Unlikely paths to the top
© AFP

Anyone walking into the carpenter's shop in the German village of Kusel ten years ago would, most likely, have been served by a young man by the name of Miroslav. Then, the teenager fantasized about becoming a professional footballer, and he duly fulfilled those dreams by becoming one of the most proficient strikers in the game today and a symbol of German football.

Ignored by the country's leading clubs, Klose divided his time between his job and turning out for seventh-tier outfit Blaubach-Diedelkopf on Sundays. After turning 20, he climbed up a couple of flights to join Homburg, the springboard for subsequent moves to Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich, and a place in the national team.

Worth the waiting
Miroslav Klose's journey from small-town anonymity to stardom is not unique. Countless other young players have made the leap from the footballing backwaters to the professional game, among them Damian Zamogilny, who was named the best holding midfielder in Mexico this year.

Zamogilny started out with Independiente in his native Argentina before moving to Mexico, where, according to his agent, a contract with second-division Leon was waiting to be signed. But upon his arrival, he discovered there was no such deal and that his agent had disappeared, and after trying to earn a place with several other sides, he wound up in amateur football.

Three years later, Zamogilny's side was invited to play a friendly against Puebla, then in the Mexican top flight. So well did the 26-year-old perform that Los Camoteros offered him a trial, which he passed with flying colours before establishing himself in the first team and helping Puebla back into the Primera Division in the same year.

If anything, however, the route taken by his compatriot, Federico Vilar, to the top is even more unlikely. Leaving the reserves at Boca Juniors, the goalkeeper also headed north to Mexico to try his luck, but after failing to impress he ended up waiting on tables at a restaurant in Acapulco.

Among his customers one day was a director of Atlante. Sensing an opportunity, Vilar asked him for a trial and after making the most of his opportunity, he is now regarded as the best foreign custodian in Mexican football.

Mum's the word
Vilar is not the only footballer to have asked clubs for a chance to show what they can do, but in the case of Nelson Cuevas it was a family member who did all the talking for him. A rising star with modest Paraguayan outfit Tembetary, Cuevas was tipped for a successful career.

His mother decided to give him an extra push, however, by presenting herself at the offices of River Plate and requesting a trial for her son. The Buenos Aires giants eventually gave in to her demands and after making an impression, Cuevas signed on the dotted line for Los Millonarios.

Dario's rise to prominence was equally eye-catching. The legendary Brazilian striker decided to pursue a career in football when he was jailed at the age of 18 for robbery. Quick and athletic, as he needed to be to survive on the streets, he was snapped up by Campo Grande following his release and quickly established himself in the country's football firmament.

Dubbed Dada Maravilha, he became one of the sport's all-time leading scorers, once netting ten in one game, and was also noted for his sharp sense of humour. Asked to describe his style on one occasion, he said: "I don't have any technique. I just shoot and it almost always goes in. I shoot so badly, in fact, that the day I score from outside the box will be the day goalkeepers should be banned from football."

Perhaps even more amazing are the stories of Roy Essandoh, who earned a place with English club Wycombe Wanderers after responding to a Teletext advertisement, and Julio Cruz. The Argentinian international earned his nickname of The Gardener and a place in the Banfield side after breaking off from lawnmowing duties at the club's training ground to make up the numbers in a practice match.

Among the multi-talented sportsmen to choose football over other pursuits is Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who gave up an international career in skiing at the age of 18, and Costa Rican idol Paulo Wanchope, who played for a season in the Central American basketball championship. Another basketballer-turned-sharpshooter is Sebastian Abreu, now a regular fixture in the Uruguay side.

From apprentice carpenters to former inmates, in their own unique ways these talented players are proof that getting to the top is what counts, not how you get there.