Each year millions of Creole children are born into abject poverty on the African continent. These children are victims of circumstances they cannot control; corrupt political systems, struggling economies, and a lack of basic needs such as food, clean water, and education. It would be easy for these creole children to lose hope for a better life, but there are examples of adults who came from these same conditions and made a brighter future from themselves through determination and a little luck.

Patrick Vieira came from just these conditions in the African nation of Senegal and went on to become a wealthy international footballer with a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck. After beating the poverty and lack of opportunity in his native Senegal, Vieira works tirelessly to this day to try and be the source of luck for as many young creole children in his native homeland as possible.

Born into Poverty

Vieira was born into poverty in Senegal’s capital city of Dakar on 23 June 1976. His family possesses deep creole roots on both sides of the family tree. His mother, whose surname Patrick uses, is of Portuguese descent and was born on the island nation of Cape Verde. The majority of Cape Verde’s population is creole and is largely the result of men of European descent marrying women of African descent.

Little is known about Vieira’s father because his parents divorced while Patrick was still young, and to this day he has not seen his father again. His escape from poverty in Senegal came at the age of 8 when he and his mother moved to Dreux, France. The family’s move to France was made easier by his grandfather’s service in the French Army, which granted Vieira with French citizenship at birth.

The move to France would eventually lead to European scouts noticing Vieira’s football talent and helped set him on the path to a career that would garner international attention for Patrick. The stature and wealth that he gained would eventually help Vieira make a difference in the lives of others back in Senegal.

Damien Duff, Patrick Vieira and Kevin Kilbane. Island v France, World Cup qualifier. Photo: Eoghan McNally

Damien Duff, Patrick Vieira and Kevin Kilbane. Island v France, World Cup qualifier. Photo: Eoghan McNally

Playing Career

Vieira signed his first professional deal with French club AS Cannes and debuted with the club at the age of 17. By the age of 19 he was captaining the club, but his time with the Red Dragons would be short lived. In 1995 his immense talent and physical stature, he stands at a solidly built 6’4″, gained the attention of Italian giants AC Milan.

After one season spent primarily on the reserves squad in Italy, Vieira was given a chance to make a name for himself when fellow Frenchman Arsene Wenger came calling with an offer to join English giants Arsenal. Vieira would spend the next decade anchoring the midfield for Arsenal, dominating games with his physical presence and controlling the pace with his precise passing.

Vieira’s French citizenship allowed him to play for France’s national team. Over the course of his career he made 107 appearances for France, winning the 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000. The latter stages of his playing career included stints with Juventus, Inter Milan, and Manchester City.

It was during the waning years of his career that Vieira found the calling to which he would donate his time and wealth when his playing days were officially over. He had used football as a means of escaping the poverty of his native Senegal, and wanted to help as many children as possible realise that same dream.

Arsenal captain, Patrick Vieira, being presented with the Premier League trophy at Highbury Stadium, London. Arsenal had beaten Leicester City 2-1, to lift the 2004 League trophy without losing a single match Photo: Alexander Ottesen

Arsenal captain, Patrick Vieira, being presented with the Premier League trophy at Highbury Stadium, London. Arsenal had beaten Leicester City 2-1, to lift the 2004 League trophy without losing a single match. Photo: Alexander Ottesen

A Life of Giving

Vieira announced his retirement from all levels of football and officially accepted a position with his final club, Manchester City, in training and youth development. He began his work in that capacity in July 2011 and after two years was appointed squad manager for the reserve team and Elite Development squad at Manchester City.

As of 2013, Vieira’s role at Manchester City has grown to include an executive position overseeing the club’s “City in the Community” initiative. The social responsibility programme aims to create deeper ties between the club and its community. Focused on the four key areas of sport, health, young people, and skills/enterprise, the programme aims to develop children as a whole person rather than focusing simply on football talent.

But his greatest contributions to children come in his native Senegal. After moving to France in his youth, Vieira did not return to Senegal until 2003. When he did though, he brought with him a concept and the power to put his plan in motion. Vieira was no stranger to the poverty that millions of Senegalese children were growing up in, and saw the opportunity to use football to escape just as he did.

Children all across Africa look at the rags-to-riches of footballers from the continent such as Vieira, Didier Drogba, and Michael Essien, and strive to replicate that success. Unfortunately, a modern slave trade exists in Africa that sees middle men and unscrupulous agents offer African youth a chance at football glory in Europe for a fee of £2,000.

Unfortunately, after families are fleeced for the funds these boys are taken to Europe and essentially dumped on the streets of major cities never to realise their football dreams. It estimated that as many as 5,000 young boys have fallen victim to this scheme in recent years.

Vieira saw the opportunity to solve this problem and upon his return to Senegal in 2003 opened the Diambars Academy. Within four years, the academy housed 90 Senegalese youth between the ages of 13 and 18. Students at the academy had the opportunity to train on well-groomed sandy pitches, live in rooms with walls, sanitation, and lighting, and even attend classes every morning to provide education along with football development.

The alternative in Senegal is a live of poverty lived in sprawling shanty towns where corrugated iron and plastic sheets have to suffice for housing material. Vieira’s academy has solid contacts in Europe, making it possible for these youngsters to realise their dreams of playing football. For those make it, Vieira and his academy follow the youngsters development to ensure they receive guidance and protection even outside Senegal.

For those that do not make it, the Diambars Academy has provided them with the education they otherwise would have gone without. Roughly 70% of Senegalese children never see a classroom, making Vieira’s academy all the more vital to those youth who are fortunate enough to attend.

Other Social Efforts

In recent years Vieira has increased his social efforts, particularly those aimed at aiding those in his native Senegal. He has lent his name to the Pass Campaign operated by Western Union. The programme sponsors a day’s schooling for one child for each successful pass during the UEFA Europa League club tournament.

Vieira was also recently nominated as Goodwill Ambassador to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The UN programme aims to help developing and developed nations transition to modernized agriculture industries and practices. Starvation is a major problem across Africa, and Vieira saw the opportunity to lend his status and name to a programme that would benefit millions suffering through an upbringing similar to his own in Senegal.

It would have been easy for Patrick Vieira to consider his life a success after escaping the abject poverty in his native Senegal and spend his retirement counting his wealth. Instead, he opted to give back to other young creoles struggling to fight the same battles he fought as a youth. He chose to not only serve as an inspiration to the next generation, but to work hard to mentor that next generation first hand.