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Roots: Charles Renken and Homemade Soccer Balls

Justin Rodriguez at ESPN introduces us to Charles Renken, a talented 14 year old soccer player and immigrant from Africa to the U.S., who is already garnering attention from the top European leagues. The story of how Charles Bimbe was adopted by the Renken family of Illinois is inspiring.

Let's do him a favor and not call him the next Freddy Adu, since he clearly has his own unique boatload of promise as a U.S.-based soccer player. To FC Earth he is also symbolic of the unique global culture of the game. Rodriguez talks about the crude plastic balls Renken (then Charles Bimbe) and his friends made out of plastic found in the streets so they could play barefoot ball, growing up in the impoverished African nation of Zambia. How Renken, now living with U.S. U-17 National team in Bradenton, Flordia, still gets emotional when thinking about those early barefoot playing days.

A friend of mine who grew up in Brazil once told me a similar story; he grew up relatively humbly in Brazil, and in order to play the sport at which Brazil is known worldwide for its artistry and excellence, they would scrounge up socks, wad them up into a makeshift ball, and play.

I can't relate at all, although growing up I often rescued soccer balls from the trashcans at suburban soccer complexes and tried to patch them up; it seemed such a waste to toss them. Stories like these- about the efforts youth go to just to make a ball, the only piece of gear you need to play, are among the cultural inspirations behind FC Earth.

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