Portuguese legend and the greatest African born footballer, Eusebio, died of cardiac arrest on Sunday at the age of 71 (read the Guardian's full obituary here). It's a shame that it takes the death of a great person to prompt remembrances of their brilliance, but the mark Eusebio has left both as a footballer and a person is indelible.
Since he played long before the YouTube era, there aren't as many reminders of his talents readily available on the internet as there are for even the most average players of today. So footage of Eusebio baffling defenders and placing shots wherever he pleased is something to cherish. Here's a starter...
Eusebio won the European Cup with Benfica in 1962. He scored the final two goals in a three minute span to beat Real Madrid 5-3 in the final. He won the Ballon d'Or in 1965 and led Portugal to their best ever finish in the World Cup, scoring a tournament high nine goals in 1966. After 15 years with Benfica, he went on to play for three NASL teams — Boston Minutemen (where he has a bronze statue outside Gillette Stadium), Toronto Metros-Croatia, and Las Vegas Quicksilvers — a Mexican side (Monterrey) and finally indoor club New Jersey Americans before retiring in 1979. His career overlapped with that of Pele and ended just as Maradona was emerging, but in Portugal, he was and still is "O Rei" (The King).
When Cristiano Ronaldo surpassed Eusebio's mark of 41 international goals for Portugal earlier this year, the elder icon said that his mark was more impressive since he didn't face as many tiny nations as there are today. “It is simple," Ronaldo said in response. "Eusebio will always be Eusebio and Cristiano will always be Cristiano. It is normal that people compare us, but Eusebio should not be unhappy because he will always be up there at the top." Even the normally boastful Ronaldo knows not to challenge Eusebio.
In recent years, Eusebio has endured a number of serious health problems and spent significant time in hospitals. Despite his weakened condition, his passion for the game remained strong. He produced one of the warmest moments of Euro 2012 when he attended Portugal's quarterfinal match against the Czech Republic with fellow Portuguese great Luis Figo. In the 79th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo scored the match's only goal, giving Eusebio and Figo a reason to celebrate.
In response to Eusebio's death, Chelsea manager and fellow Portuguese Jose Mourinho put it best. From Chelsea's official website:
'He's unique in our country,' Mourinho said. 'He's one of the greatest in the history of football, but for our country he's much more than that.
'Irreplaceable - his place in the history of Portuguese football, but more than that in the history of our country.
'He's a man that doesn't belong to Benfica, doesn't belong to a club, he belongs to a country and I prefer to say that people like him are immortal, because their history and their legacy remains forever.
'So of course I'm very sad, especially my assistant Silvino [Louro] because Eusebio was his coach for a long time, but I'm not so sad because I really feel that he's immortal for our country.'
In that sense, Mourinho is right. Eusebio's contributions to football and Portugal were too great to ever be forgotten. His brilliance on the pitch remains a high water mark to which all other footballers can aspire.
Here's a short documentary FIFA produced about Eusebio's performance at the 1966 World Cup...
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