Nelson Haedo Valdez has a decade worth of experience in the Bundesliga, he's played in two World Cups and scored huge goals for club and country. But the most amazing thing about him might be how he got to where he is.
Like any good legend, it's hard to actually confirm all of this stuff, but it's amazing. Here are some of the highlights of what we'll call his "origin story." (Most of these can be found in this Guardian story, but where applicable I tried to chase down the original source.)
Love for the national team runs deeps in Paraguay, as you might imagine. Following Paraguay's elimination from the 1998 World Cup, Valdez's mother was in tears. So the 14-year-old from a tiny village made a promise: He'd avenge that loss by scoring a goal of his own in the World Cup. Valdez never technically made good on that promise, but he did convert in the shootout that put Paraguay into the quarterfinals. He also had a goal ruled offside against Spain in the 1-0 quarterfinal loss.
Was basically homeless and verging on alcoholism as a teenager
Even after making that promise, Valdez had to convince his mother to let him leave home and pursue a professional career. Those early years consisted of him finding places to sleep in the stadium and drinking cane alcohol to help escape the cold. Of course, he never told his parents until he had "made it."
Once chased off thieves trying to steal his car
As the story goes, Valdez found some people trying to steal his Mercedes-Benz from outside his house. He got a shotgun and chased them off.
About a month after the car incident, Valdez returned to the same home to find it engulfed in flames. Although no people were in the house, the family's golden retriever was. Valdez ran into the house in an attempt to save the dog, but it was too late. The house was also destroyed.
Valdez may have left Paraguay long ago, but he's still giving back. Every month, he sends about $10,000 to his hometown and every Christmas he buys 1,500 gifts to distribute to the town's children.