Eusebio: How Africa Changed Football

By | January 5th, 2014 | No Comments

On Sunday, January 5, Eusébio died of heart failure in Lisbon at the age of 71. Born Eusébio da Silva Ferreira in 1942 in what is today Maputo, Mozambique, he became the first African player to acquire global fame. Portugal has declared three days of national mourning in his honor. As per Eusébio’s wish, his coffin was carried to the center of the pitch at Benfica’s La Luz Stadium in an extraordinary ceremony on Monday (see video above). Fans created a memorial that enveloped his statue outside the stadium.

The striker’s standing in the game’s history was celebrated in two excellent obituaries published in today’s New York Times (read them here and here). Many would agree though that the most poetic tribute to Eusébio comes from Eduardo Galeano (click here to listen to the author read it).

Like most African boys, Eusébio grew up kicking makeshift footballs in the streets. As a teenager, he failed a trial with Desportivo, Benfica’s Mozambican subsidiary, because he showed up without proper boots so he joined rival Sporting instead. His big break came when he scored twice against Ferroviara de Araraquara from Brazil, which was touring Mozambique. José Carlos Bauer, the Ferroviara coach and a former member of Brazil’s World Cup team recommended Eusebio to Bela Guttmann, the legendary coach of Benfica. Guttmann was an ardent believer in overseas players and a globetrotting emigrant himself.

In 1961 Benfica signed Eusébio for £7500. Fast and strong, he had that rare combination of mobility, long-range shooting ability, and a striker’s instinct close to goal. These qualities, according to David Goldblatt, made him “perhaps the archetype of the modern football player.” He won 7 league titles , 2 Portuguese FA Cups, and a European Cup. In 1965 he was crowned the best player in Europe, three decades before Liberian striker George Weah, and was top scorer in the 1966 World Cup with nine goals.

He was idolized in Portugal and throughout Africa. His statistics spoke volumes: 317 goals in 301 matches with Benfica; 41 in 64 for Portugal—a record Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to surpass. Together with Pelé, Eusébio was instrumental in elevating the status of black players in world football. He “destroyed the nonsense that Africans could not play soccer—or rather could not learn to harness individual flair for the good of the team,” wrote Rob Hughes in the New York Times. He also exemplified how African labor benefited Portuguese football by providing athletic talent at affordable prices and making it more cosmopolitan.

“Eusébio represented a confident, glamorous, mobile new Africa on the world stage,” Sean Jacobs and Elliot Ross noted in their poignant tribute for Al Jazeera America. “But his remarkable historical achievement was to be the face of not one but two emerging continents. He helped, in his own way, to reshape the idea of Europe itself.”

This post draws on material from my book African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Ohio University Press, 2010).

Suggested Viewing/Reading:

Eusébio – Um Jogador de Todos os Tempos (documentary, in Portuguese)

Farewell Eusébio by Sports Illustrated’s Planet Fútbol

“Remembering Eusebio’s brief time in the NASL” by James Tyler with Shep Messing

A revolta popular em Maputo não continuar. Quando é a revolta de futebol de Moçambique?

By | September 7th, 2010 | 2 Comments

The Chappas from Central Maputo to Estadio Machava takes half an hour and costs the same as a loaf of bread. There were no barricades in Maputo on Sunday. All roads led to the Futebol.

It was difficult to detect the unease of recent days as expectant supporters cracked open bottles of “Doshem”, ripped into tetra pak cartons of cheap red wine and exchanged predictions. This was not a day for the usual colonial replica shirt. No Benfica. No Porto. No Sporting. You had to be wearing the Mambas red, and you especially meant business if your scarf or shirt was wrapped around your head.

My mini bus was bursting as it passed the monumental Mac Mahon brewery, home of the 2M, the “Doshem”. City blocks gave way to cabbage fields. Palm trees waved in the distance. It could have been a scene from “The Thin Red Line” were it not for the sight of four floodlight pylons. We were now immersed in a red sea of supporters, not even Moses could part, but the Chappas found a way.

What was it the man said, “Porque Goshem de futebol”. He forgot to add they also like their chicken. The barnyard creature was being crucified overroaring charcoal fires in fields all around the stadium. Coolers crammed with cervejas provided perfect pre match company. The women of Mozambique certainly understood the business of football.


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The Price of Loaves and Goals in Mozambique

By | September 3rd, 2010 | 4 Comments

Angela is mopping the again floor at Milanos. The Revolta Popular appears to have ran its course. A closer inspection reveals although most folk want to believe it is over…”more or less”, they say. The reality maybe somewhat different.

Angela made it to work, but many others have not. Some shops are open, but many are not. The schools are closed. The roads are not congested. A few Chappas (mini buses) work their regular routes. Spacious rides with extra leg room today.

I traversed as much of the city as I could in the past five hours. What I mean by “the city” is that which makes the cut on most of the tourist maps of Maputo, not including the predictably safe Embassy area of Sommerchield and the more exclusive Polana district, save for a visit to Maputo Central Hospital and the Josina Machel Secondary School. Here is what I heard and saw and felt from folks along the way.


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