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The side to footballers no one talks about

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Last Updated on 7 Jan 2022 6:27 pm (UK Time)

At the beginning of the new year comes resolutions that inspire people to give back to their communities and those less fortunate. With that in mind, it’s time to shed a light on the good things professional footballers do, rather than focus on their controversies and bank balances.

The modern-day footballer is lionized by fans, giving them untold fame and influence in society. Many players however come from humble backgrounds and yet, use their immense wealth to give back to their fans and communities by setting up foundations, donations, and other charitable efforts.

Unfortunately, and perhaps unfairly, due to the colossal paychecks, these players receive they are sometimes seen as greedy and spoilt and are often criticized for every mistake they make, on and off the pitch.

But not today. Today we are going to celebrate these individuals who spend their free time giving back to their communities, something we can all learn from.

The first footballer to commend and the inspiration for this article is Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. In 2020 Rashford became a household name across the country. Not for his footballing prowess though, but for his hand in the governments’ U-turn on free school meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The English winger wrote an open letter to MP’s, urging the government to reverse their decision to not give free school meals vouchers to 1.7 million children who needed it.

The government initially rejected a possible reversal on their stance, but Rashford’s perseverance combined with support from MP’s and celebrities forced a change in policy.

Rashford spoke about how the government’s one-eighty should be commended after their guarantee to deliver an additional £170m of funding.

“There is still so much more to do, and my immediate concern is the approximate 1.7 million children who miss out on free school meals”, Rashford told British media.

“But the intent the Government have shown today is nothing but positive and they should be recognised for that.

“The steps made will improve the lives of near 1.7 million children in the UK over the next 12 months, and that can only be celebrated.”

Rashford’s compassion was not the only good deed we saw over the COVID-19 lockdown. Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha has also used his influence and wealth to help front-line NHS workers.  

During the pandemic, Zaha offered free housing for doctors and medical staff working for the NHS through his firm ZoProperties. Along with co-owner and close friend, Obi Williams, the two offered up to 50 apartments for front-line workers across the capital.

Talking to the Evening Standard Williams said: “I’ve seen things on the news, I have friends who have family members who work in the NHS and my son was born in an NHS hospital and they were just amazing.

“If there is anything we can do to help obviously we would do it. Now it is time to stand up for everybody, anyone who can help it is time to stand up.”

This isn’t the first charitable deed from the South London player, in fact, the Ivorian international has been doing similar acts throughout his entire career.

As reported by Sky Sports back in 2014, Zaha donates 10% of his salary per month to various charities in both the UK and the Ivory Coast, with the majority going to his sister’s orphanage, Tomorrow’s Hope.

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Zaha has followed the footsteps of fellow Ivorian Didier Drogba, whose philanthropic missions have led to his appointment of Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program back in 2009.

This appointment is the result of Drogba’s hand in the Ivory Coast civil war’s ceasefire in the mid-’00s. After the Ivory Coast’s win over Sudan which saw them qualify for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba made a televised speech in the dressing room, pleading for the war to stop.

“Men and women of Ivory Coast, from north, south, centre, and west, we proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared aim – to qualify for the world cup…

“The one country in Africa with so many riches must not descend into war. Please lay down your weapons and hold elections.”

Chelsea’s former striker has continued to do good since. In 2020 he received the UEFA’s President’s Award for his continued charity work which is now looking to move into football administration.

Additionally, former Arsenal and Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil has also been involved with many charitable projects including being an ambassador for the Rays of Sunshine children’s charity. The organisation has worked to improve the lives of up to 80,000 children living with a serious or life-limiting illness.

On his wedding day he promised to finance 1,000 operations for underprivileged children around the world, what’s more, he pledged to feed 100,000 homeless people at 16 refugee camps and shelters throughout Turkey and Syria.

There are many more footballers who use their platform and influence to raise awareness and money for charities across the globe, breaking the former adage that footballers are selfish, flashy narcissists.

Hopefully, their continued work will encourage more professionals and aspiring footballers to use their power and platform for good.

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