Mathias Ranegie has plied his trade in one of Europe’s biggest leagues in the last 18 months but just over a decade ago his future looked perilously bleak as he recovered from a drug habit which resulted in him stealing phones to pay for it.
Ranegie has previously admitted to taking cocaine, amphetamines, ecstasy and cannabis on a regular basis in his mid to late teens.
Being sent to Paris to live with his father for two years still didn’t stop the disenchanted youngster’s alcohol abuse and drug use but then his life changed when he started to attend a Christian rehabilitation centre.
Ranegie has turned his life around and whilst he no longer wants to talk about the problems, a few years ago he conducted a number of honest interviews in his native Sweden aimed at inspiring youngsters who are suffering the same pitfalls.
It is a past which he wants to forget and hopes his performances on the pitch will mean others will too. But his story is one which could provide inspiration to other disillusioned youngsters whose lives are heading in the wrong direction.
The giant striker grew up in the Majorna region of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, with his mother and brother, with his dad reportedly moving back to France when Ranegie was five.
Ranegie, who at 6ft 5in was always bigger than most, was a talented footballer as a child and attracted interest from several clubs in his mid teens.
But he is quoted as saying his focus was more on partying and girls and, after falling in with the wrong crowd, he reportedly started to smoke cannabis regularly as a 15-year-old, which led to him taking cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy.
Ranegie abused drugs regularly around the ages of 15 and 16 – as many of his friends were addicts – according to the interviews he held with Swedish newspapers Dagen and Expressen.
Eventually his parents sent him to Paris to live with his father at the age of 17 and he reportedly stopped taking most of the drugs but continued to smoke cannabis and would still drink heavily.
Things hadn’t improved completely when he returned to Sweden after two years in France but his life started to turn around considerably when he began attending a Christian rehabilitation centre called Linneahuset.
Ranegie rebelled at the start; he has been quoted as saying that he initially viewed the beliefs of the Christian workers as “naive” and the eight o’clock starts and bible study did not appeal to him.
He left on several occasions but always returned and he told Dagen that the fact the workers welcomed him back with open arms “inspired confidence” and said they “respected me for who I was”.
Things were going well in the summer of 2004 when he attended a Christian youth festival near Örebro, which was a few hours away from his home town Gothenburg.
But the high number of unknown people reportedly made Ranegie nervous and he wanted to go home before he was encouraged to stay by a friend.
That evening he attended a church service and it was there when, he told Dagen, “perhaps God saw his chance to touch Mathias” – in a moment he reportedly struggles to describe but one which changed his life.
Ranegie spent another six months at Linneahuset before he moved into his own house and started a family with his partner.
It was during his time at the Christian rehab centre when Ranegie fell in love with football again.
After a successful season at second division side Lärje-Angereds IF, he was bought by IFK Goteborg before the start of the 2007 campaign.
His new club went on to win the title but Ranegie only made five substitute appearances and was then limited to ten more outings the following campaign, netting one goal.
A brief loan spell at Go Ahead Eagles in Holland, where he scored one goal in five run-outs, was to follow before he was transferred to BK Hacken in 2009.
Ranegie was not prolific in his first season at the club, scoring six goals, but he was able to secure regular football as he appeared 31 times in all competitions.
But 33 goals in 61 appearances during the next two seasons at BK Hacken persuaded Malmo, who were competing in the Europa League at the time, to sign the giant striker.
Ranegie netted 16 times in 31 outings in all competitions which led to Udinese spending a reported £1.7m on the striker in the summer of 2012.
The 29-year-old has made four appearances for Udinese this campaign and played 26 times last season, scoring one goal – although only five of those were starts.
He has has been capped by Sweden three times and scored one goal. He started for his country against England last season, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four goals during the 4-2 win.
Swedish journalist Eric Neva told the Watford Observer: “Mathias is a player that has already come a long way. He had a really rough upbringing, and was suffering in life as a drug user in his late teens. Once straightened out, his talent quickly shone through.
“He was obviously a late bloomer, and had a lot of learning to do, but improved dramatically with every passing season.
“Having outgrown the modest Swedish league, he had a stab at both the national team and Serie A-football, but it pretty much proved a step too far.
“He’s a big and powerful striker that can do the traditional target man-task, but is blessed with decent feet and vision as well.
“He’ll probably never be a player of the highest international bracket, but a club of Watford’s size, traditions and ambitions might just be what he needs to shine.”