Eusebio da Silva Ferreira was the greatest footballer to play for Benfica and for Portugal, according to former Portugal striker Nuno Gomes.
Eusebio, voted one of the 10 best footballers of all time, was laid to rest in north Lisbon last week after he died of heart failure aged 71 on January 5.
“Eusebio meant a lot not just to the Portuguese but everyone,” Gomes, who played for Eusebio’s former club Benfica, told Al Jazeera.
Year Apps Goals
1961 2 1
1962 5 2
1963 1 0
1964 6 4
1965 7 7
1966 12 12
1967 6 3
1968 2 1
1969 4 2
1970 1 0
1971 5 2
1972 9 4
1973 4 3
Total 64 41
“Every time he crossed the pitch to go to the bench, the crowd used to give him a standing ovation and it was a huge thing for me to be his friend and watch all the support he got from the fans.”
Eusebio, nicknamed the ‘Black Panther’, led Portugal to a third-place finish at the 1966 World Cup but his agility and speed made him one of Europe's most dangerous forwards for most of a career that lasted two decades.
He was awarded the Ballon d'Or in 1965 and twice won the Golden Boot, in 1968 and 1973, for being top scorer in Europe.
Gomes rues the fact that he could not see Eusebio play but getting the help and support in terms of coaching have benefitted him immensely.
“Because of my age, I never saw him playing live. I only saw videos but for me he was like a God of football. I arrived at Benfica aged just 22 so I was a kid talking to him. He was like a coach a young player would listen to and take his advice on-board.
“He was always trying to help me score goals. Eusebio was a fighter and he was always telling us to 'never give up'.”
Eusebio’s dedication and love for the sport and his performance on the field made him a true legend, according to Antonio Simoes who played with Eusebio at Benfica and the national team.
“Eusebio was a very demanding person on the field and a very friendly and tolerant person outside,” Simoes said.
“He was a piece of art as a football player. His love and passion for the game was immense. He was humble and modest which made him a truly great human being as well.”
Eusebio was born in Maputo, the Mozambican capital, during the Second World War when the southeast African country was still a Portuguese colony.
He came from a poor family but sparkled for his local team and was lured to Portugal by Benfica when he was 18.
Known for his unpretentious and easy manner as well as his courage and ball skills, his popularity in Portugal was such that in 1964, when Italian clubs offered to buy Eusebio for sums that were astronomical for the time.
“He’s a legend, the way he achieved everything he wanted in his career and in his personal life. He was a true champion and an ambassador of the people,” Gomes added.
With Benfica, Eusebio won 11 Portuguese league titles and five Portuguese Cups and remains the club's best-known player. A bronze statue of him, poised to kick a ball, stands outside Benfica's Stadium of Light.
Eusebio stayed on at Benfica as an assistant coach after his retirement and traveled widely with the Portuguese national side as a paid football ambassador.
A player of suh stature, news of his death came as a huge shock to everyone, including Gomes.
“When I first saw the news I thought 'no it's not possible, he can't die, he's like a God',” Gomes added. “Eusebio is the kind of person who will never die, he will be remembered forever.”
Manuela Lanza is a Lisbon-based Italo-Spanish journalist with an MA in International Journalism at City University London with a concentration on broadcast. Follow her on Twitter @ManuelaNEWS