NANI has revealed how his astonishing football journey began in starvation among RATS in a leaking one-bedroom house with NINE family members.
Growing up in the slums of Amadora, just outside Portugal’s capital Lisbon, was a living hell for the former Manchester United winger.
Nani’s dad had gone to Cape Verde, leaving his mum to bring up him, his four brothers and four sisters on her own.
The Portuguese superstar, 33, revealed: “We had nothing to eat, we were fighting for our lives.
“The house had a floor full of holes crawling with rats and lizards. Eventually they became normal for us. When you are a kid, it’s amazing what you can adapt to.
“But the one thing you can never get used to is hunger.
“Your stomach is screaming, the pain is so great you wonder whether something is cutting into your skin. I had that feeling a lot.”
In the adjoining neighbourhood “a lot of bad stuff happened” — with rumours people had been shot.
However, Nani’s fortunes began to change after he turned ten and his older brother, Paulo Roberto, persuaded him to beg for food on the rich streets of Lisbon.
There, he was given bread, biscuits, soup and free freshly baked pizza “because we chose not to steal, we asked, we were honest”.
In an emotional interview with The Players’ Tribune, the former Old Trafford idol said: “Oh, that pizza. If you’ve never known true hunger, you might think I am exaggerating. But I can still taste that pizza.”
The owner of the restaurant introduced Paulo to a professional footballer, who arranged a trial for him at Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon – but he turned up a month late.
It was that moment Nani, who now plays for MLS side Orlando City, “realised God had chosen me to support the family by becoming a footballer”.
He added: “All my brothers lacked discipline, dedication, positivity. But I had all of this.”
Nani always loved football, running all the way to his first-ever training session aged seven because he had no money for the train.
He turned up in just a pair of running shorts.
But when he started playing on the gravel pitch, the other kids were in awe. Soon his coaches started giving him money for train tickets and food, while team-mates gave him clothes.
At 16, he was training with Portugal’s two biggest clubs — Benfica and Sporting Lisbon — before finally signing for Sporting in the summer of 2003.
Four years later, after putting on muscle, he completed his £23million move to United where he went on to win silverware — including FOUR Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy in 2008.
He initially moved into a plush pad with his countryman Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazilian Anderson.
Nani added: “What a time it was. We had so much fun.
“Cristiano had a swimming pool, a ping-pong table, a tennis court and every day we would compete at something. After that I moved into my own house.
“Some of my family members stayed with me at the start but when they left, it was a very difficult time for me.
“When it got dark, I didn’t dare to get out of bed.
“If I was hungry, I would never go downstairs to the kitchen — I’d wait until the next day.
“I’m still not sure why. I just know I was scared as hell.
“The training at Manchester United was frightening, too. The level was so high.
“I knew I had to learn quickly. But God put the right people in my path.
“Manager Sir Alex Ferguson was like a father to me.
“Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs gave me so much good advice and Patrice Evra was like a brother.
“You see people go from having nothing to having everything and they become different people and lose their way.
“I have always told myself: ‘The day you forget who you really are, you’re done’.
“So, in a way, I am still that kid who slept with rats and lizards. I am still that boy who knocked on people’s doors asking for food.”
For the full interview, visit theplayerstribune.com