Abandoned by his parents, Nani - real name Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha - was raised by a loving aunt in a crumbling one-bedroom home in a crime-ridden district of Lisbon.
Proud Antonia Almeida, 47, told the Sunday Mirror: "Nani grew up surrounded by hardship and suffering, but the fight for survival has made him the young man and player he is today."
His parents Maria and Domingos had emigrated from Cape Verde, a group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa.
Antonia said: "Nani's father left and a few years later his mother moved to Holland, and so I raised him as if he were one of my own children.
"For as long as I remember, he was always playing football.
"He would play for six or seven hours a day, anywhere and with anyone, pretending he was his hero Luis Figo. He even slept with his football in his bed. When he was eight he went to watch his older brother play at the local team, Real Sport Clube Massama, and couldn't resist kicking the ball himself.
"He dribbled the ball around some of the older lads. One of the coaches spotted his talent straight away and asked him to come back. Within a year he was signed up. And since then his life has been all about football.
"He told his friends if he worked hard enough he would play for Manchester United and they laughed at him.
"But he has proved everyone wrong by his hard work and determination.
"While others were getting involved in crime or drugs, Nani was training. He had to walk three miles a day to training and back again because we couldn't afford the money for the train.
"If he was late he had to take the train and dodge the fare. The police brought him home once and ticked him off for fare-dodging. But nothing would stop him playing football."
Nani's mother, Maria do Ceu Almeida, left Portugal to start a new life in Holland when her son was 12.
Antonia said: "The family background is complicated. But last year I took Nani to Cape Verde to meet his father for the first time since he walked out.
"It was a very emotional meeting. They are now back in contact with each other. And his mother Maria has moved back to Portugal and they're getting on well too."