Football's Pioneers: Eusébio

This season, De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture has explored pioneers who contributed to the growth and development of football on Today, Professor Matt Taylor looks at the career of one of the game’s all-time great players, Eusébio.
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Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (1942-2014) was one of the world’s greatest players and among the first African-born footballers to become a global star. Born in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo) in Mozambique, he first came to prominence with local side Sporting. He impressed José Carlos Bauer, a former member of the Brazilian national team and coach of Ferroviária, during the Brazilian club’s tour of Mozambique. Bauer in turn recommended Eusébio to Bela Guttmann, the Hungarian coach of Benfica. Because Sporting de Lourenço Marques was a feeder club for Benfica’s Lisbon rivals Sporting, his transfer was initially disputed.     

Benfica were already one of Europe’s best sides when Eusébio joined in 1961. He joined a star team featuring striker José Aguas, winger José Augusto, goalkeeper Costa Pereira and midfielder and fellow Mozambique import Mário Coluna. With Eusébio scoring twice, Benfica defeated Real Madrid 5-3 in 1962 to bring home its second consecutive European Cup title. They were runners-up on three more occasions during the 1960s, including a 4-1 defeat against Manchester United at Wembley in 1968.

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Eusébio became an icon at Benfica between 1961 and 1975.

Eusébio was the lynchpin of Benfica during its most successful era. Between 1961 and 1975, he helped the club lift 11 league titles and five national cups alongside its European success. His goalscoring record was phenomenal. He found the net 470 times in 440 official matches for Benfica, including 317 league goals. He also scored 48 goals in European Cup matches, the second-highest of the pre-UEFA Champions League era behind Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stéfano.

Eusébio was also at the heart of Portugal’s legendary diverse team of the 1960s. In total, he scored 41 goals in 64 international matches, including nine at the 1966 World Cup in England, where he won the Golden Boot. At the end of the 2-1 semi-final defeat against England, Eusébio was distraught and in tears. The squad’s exit in what was its first World Cup finals appearance became a significant moment in Portuguese football history, widely remembered as the ‘Game of Tears’.

A quick, technical and intelligent footballer with an explosive shot, Eusébio has also been remembered for his sportsmanship. When he died in January 2014, his statue outside Benfica’s Estádio da Luz was transformed into an impromptu shrine adorned with flags and shirts. He was later laid to rest alongside notable Portuguese personalities at the National Pantheon in Lisbon. He was also an idol in Mozambique, and remains a unifying figure in both his home and adopted nation.

For more information about sports history at DMU, click HERE.

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