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bundesliga

Bundesliga's Common Ground campaign: Ze Roberto in the Favelas of Brazil

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As part of its Common Ground campaign, the Bundesliga is refurbishing football pitches all over the world, from the heart of Mexico City to the streets of Jakarta, from the Favelas in Rio de Janeiro to the high-risers of New York City.

Bundesliga legend Ze Roberto takes us on a journey to the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro to show how Common Ground is providing children with invaluable opportunities.

“My childhood in Brazil was very difficult,” says the former Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Hamburg winger, who fulfilled his childhood dream by representing his country 84 times. He grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sao Paulo, in a poor area similar to many scattered around Brazil’s largest cities.

Ze Roberto was part of a Bayern Munich side which won back-to-back Bundesliga and DFB Cup doubles in 2005 and 2006. - Johannes Simon/Bongarts/Getty Images

His father and mother would work all day to try to make ends meet and provide a roof over the head of Ze Roberto and his three brothers. The four children would go to school and spend the rest of the time kicking a ball around in the street – a story familiar to many in South America.

“I had two options, a ball or a weapon: I chose a ball,” says Paulo Cezar Bento, who runs a football project in Rio. “In the Favelas, kids have two routes: the easiest one, which can see you end up in a wheelchair, in jail or in the cemetery. The other is the hardest way, obeying the law, going to school and choosing sports, which is fun. This is the most difficult path, but it’s the path that leads to longevity.”

Bento’s father was a drug trafficker and he grew up in those surroundings, so it would have been an easy choice to follow the first route. But after his mother passed away, his carer convinced him to follow the second, more challenging path. “I was the first member of my family to get a higher education,” Bento adds.

Watch: Common Ground project refurbishing pitches across the globe

“The ball is the greatest love of my life; the ball led me down the right path. I don’t think I would be here today if I hadn’t picked the ball.”

Now, as a coach in the suburb of Vidigal, and with the aid of the Bundesliga’s Common Ground campaign which has renovated a playing surface, he is convincing countless other kids to take the same option. Rather than kicking a ball around a street, or pot-holed cement parks, they now have a shiny new smooth surface to play on to their heart’s content.

“I’m very happy to be part of this project,” says Ze Roberto. “The transformation’s a real opportunity to keep them off the streets. It can help children and encourage them to chase their dreams.”

Read: Common Ground project in Berlin