Larbi was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1914. He learned the game on the streets and played for a series of neighbourhood teams.
In 1930, he joined Second Division side Idéal, before moving on to the more prestigious US Marocaine (USM), helping them win both the local championship and the North African Cup in 1937/38.
Following his performance for Morocco against a France ‘B’ team in April 1937, he signed for Olympique Marseille in 1938 on a contract worth 50 times more than his wage as a cleaner at a gas company.
Benbarek made an immediate impression in France. He scored twice on his league debut and, within four months, as a French citizen, had been selected to represent Les Bleus' national team.
During his first match, a 1-0 defeat to world champions Italy in Naples, he lined up alongside another colonial-born black Frenchman, Senegalese-educated central defender Raoul Digne.
In January 1939, he scored a hat-trick against Poland. Returning to Morocco during the Second World War, Benbarek helped USM win four league titles and another North African Cup.
Benbarek was a star in Spanish football.
He resumed his professional career in 1946 at Paris club Stade Français, scoring 43 goals in 87 appearances, before moving for a then record-breaking 1M pesetas to Atlético Madrid in 1948.
Benbarek scored 56 goals in 113 matches in La Liga. With the help of legendary Argentine coach Helenio Herrera, he inspired Atlético to successive league titles in 1949/50 and 1950/51.
A second spell at Marseille followed, after which Benbarek returned to Morocco as a player and then a manager. He was the first coach of the independent Moroccan national team in 1957.
Benbarek has become an iconic figure in French, Spanish and Moroccan football and was one of the first players to migrate from Africa to Europe specifically to play football.
In Spain, he gained the nickname ‘The Foot of God’. Pelé famously stated: ‘If I am the king of football, then Larbi Benbarek is the God of it’.
Benbarek’s pioneering status in Morocco was acknowledged when the Stade Philippe in Casablanca was renamed Stade Larbi Benbarek.
Unfortunately, Benbarek had fallen on hard times when he died in Casablanca in 1992. Six years later, he was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit, the world governing body’s highest honour.
For several seasons, Leicester City Football Club has worked with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture on various heritage projects. This season, staff and students at the Centre will feature those players who were pioneers that contributed to the growth and development of the game.
For more information about sports history at DMU please click HERE.
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