Whenever he strides out to represent his country, Martin Braithwaite recalls his remarkable route to international football. Once, it was far from certain he’d even be able to walk, let alone become a successful footballer. “I’m grateful every day,” the 24-year-old told FourFourTwo in March 2016.
Braithwaite was football-mad from the start. A picture of him kicking a ball was captured by his local newspaper when he was just two years old. But at five, everything changed.
“I was told I had to go into a wheelchair,” the Dane explains. “I had something called Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, which means the rotation bone in the hip is soft. When the bone develops it can be deformed and you can have difficulties walking, so it cannot be put under any pressure by running around.
“It was really difficult. I was young and I didn’t understand why I had to be in a wheelchair. I was always trying to get out of it. I felt embarrassed. I needed people around me all the time to take care of me, like a baby. I couldn’t do the things that other kids did. All I wanted to do was just play football.”
Braithwaite was not told how long he’d be in a wheelchair; just that he had to wait. So he waited – waited for the day his bones would become strong enough to allow him to walk again, then kick a ball again.
“I was in the wheelchair for two years,” he says. “Before then, I’d played football all day every day. It was the only thing that mattered. I was just waiting for the doctor to say: ‘OK, now you can play football’. When that happened, it was like my life began again. I played for a team that weekend and was man of the match. Maybe it was just a charity thing, but it was still a wonderful feeling.”
From there, Braithwaite never looked back. He became a pro with Esbjerg, before making his debut for Denmark and moving to France to join Toulouse for €2m. Now, the forward of Guyanese descent has 37 caps for his country and seven goals.
Prior to his controversial move to Barcelona this month, the 28-year-old had become a mainstay in a Leganes team fighting relegation. The forward also enjoyed a spell in the north-east of England, joining Middlesbrough in 2017.
“Even when I was in a wheelchair I always had one goal: to be a great football player,” says Braithwaite. “I did not feel like I had to be careful when I started playing again, even though my parents told me that for a couple of years I was limping a lot.
“To be able to play football… I never forget it’s a gift. I hope my story shows that you can be in a bad situation but things can turn around. I didn’t stop believing in myself. I wanted to be a professional footballer. “It feels wonderful to have done that, but I have a lot of things I still want to achieve in my career. I want to do more.”
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