Today, Martin Braithwaite is one of the most exciting talents in international
football. But earning his first international contract in Toulouse,
Martin faced challenges that taught him a valuable lesson, and one he
always tells his fans:
Never. Give. Up.
Before making his dream a reality, Martin had to put this mantra to the test.
This is the story of Martin Braithwaite.
Brooklyn, New York. Esbjerg, Denmark
Born to Heidi, a Danish mother from a well-known local business family and father Keith, a tough, strong Afro-Caribbean by way of Brooklyn, New York, Martin started playing in his backyard in Esbjerg with his mom and dad whom both played football.
As a baby, Martin showed a natural flair for the game, and at two years old, Martin was featured in his first newspaper story titled "Her er lille Martin med sus i gummiskoene" -- Danish for Here's little Martin with fire in his shoes.
Growing up different
Unlike every other child in Esbjerg, Martin was of mixed ethnicities, something that would shape his upbringing.
"We would eat different foods, listen to reggae and wear different clothes," Martin says. "We were different. Until my sister Amalie was born, my dad, my uncle and me were the only of probably 20 black people in Esbjerg."
Martin started playing in local club SGI, a known talent breeder for Esbjerg's main club Esbjerg FB -- the same squad Martin would rule nearly 20 years later.
Pushed by an ambitious father, Martin quickly racked up medals in indoor and outdoor tournaments and developed the discipline necessary to face adversity.
"Most kids would like to win," Martin says. "I needed to win. The last thing I wanted was to disappoint my dad."
“It’s up to you now!”
Martin remembers one tournament, the Donald Duck championships, a big tournament for small players.
"We were up 1-0 but the other team scored in the closing minutes and it looked like they were going to beat us. So my dad yelled, 'It's up to you now!'"
Sure enough, Martin delivered a spectacular strike from midfield that cemented the game and the championship.
"And probably saved me from an ass whooping," Martin says, laughing. "My dad was tough. "
"In all seriousness, I think that drive, that desire comes from the fact that my father pushed me and I am so thankful that he did because it teaches you not to follow your human instinct when things are tough, which is to give up, but keep going. And that's what makes a winner."
However before all of this, Martin had already had his first big challenge in life.
The first contract
Showing his playmaking ability and versatility, Martin landed his first contract at 15 when he signed with FC Midtjylland, a top Danish club known for its acclaimed youth academy that bred young players into stars and sold them off to other European leagues at a pretty profit.
The intense Midtjylland training untapped a vital aspect of his game that he uses to terrorize defenses today.
"My speed," he says, which he inherited from his dad, an insanely fast athletics sprinter who likely would've made the Olympics, had he just capitalized on his talents.
"Martin was never a fast player when he was younger," his uncle says. "He couldn't even really jump when we would play basketball. But when I visited him at Midtjylland, it was like he turned into Usain Bolt."
After Spending a year at Midtjylland with a lot of injuries Martin went back to Esbjerg. Academy head coach and Esbjerg FB all time Top scorer Michael “mex” Pedersen had a clear plan for Martin. Being the future key player on the first Team.
But on the way Martin had a few challenges.
Former Esbjerg coach and fan favorite Ove Pedersen (an old school guy who would break players mentally, only to rebuild them) had returned to Esbjerg.
As was his style throughout his career, Pedersen brought his players of preference along, leaving the ones he didn’t believe in behind.
He didn't believe in Martin– despite top players marveling about Martin, publicly and privately.
He gave 18 year-old Martin his debut in fall 2009 in an away games against fc Copenhagen. Martin would spend one year not playing more than 5-10 minutes per match before having is debut as a starter.
"Life sometimes shows you different challenges, different things that you have to deal with," Martin says. "But you just have to keep going.
They may not have known what I could do, but I knew. And you know that eventually, your time will come."
NFL training camp
During winter breaks, while his teammates were on vacation, Martin would travel to the US, where close family friend Will Shields, 2015 NFL Hall Of Famer put him through a grueling, NFL-style training camp at his workout facility Inside 68.
"No wonder American athletes are so good," he says. "They put them through torture. But you see the results when they play. It made me realize how much harder I could push myself.
After a month of brutal training, Martin would return home more explosive, faster and stronger -- and a far cry from the clever, but not so fast midfielder from his youth. (Today, Martin is the fastest player in Denmark.)
Martin makes the squad
As Pedersen refused to build around Martin, Esbjerg continued to struggle in the league, which eventually led to Pedersen's dismissal. The replacement was Jess Thorup (assistant coach under Ove) and direct Martin saw the changement.
"He always pushed for me to play," Martin says. "As soon as he came back, I had a key role on the team."
Winning the Cup
He led Esbjerg to the Danish Cup for the first time since 1976, including scoring two goals against the heavily-favored Brøndby in the semifinals. In the final, Martin made the all-important assist that led to the 1-0 victory against long-time rivals Randers FC.
Following his impressive displays for Esbjerg in the 2013 Danish Superliga spring season and the Danish Cup he was called up to the Danish national squad in the summer of 2013.
"It's funny," Martin says. "When I couldn't get on the team, everyone, except for a few people who believed, suggested I should go to the lower leagues and play there."
"People were tough on him," father Keith says. "They said he wasn't good enough to get on Esbjerg's team. We always knew differently."
Setting sights abroad
"In the meantime, I continued to write down my goals, which most people thought were unrealistic, and write down names of clubs I wanted to play in when I reached a certain age," Martin says.
With the rapid success of Esbjerg – the team had the best record of 2013, fueled in large part by Martin’s momentum -- he was being rumored to be attracting the interest of a number of European clubs.
"Most people thought that it had happened quickly," Martin says.
"But in reality, for me it came slowly. There were some long seasons, some challenging moments, day in and day out, but even though most of the critics had their opinions about me, I knew all along in my heart that I was going to get sold to an foreign club in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues."
On Aug. 14 2013, while away on national duty for a friendly international against Poland, Braithwaite had been sold to French club Toulouse FC for an estimated DKK 15 mil (roughly € 2 mil).
Braithwaite started the match – only the 4th black person to represent Denmark, ever – and scored Denmark's second goal.
"Then it was right down to France," he says. "I then called my uncle in Florida, who shares the exact same philosophy as me, and I showed him an old notebook.
"In it were some of my goals, including clubs I would play for at a certain time. I had written it while we were struggling in First Division, after being demoted from the Superliga.
"In the book, I took a screenshot. It said "Toulouse FC."
"At the time, I had no idea," he says. "But that's where I ended up.
That's where I'm living my dream. It's the law of attraction, no doubt about it."
"I met my girlfriend shortly after coming to France, which was one the biggest changes in my life," he says. "She already had two young children, which made me mature much faster."
The 17th April 2015, Martin became a father to a young son Romeo Lion Braithwaite, something that changed him.
The 18th April in a game against Lorient, after a long night with no sleep, Martin scored a goal, which he dedicated to his son Romeo, who was born just a day before.
"Today I am healthy, I represent my country, I have a beautiful family and I'm living my dream," he says.
What's his secret?
Hard work is first, of course, he says, and you must be willing to make a lot of sacrifices.
The most important thing after that?
"It's simple. Believe, set goals and eliminate negative thoughts, influences and environments, and I promise you good things will happen automatically," Martin says. "In fact, I would be happy that my fans message me on social media with their goals and dreams. I would love to support them."
This 2016/17 season, I will be donating 1.000€ to charity for every goal I score.
Let's rally around a good cause. #Score2Help
Action Against Hunger works to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with sustainable access to safe water and long-term solutions to hunger.
SOSPrema helps premature and hospitalized babys. Don't hesitate to help the babys and their parents. Your "little" help will make a BIG difference.
Martin Braithwaite for Beinsports