Between the ages of five and seven, Braithwaite suffered from Legg-Calvé-Perthes, a hip disease that could have resulted in deformities in his thighbone.
“I remember feeling, how can you say … embarrassment … about being different. You didn’t want that kind of attention.”
Despite his physical limitations, Braithwaite was still dreaming. Dream of a future where he would welcome your attention, in a life as a professional footballer in one of the best clubs in the world.
A “journey to hell”
Braithwaite described what happened between then and now as a “journey into hell” that took him from a wheelchair to the arms of his teammate Lionel Messi over a period of 20 years.
There are many ways to explain Barcelona’s remarkable success in recent years, but a major one is La Masia, Barca’s youth academy that has produced some of the greatest players in the game’s history.
In 2010 Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta were the three finalists for the coveted Ballon D’Or Award. All three were products of the famous academy; It was an extraordinary and unprecedented achievement.
But it’s not the only way to get into the first team at Nou Camp Stadium. As Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann found out, dazzling appearances on the world stage will also attract the attention of the scouts of Barcelona.
In contrast, Braithwaite took a more unusual course through the backwaters of European football before the opportunity finally presented itself.
“Always wanted to be a football player,” said the 29-year-old Danish striker. “I’ve had nothing else on my mind since I was very young. I didn’t have a plan B. So if there isn’t a plan B, you won’t be distracted.”
In 2007, Braithwaite signed a youth deal with his hometown club in Denmark, Esbjerg, and added the Danish Cup to his résumé before advancing to French Ligue 1 with Toulouse.
That led him to England and second division Middlesbrough, where he struggled to make a difference.
This was followed by loan spells from another French club, Bordeaux, and then a La Liga minnow, Leganes. Braithwaite had permanently moved to Leganes when he received one of the most important calls of his life.
“I picked up my son from [football] practice and we go home and my agent called and he told me Barcelona are interested. He said they seemed really, really interested. ”
Braithwaite could barely contain his excitement, but more than a decade in professional play had prepared him to live up to his expectations.
“It felt great. But I know it in football [when] There’s interest, it doesn’t mean anything. There is still a long way to go before you sign the papers. “
What followed were an excruciating fortnight in which the conversations continued, but life had to go on as usual. In the meantime, he was training and playing for Leganes, doing his best to hide the negotiations from everyone, even his wife.
“I’m not a guy who keeps that many secrets. I really am an open book. My wife would feel like something is wrong because I’m hiding those calls.”
Eventually he felt confident enough to reveal what he was up to, but by this point the cat was already well out of the pocket.
“She just smiled and said, ‘I know what you’re going to tell me,'” Braithwaite recalls of his wife, who received messages on her phone about the transfer. “The surprise was spoiled a bit.”
Nevertheless, the importance of his performance for his family was not lost.
“It was a very emotional moment for both of us because I’ve been talking about it for a long time,” said Braithwaite. “And she’s seen all the sacrifices I have to make to get here.”
Talking to Braithwaite shows his unbridled positivity. As he meandered through European football, he never doubted that he could play for one of the great teams on the continent.
“You [Barcelona] I could see that I have the ability to play at a much higher level, “Braithwaite told CNN.
“They could also see that my game is what they needed. They told me that too, that I have the attitude to play with the pressure in a big club. If I look back now, it just shows that they are Were right. “
Braithwaite only played three games with the Catalans before the March 2020 pandemic stalled everything, and only twice did he play in front of large audiences at the club’s Camp Nou stadium.
But he got used to the team quickly and provided a couple of templates on his debut. Braithwaite was a regular that season and even scored a dramatic late winner to send Barca to the Spanish Cup final.
A team player
Since Suarez left for Atletico Madrid, Braithwaite has inherited the coveted ninth jersey number nine, previously worn by Brazilian star Ronaldo and Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o.
For many players, the Leganes move to Barcelona would have felt like a Herculean leap, but Braithwaite never saw it that way. He had always imagined what it would feel like.
“In Denmark we are a little more humble, more down to earth; we don’t dream too big,” said Braithwaite, the son of a Guyanese father and a Danish mother.
“My dad grew up in America; they dream a lot. And I think that’s the American side of me. I dream big and I want to take on the world.”
As well as helping Barca domestically, Braithwaite knows that he now has the opportunity to take his game to another level as he prepares to take part in the postponed European Championship with the Danish national team.
“I think surrounding yourself with high-performing people will only bring out the best in you. I’ve increased my performance and I’ve stepped to another level. I look at the little details of all the players around me. And it’s easy incredible. “
While Braithwaite is hoping Messi will stay at Barca – the Argentine star tried to leave late last season and could run when his contract expires this summer – the 29-year-old Dane plans to stay here and “win a lot of titles . “
He’s also busy outside of the field, working with his uncle and business partner Philip Michael after co-founding a real estate startup that aims to empower individuals and give back to the community.
Temple 1 is focused on “helping minority entrepreneurs develop business ideas, receive mentoring, be introduced to strategic partners,” and have the opportunity to attract investment.
Along with Michael, whom Braithwaite describes more as an older brother, they also founded NYCE companies “on a mission to reduce the wealth gap in the BIPOC community”.
BIPOC is an abbreviation for Black, Indigenous (and) People of Color.
“We want to educate people about financial freedom and the power they have,” says Braithwaite. “We have so many things
that’s what we want to do and always with the attitude to give something back. “
Braithwaite knows what it is to suffer and he felt an urge to help when he can. He remembers his time in a wheelchair and says, “When I see people in similar situations, I somehow know what they are going through and what they are feeling.”
So when he’s not setting goals for Lionel Messi and trying to win titles for Barca, Brathwaite is doing his part to help others achieve their goals in life, a team player both on and off the field.