Once I was so desperate to play football that I stole a ball from a priest.
I grew up in Asti, near Turin, Italy. And if you wanted to play in our neighborhood, you could always find a football in the priest’s office at the oratory near our house.
The priest was a nice man who kept all the balls in a drawer. But, you see, here’s the thing: He never locked it.
So every time I lost my own ball — maybe because I had kicked it over a fence — I would sneak over to the oratory, wait for the priest to go upstairs, and then take a ball from his drawer.
When you grow up in Asti, you need a football at all times. Need it.
I used to play football on an asphalt pitch behind the church. Six-vs.-six. Each player had to pay 10 euros, I would beg, borrow, steal and save all week so I could afford my fee. The winning team would take all the money. I swear, everyone in Asti would come to the oratory to play: kids with money, kids with no money, tourists, locals, everyone. And it was a battle every week. If you got tackled you had to pretend it didn’t hurt so people wouldn’t pick on you. This is how I learned to play football.
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
This is where my journey started.
When you play football like that, you learn to play with hunger. You learn that football, like life, has ups and downs. Sometimes you score in the last minute of a game and win 60 euros for everyone. Sometimes you don’t. Nutmegging your opponent was almost as important as scoring a goal when you played on our field. When you grow up nutmegging people with money on the line, nutmegging Giorgio Chiellini in training doesn’t seem so scary.
I mean, that’s actually not totally true — it’s actually very, very scary. I still have a scar on my ankle from the last time I tried a trick play on Chiellini. He a bad man.
When I turn up to training now, I see a player like Paulo Dybala and think, Damn, this guy would kill at the oratory. I always think of the boys there — because that’s where this all began.
So, yes. Once, I was so desperate to play football that I used to steal from a priest.
And I thank God every day that I did.