Mário Coluna

Football's Pioneers: Mário Coluna

As part of Leicester City Football Club's partnership with De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, Dr. Andrew Dawes focuses on the career of Mozambique-born Mário Coluna, a star for Benfica and Portugal in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Arriving in Portugal from Mozambique six years ahead of Eusébio, Coluna signed for Benfica as a 19-year-old in 1954 after impressing for Desportivo de Lourenco Marques in his homeland.

He was soon called up for the first team and scored twice on his debut. Although he began his career at Benfica as a striker, he was quickly dropped into midfield, where he was better suited because of his power, skill and creativity.

He made the first of his 57 Portuguese appearances in May 1955 and became known as ‘The Sacred Monster’.

European glory came to Benfica after the Hungarian coach, Bela Guttmann, arrived in 1959, with Eusébio following a year later.

Eusebio’s mother asked Coluna to look after her son and a special relationship soon developed. Benfica won the European Cup in 1961 with Coluna drilling a stunning long-range volley into the bottom corner of the net.

Twelve months later, Coluna scored with another long-range shot as Benfica lifted the European Cup again with a 5-3 victory over Real Madrid.

In this game, Coluna accepted a polite request from Eusébio to take the penalty which put Benfica 4-3 ahead. The well-renowned Guttmann said later that Coluna became his best player at the club.

European Cup success then eluded Benfica after Guttmann left the club in 1962 as they lost in the finals of 1963, 1965 and 1968. However, Benfica did win 10 Portuguese championships and seven Portuguese cups during Coluna’s 16 years at the club.

Despite an African side not being a part of the 1966 World Cup in England, due to a dispute emanating from the quota of sides they’d been allowed, Africa was well represented in the Portugal team.

Alongside captain Coluna and Eusébio from Mozambique, another Portuguese colony, Angola, was represented by Hilário and Vicente Lucas.

After leaving Benfica in 1970, Coluna played for one season in Lyon before coaching in Portugal and Mozambique. After Mozambique gained independence in 1975, he became president of the National Football Federation and then sports minister.

When Eusébio died in 2014, Coluna stated movingly in his eulogy: “Eusebio was like a son to me, I will always be biased when it comes to talking about him.”

Coluna then passed away himself through illness two months later, leaving Mozambique to mourn the loss of two of its greats within a short period of time.

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