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Football News: Legends Of The Game Part 9: Eusebio

Legends Of The Game Part 9: Eusebio
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Eusebio 'Black Panther' 'Black Pearl' 'O Rei (The King)'

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To read the player profile on Eusebio click here.

 

Life in Portugese Mozambique was harsh, especially for the indigenous population as Portugal was a brutal overlord. In Lourenco Marques (now Maputo) the local population were forcibly evicted from the town centre and forced to struggle to eke out an existence in shanty towns. Protest was put down with violence, protestors were often gunned down indiscriminately. It was there in 1942 that a young Eusebio da Silva Ferreira was born to Elissa Anissabeni, an indigenous woman, and Laurindo Antonio de Silva Ferreira, a white railroad worker originally from Angola.

Sadly Laurindo passed away from tetanus when Eusebio was just eight years old and he began to skip school to play football, barefoot on improvised pitches with balls made from socks stuffed with newspapers rolled into spheres. As they got a bit older they formed a team that they named Os Brasileiros (The Brazilians) in honour of the great Brazilian team of the 1950s. They would even play under the names of their favourite players in those teams.

The local team he supported was Grupo Desportivo de Lourenco de Marques (GDLM), a feeder team for Benfica and he tried to sign for their youth team. Despite a recommendation they should take him on from their defender Hilario, GDLM would not even grant him a trial. Instead he signed for local rivals Sporting Clube de Lourenco Marques (SCLM), who were a feeder club for Sporting CP, in 1957. Not long after joining them he was offered a deal by Juventus, but his mother rejected it.

"When I was 15, Juventus of Italy wanted to hire me, because one of their scouts, who had been a famous Italian goalkeeper for them, saw me and told them that there was a boy with a potential, that it would be good to take advantage while I was still unknown. Juventus proposed but my mum never wanted to hear anything from anyone." - Eusebio

He gradually began to step up from the youth team to the first team on a more and more regular basis over the next two years and in 1960 helped SCLM to the Campeonato Provincial de Mocambique and Campeonato Distrital de Lourenco Marques. After winning the title SCLM faced a touring Brazilian side called Ferroviara, managed by Jose Carlos Bauer. Bauer was in awe as the teenager scored two against his side, but the funding was not available for his team to sign Eusebio. Ferroviara then jetted off to Portugal for the next leg of their tour.

There Bauer was waxing lyrical to his former coach Bela Guttmann about this kid he had seen in Mozambique. A Lisbon barber shop was the setting as Bauer told Guttmann, who was head coach of Benfica at the time, all about the teenager who tore his team apart and had incredible pace. Eusebio could run the 100m sprint in under 11 seconds, he was fast by today's standards, let alone the standard of his time. Guttmann was so impressed by Bauer's talk that he decided to fly to Mozambique to sign the youngster.

Eusebio was already known to Benfica's bitter rivals Sporting Clube de Portugal, whose feeder team he played for. His friend and former teammate Hilario's first move on joining Sporting was to ask the president to sign Eusebio. Instead they offered the youngster a trial, Hilario recalled later: "Eusebio said no. I'm not going to have a trial because I'm better than the best player at Sporting." Guttmann would not make the same mistake and he set out to persuade Eusebio's family that Benfica was the place for him to play.

Eusebio remembered later: "I used to play in Sporting's feeder club in Mozambique. Benfica wanted to pay me in a contract to go into the first team, while Sporting wanted to take me as a junior player for experience with no monetary reward. Benfica made a nice approach. They went to speak to my mum, my brother, and offered 1,000euros for 3 years. My brother asked for double and they paid it. They signed the contract with my mother and she got the money." Benfica paid 350,000 Portugese escudos for the 18 year old, but Sporting contested the legality of the contract, as Eusebio was with their feeder team.

Genuinely fearing that Sporting might kidnap their new superstar, on Eusebio's arrival in Lisbon on 17 Dec 1960, he was taken straight out to the Algarve under the codename 'Ruth Malosso'. Three bodyguards accompanied him constantly while he stayed in Lagos and Eusebio began to wonder if he was making a big mistake. The youngster just wanted to play football and seriously considered returning to Mozambique but his mother convinced him to stick it out.

Eventually Eusebio was able to return to Portugal and Benfica finally registered him as a player in May 1961. A few days later, on the 23rd May, he made his debut for Benfica in a 4-2 win over Atletico Clube de Portugal in a friendly, with Eusebio notching three of the goals. His competitive debut came on 1st June 1961, as Benfica were forced by the Portugese Football Federation to play a Taca da Portugal (the equivalent of the English FA Cup) tie the day after Benfica were set to face Barcelona in the European Cup final. With Benfica being unable to postpone the game, and the first team en route home from Bern, they put a reserve team out. Vitoria Setubal won 4-1, but Eusebio scored the goal and missed a penalty, one of only 5 penalties he was to miss in his entire professional career. It meant Benfica were out of the Taca 5-4 on aggregate.

Just over a week later he made his league debut, scoring one in a 4-0 win over Belenenses. Five days later Eusebio announced himself on the world stage as Benfica faced Pele's Santos in the final of the invitational Tournoi de Paris. Santos strolled into a 4-0 lead so Eusebio was brought off the bench early in the second half. His arrival could not stop Santos from adding a fifth quickly afterwards but Eusebio turned in a performance of the highest quality, scoring a hat-trick and winning a penalty which Jose Augusto failed to convert as Santos won 6-3.

Eusebio had overshadowed even the great Pele, who had scored two of Santos's goals and Pele said after the match: "Who's that black guy that scored three goals in 20 minutes? He'll be some player." L'Equipe's cover the following day was headlined 'Eusebio 3, Pele 2'. The following season he built on that early success with 12 goals in his 17 league matches, two more goals as Benfica got revenge over Vitoria Setubal in the Taca de Portugal final, a Portugal debut goal against Luxembourg and a run to the European Cup final to face the might of Real Madrid, with Eusebio's childhood idol Alfredo Di Stefano in their team.

The European Cup final turned him into a legend as he picked up the ball on the halfway line with the score at 3-3 and skipped past a challenge from his childhood hero, on into the box and was brought down by Pachin to earn a penalty which he duly converted. A later free kick just outside the box was passed to Eusebio, 30 yards from goal, and he smashed it into the bottom corner to complete a 5-3 win over the legendary Madrid. At the final whistle Benfica fans invaded the pitch to carry Eusebio off on their shoulders while Di Stefano himself asked the youngster to swap shirts with him.

It had been his first full season as a professional and he ended with a Portugese Cup and European Cup. Eusebio very nearly made it yet another hat-trick when he came second in the voting for the Ballon d'Or. The Panther already stood out due to his incredible pace, power, technique, dribbling skill and a rocket of a shot. In many ways Eusebio was a modern day footballer, with an athleticism that stands comparable to those in this era with all its advantages of diet and scientific training regimes.

Eusebio continued to impress all who saw him and was the top scorer in the Portugese league in 1964, 1965 and 1966, as well as European Cup top scorer in 1964/65 and 1965/66. He was selected for FIFA's team in the "Golden Anniversary" of the English Football Association at Wembley in 1963. 1965 was a particularly big year for him as he, on top of top scorers titles, got married and won the Ballon d'Or. So it was that he went into the 1966 World Cup in England as an established international, having made his scoring debut in 1961, and Europe's best player.

It was an underwhelming start for Eusebio against Hungary, but the Portugese won the game 3-1 anyway and moved on to face Bulgaria, who they beat with Eusebio opening his World Cup account. Then it was the game everyone was waiting for, Brazil versus their former colonial masters Portugal, Pele against Eusebio. It failed to live up to its billing as the Portugese defence hacked Pele down at every opportunity, kicking him so hard and often that Brazil were forced to take off their talisman for his own safety. Meanwhile Eusebio was running riot at the other end, hitting 17 shots and scoring twice as Portugal ran out 3-1 winners to progress to the quarter finals.

There they faced surprise package North Korea, who had eliminated a strong Italy side in the group stages. Once again the Koreans caused a stir as they took a 3-0 lead in the first 25 minutes of the game. Unfortunately for Korea, Eusebio then stepped up and turned the game on its head, scoring two goals before half-time, then completing his hat-trick early in the second half to tie the game. A run from his own penalty area ended in a penalty, as Eusebio was brought down by two North Korean players. Eusebio stepped up to convert and make it 4-3 and eventually Portugal added a fifth goal to win 5-3 and earn a crack at England in a game scheduled for Goodison Park.

A late change was made to move the game to Wembley, which meant Portugal needed a last-minute train trip from Liverpool to London ahead of the game. The result was a 2-1 win for England, with the Portugese goalscorer, of course, Eusebio with a penalty, ending Gordon Banks' run of 7 clean sheets in a row. Eusebio walked off the pitch in tears and that led to the game being known as 'Jogo das Lagrimas' (Game of Tears) in Portugal. Another goal in the third place play-off against Russia, which Portugal won 2-1, meant Eusebio received the Bronze Ball for being World Cup top scorer with nine goals. It made him the first and only player to be European Cup and World Cup top scorer in the same season. His performances were so impressive that a Eusebio waxwork was immediately added to Madame Tussaud's and he won the BBC overseas Sports Personality of the Year award for 1966.

Inter Milan then came in for him, agreeing a $3m contract with Eusebio that would have paid him as much a month as he had earned in three years at Benfica (he was paid much less than white teammates there despite being by far and away their best player). Portugal's dictator Antonio Salazar was aghast when he found out and immediately blocked the transfer, issuing a decree that Eusebio "was an asset to the state" and telling Eusebio: "No, you're part of the patrimony of Portugal - you can't leave." Eusebio later described Salazar as "slavemaster" of himself and Portugal.

"With Eusebio in the side, we could win the European Cup. Without him, we couldn't even win the Portugese league." - Antonio Simoes

That season he was once again Portugese top scorer, the following season he won the first-ever European Golden Boot as the top scorer in the European Cup and Portugese League, with 42 goals in the Portugese League alone. Though that season he is probably better remembered, at least in England, for being in the Benfica side that Manchester United beat 4-1 in the European Cup final. His sportsmanship shone through in that match as, with scores level at 1-1 in the dying seconds of normal time Alex Stepney saved a certain match winning goal from Eusebio and the Portugese star stopped to applaud him.

Once again an Italian giant stepped in to try and sign the great striker, offering £200,000 for him, but Salazar then made him do three years military service in the anti-aircraft artillery! In fact it took a revolution, the Carnation Revolution, to depose Salazar in 1974 before Eusebio was given freedom to move. By then he had been top scorer in the Portugese Primeira Liga a record seven times, and had won the league eleven times, five Portugese cups, one European Cup and two European Golden Boots. The second Golden Boot coming in 1973. Eusebio had been with Benfica for 15 seasons, scoring 473 goals in 440 competitive matches, unsurprisingly he is still their all-time highest goalscorer. Eusebio also had 48 goals in the European Cup, the second highest of the pre-Champions League era behind Alfredo di Stefano.

It was time for the great man to finally reap some financial rewards from the game, after years of being paid much less than teammates who could consider themselves fortunate to even be on the same pitch as Eusebio. With Salazar out of power, he headed off to the USA to join Pele in the NASL, with the Boston Minutemen. There his earnings increased to four times the amount he earnt back in Portugal, despite his knee problems.

Those injury problems limited him to just seven appearances in his season with the Minutemen, but one of those was against Pele's New York Cosmos. The NASL were completely unprepared for the reaction to that match up, as they decided to hold the game in a 12,500 capacity college ground called Nickerson Field. Boston's usual gate was around 4,000, but they did not usually host Eusebio and Pele on the same pitch. 18,000 tickets were sold for the game and there was no parking spaces left within a mile of the ground two hours before the game was due to kick-off. With an hour left to go before it started, the ground was so full that supporters had spilled out onto the pitch surroundings and were standing 6 deep behind the touchlines!

With just 12 minutes left to play Eusebio stepped up to score a free kick, despite his dodgy knees and several groups of fans invaded the pitch to hug him. When order was restored and the game restarted, Pele almost immediately scored an equaliser and hundreds of fans swarmed onto the pitch from all four sides of the ground. The celebrations were so wild, none had yet noticed that the goal had been disallowed. Pele's bodyguards rescued him from the crowd but neither he nor Eusebio returned to play when it restarted. Cosmos managed to get an equaliser, even without their Brazilian superstar, but draws were not allowed in the NASL so extra time was added on and Boston ran out 2-1 winners.

Cosmos refused to accept the result, demanding it be overturned as Pele was given no protection. They then threatened to withdraw Pele from all future NASL matches. NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam upheld their appeal, rather than lose the face of the league, and ordered a replay. Neither Pele nor Eusebio were fit to play the game and Boston ran out comfortable 5-1 winners.

Over the next few years, Eusebio moved around from team to team, winning the 1976 Soccer Bowl with Toronto Metro-Croatia and ending his playing career in indoor football with the Buffalo Stallions in 1980. Six operations on the same knee had left him with a permanent limp. After his retirement he was part of the technical committee of Portugal's national team up until his death at home in 2014 aged 71. Three days of national mourning were declared by the Portugese government and he was interred in their National Pantheon, the first footballer to receive that honour.

Unlike Pele, who his life story seems to be inexplicably entwined with, Eusebio managed to avoid controversy throughout his life. He walked a difficult path as he, in his own words, "represented Africa and Portugal", unable to talk freely about ongoing events, such as Mozambique's armed struggle for independence. Perhaps that was by choice though, as he did make it clear during his life that he did not like his "Black Panther" nickname. Not because of the Marvel comics superhero, who only appeared in 1966 anyway, after Eusebio had gained the nickname, but because of the American Black Panther movement and its radical ideology.

He was known for his sportsmanship, but also his ability to not let any mistreatment get to him and affect his game. Eusebio's knee injuries were caused by the treatment he received from defenders, but he would just keep going, and scoring, no matter how much they kicked him. Even abuse would not stop him: "I told Coluna, our captain, that I wanted to take it. He agreed. I put the ball down and Real's goalie Araquistan began to call me, in Spanish: little negro, bitch, faggot. I asked Coluna what it all meant. He told me, 'Just shoot and I'll tell you later'. I shot and I scored. At the end of the game, Araquistan spoke to Coluna. Then he came to me to apologize. Only then did Coluna translate the ugly words for me."

Even when the pain of his knee problems saw him drink heavily in retirement, it was unheard of for him to be involved in drunken scenes. Instead he took to sleeping in late. Perhaps that is why Eusebio is so often overlooked when there are conversations over who is the greatest footballer of all time, as he was not getting his name in the newspapers each week. At least he is overlooked by most, but certainly not the legendary Alfredo di Stefano, who once said: "For me Eusebio will always be the best player of all time."

 

Suggested by Tris79

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For the previous Legend of the Game article on Gordon Banks click HERE

Written by Tris Burke April 27 2021 11:30:57

 

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