Peru's star turn for West Ham

Aspiring young footballers coming through the ranks don't realise how easy they have it nowadays - or ar least compared to Nolberto Solano's rise to the top, writes James Randall.

As a teenager in his home country of Peru, the West Ham star, nicknamed Nobby, used to work for tips by collecting fares for his bus driver brother so that he could buy boots and travel to training. It is those experiences that have made him thankful for his priviledged position as a professional footballer plying a trade in the cash-rich Premier League.

"The clubs in South America just dont have the same money as teams over here," said Solano. He added: "The conditions are always very tough, very difficult. You have to play on very bad pitches and in bad conditions.
Sometimes the lads complain about the pitch, but I tell them compared with the pitches we used to play on in South America that they should be happy. When you move here, everything is perfect. You have to appreciate it - I'm very happy and very lucky to play here."

His present situation is a far cry from the early teenage years spent scrimping the pennies to progress a fledging career.

Solano added: "Sometimes my family could not afford to give me the money for a ticket to go to training, so at weekends I would help my brother. I would collect the coins before passengers left the bus. I was only 13 or 14 years old but I had a good time. My friends in South America say to me that when we (Peru) qualify for the World Cup, we will take the bus again."

Solano began his professional career with one of Peru's most popular clubs, Sporting Cristal, but left his homeland for Argentinian giants Boca Juniors in 1998. But, after just 11 months and 32 appearances, the Callao-born midfielder was lured to the big-time with a move to Newcastle, joining the Toon in 1998 as a 23-year-old.

Moving to a European club is commonplace for budding South American footballers, who realise they must make the life changing decision to progress their career to the next level. Solano himself, had no quarms with uprooting. He said: "In South America we sacrfice - the Brazilians, Uruguayans - it is not a big problem for them to move."

The many years of hard graft are now paying off for the former Newcastle and Aston Villa star, and it is something that the 33-year-old is particularly grateful for.

He said: "At home some people have to be at work at 7am but at West Ham, its 9.30am or 10.30am. I think we have one of the best professions in the world - I can't complain."