Sevilla FC forward Wissam Ben Yedder overcame a tough upbringing to become one of the stars so far of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
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Ever since he first started kicking a ball, Wissam Ben Yedder had the same dreams as thousands of other children growing up in the suburbs of Paris – to play professional football. He was born in Sarcelles, one of the toughest neighbourhoods around the French capital, before moving with his family to nearby Garges-les-Gonesse.
“I had a pretty difficult childhood,” Ben Yedder admitted. “Not many people succeed, there are lots of talented young players and lots of players with huge potential and so it’s hard to come looking for players there. It’s really tough because there are lots of players who, unfortunately, just lack a bit of success.”
Ben Yedder’s moto in life is to “keep smiling” which explains why he always tries to maintain a positive manner. However, despite his laid-back appearance, when speaking to the 27-year-old there is one quality that stands out above all others – his determination to succeed. Football has always been an important part of his life and he was constantly playing the sport when he was growing up, sometimes not always with the blessing of his parents who would “complain when I came home late”.
Rather than playing with children his own age, he was always looking to play at a higher level in order to test himself. Some of his strongest memories as a child were when the older boys would ask him to play with them and say: ‘Hey, you’re playing on my team.’ This gave Ben Yedder an immense amount of pride as well as a desire to keep improving.
“You need to chase that success,” he said. “I’ve always believed in my own success, I’ve always given myself the best chance to achieve that and I think the key is to have faith. Never stop believing. Even when things aren’t going well, you have to keep believing that you’ll make it.”
Playing street football in the Parisian suburbs eventually led Ben Yedder to take up futsal for two years before turning professional. He credits the fast-paced game with improving his technique and making him more “comfortable in front of goal.”
Ben Yedder, though, is not shy in admitting that growing up in a tough neighbourhood strengthened his own desire to succeed and play football at the highest level. Although he cherished his childhood experiences, he always knew that he wanted to test himself on the football field at the highest level.
“It’s true that moving out of that fairly difficult environment, how we lived, which wasn’t easy, can be seen as a success,” he said. “And it’s a good thing. My goal has always been to succeed as a professional – I’ve always put myself in a position to be able to achieve that and even when that didn’t work out, I’ve always believed in myself.”
Growing up in Sarcelles and Garges-les-Gonesse was a multicultural experience for Ben Yedder, who himself is of Tunisian descent. The suburbs are home to large Caribbean, north African and Jewish communities and the 27-year-old has enjoyed being part of a similarly diverse group of players following his move to Sevilla FC.
He is one of four Frenchmen at the club but enjoys “speaking to everyone,” no matter what their mother tongue. He admits that initially the move to Spain from Toulouse was “rather difficult” as he struggled to get to grips with the Spanish language, though he has managed to adapt “little by little” over time.
“I can’t wait for things to go even better in future,” Ben Yedder said. “I think that I can now understand better in terms of interacting with others and I’m making a big effort. That’s what I need to do.”
Since leaving the Parisian suburbs, the Sevilla forward’s career has gone from strength to strength. He has a good eye for goal and admits playing at the FIFA World Cup and being “among the top European goalscorers” are among his dreams.
Ben Yedder is good friends with the Leicester City FC forward Riyad Mahrez, who was also born in Sarcelles. The pair shared similar experiences when they were growing up and, despite having a tough upbringing, Ben Yedder has only positive memories from his youth.
“It’s great to look back at when we used to play in the neighbourhood, seeing mum shouting and also how we grew up playing in football tournaments between the estates – we’d go to another estate and play them. Also, seeing yourself progress bit by bit – those are all happy memories.”