Making a Marko
West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic’s personal plea to youngsters tempted to take the wrong path in life
MARKO ARNAUTOVIC has seen the perils that befall hopeful young footballers first hand – which is why the recent spate of knife crime in Britain has caused him to step up and offer guidance.
Arnautovic may now be one of the stars of the Premier League as he captains the new era at West Ham, but the dangers of falling off the tracks as a teenager is still a topic close to his heart.
The 29-year-old grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Vienna, tight with a group of friends who were finding their own ways into adulthood.
For him, came riches as a result of his talents on the ball, for others came disappointment of not making the grade and even prison.
It is why he is using the Players’ Project community scheme established by West Ham to reach out to youngsters in the local areas around the club to help guide others away from trouble and into fulfilling their potential as people.
Arnautovic said: “When I was little, I didn’t always have the best time. I respected my family. My mother and father always looked after me well.
“But I was the kind of kid who was not listening a lot so for me it was school, after school it was training and after training straight in the park and the cage, playing street football in there with my boys and staying out late.
“It was never the case for me to go out to drink, to meet some people to stay out until 3 or 4am. For me it was always football. For those kids who love this sport and one day want to be like we are, just have fun, listen to your parents. Just following the road.
“It is not easy because all the kids want to be professional football players, it is not easy sometimes. It can be that you are very talented but you don’t have it. Maybe you are not mentally strong or you have some injuries. It is all coming together.
“I had a lot of friends who were also football players. Some of them ended up in prison. Some of them couldn’t play any more because they had injuries.
“I think of my group of friends, I am the only one who is a professional footballer. I am still with them. I still respect them because they are also part of my life.
“They are out now. They have families and jobs. It is not the time to talk about what they did. It was not a good thing.
“But it could have been me. It can happen to everyone. Like now, when you see the social media. That has changed a lot of things.
“People look at Instagram and say they want money, they want this, they want that. Then they start selling drugs and selling this and that.
“It shouldn’t be the target to sell drugs and to go the bad way.
“I think they take this way because it is easy. But you get hard punishment. You are playing with your life.
“Back in the day when I was young, when you had some problems you dealt with it with your hands. No-one had a knife.
“Now it has changed. I think there are a lot of mafia movies that show that maybe you are a tough guy when you put something in your pocket.
“But it is very dangerous. I just give advice to stay away from that, stay with your friends who are close to you.
“If one of those friends tries to change, talk to him. If he still tries to change, go away from him. It is not the right thing to go through the bad way.”
Arnautovic is putting his words into practice, using West Ham’s £3million Players’ Project initiative to work with youngsters in East London trying to help them make the right decisions in life.
Every member of the Hammers squad have chosen schemes in the community close to their hearts, from working with youngsters to providing company to lonely elderly people.
The Austrian added: “I think they have put me in the right group because I think I am an example of this. When I was little, I didn’t always have the best time.
“When I see those kids out there, how they play, how they train, how they look up to us it makes me feel happy.
“I just want to give advice to everyone to go the right way. It is important for me.”