.
Bacca worked as a bus driver’s assistant while starting out at the club and taking his first steps, in order to support himself and his family financially. Once he earned a regular spot, though, his talent was very quickly on show.
10. Kieffer Moore
A hero among Welsh football fans for his rise to prominence in the national team, Moore’s ascent in recent years has been nothing short of spectacular, and will only get better as he plays Premier League football with Bournemouth in 2022/23.
Long before reaching the dizzying heights of the English top flight, the striker was playing non-league football and balancing that with work as a lifeguard and personal trainer, while turning out for Truro, and actually made one appearance for England’s C team.
9. Junior Messias
Messias announced himself to an unknown audience of Champions League fans last season when he scored the winner away at Atletico Madrid for Milan in the group stages.
A dream come true for any footballer, the goal would’ve meant so much more to the Brazilian forward, who was playing in the amateur ranks of Italian football just years earlier, while delivering fridges and doing whatever he could to climb the footballing ladder while struggling in a foreign country. To top it off, he is now officially a Serie A winner.
8. Charlie Austin
Austin was in academy football as a teen, but was released by Reading aged 15 for being deemed too small. He dropped into non-league football as a result, coupling it up with his work as a bricklayer.
In 2009, though, he would return to the professional game with Swindon Town and used that chance to carve out a fine career in England, enjoying an 18 goal Premier League season with QPR in 2014/15. He now plays in the Australian A-League with Brisbane Roar.
7. Rickie Lambert
Before taking the Premier League by storm with Southampton in 2013/14 and earning a move to Liverpool, Lambert had endured a long, laborious road to the top.
After being released by Blackpool in 2000, he signed with Macclesfield Town in 2001. But while training with the club, he was earning nothing, and had to work in a beetroot factory to make ends meet. It only took a year for Stockport County to snap him up for a £300,000 fee after that.
6. Stuart Pearce
A man who carved out a reputation as not just one of England’s best players, but also one of football’s biggest hardmen, Pearce was nicknamed ‘psycho’ for an unrelenting style he imposed on the opposition.
Perhaps that style was learned in the non-league with Wealdstone, where he established himself as one of the top full-backs in the semi-pro game, but also as a seasoned electrician for a number of years. Pearce was so unsure that his professional career would work out that he would advertise himself as an electrician while playing for Nottingham Forest. 78 England caps later, we think it went fine.
5. Miroslav Klose
Germany’s record scorer and the man who has scored the most goals scored at FIFA World Cups, Klose’s career had humble beginnings, as he trained to become a carpenter before making it professional.
But, Kaiserslautern would put their trust in him in 1998 and from there, he would never need to worry about installing wooden fittings ever again.
4. Iain Dowie
Dowie played non-league football throughout the vast majority of the 1980s, before being picked up by then First Division side Luton Town in 1988.
His career could’ve been vastly different, had he have not been spotted, as he graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a degree in Engineering, and would intern at British Aerospace before taking on a job there, while playing non-league on the side.
3. Chris Waddle
Earning the nickname ‘Magic Chris’ as he gained a reputation as one of Europe’s most classy midfielders, Waddle fought tooth and nail for all the success he eventually got out in France with Marseille.
Long before the Ligue 1 titles and playing in a European Cup final, Waddle worked in a food processing factory while desperately trying to get his football career off the ground. Following unsuccessful trials with Sunderland and Coventry, Newcastle would finally sign him aged 19 in 1980.
2. Peter Schmeichel
One of the greatest goalkeepers we’ll ever get the privilege of seeing, Schmeichel worked various jobs to make ends meet in the early years of his career. Working in a textile factory, cleaning in an old people’s home and even becoming a sales manager with the World Wildlife fund were all on his CV before football took off.
He didn’t require the cleaning rags or have to keep up the office attire for long though, because when he took off, there was no going back. Going from an old people’s home and a textiles factory to winning the treble with Manchester United is an unbelievable feat.
1. Jamie Vardy
One of football’s greatest ever stories, the man who should never have made the Premier League 100 club did so in the team that should never have won the Premier League. Vardy and Leicester came up together, but Vardy had work to do to get there even before that.
The former England international was released by Sheffield Wednesday aged 16 and headed into the non-league game. He played football for a wage of £30 a week at Stocksbridge Park Steels, obliterating the scoring sheets while working as a technician that produced medical splints, living a very standard lifestyle until his ascent up the pyramid.