Newspaper article International New York Times

Eusebio, 71, Legend of Portugal Soccer

Newspaper article International New York Times

Eusebio, 71, Legend of Portugal Soccer

Article excerpt

Eusebio, a Portuguese soccer star of the 1960s and 1970s, died on Sunday at the age of 71.

Eusebio, the wonderful soccer player of the 1960s and 1970s, died on Sunday at the age of 71.

Reuters reported the cause of death as a heart attack. He was three weeks from his 72nd birthday.

He was both the first African-born star of soccer and the finest player Portugal fielded in his generation.

In fact, he would surely be worth a place in any all-time world soccer team that anyone could name. With explosive power, extraordinary quickness, innate ability to sense and exploit the moment, came the unique personality of Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. He could cry like a child in moments of defeat; he could lift up a team almost on his own through indomitable spirit; and he would often stand and applaud a goalkeeper who kept out his shots.

As he got older, and his knees that took the kind of pain a boxer endures in the head, he retained that human essence. Meet him at a function, always a soccer related function, and you saw shuffling toward you a man with bowed legs, a pained stride, but that lifelong boyish pleasure in his game.

Cristiano Ronaldo, his replacement as Portugal's star, posted a picture of the two of them together on Twitter on Sunday. "Always eternal," he wrote, "Eusebio, rest in peace." Beautiful, simple, and maybe the most appropriate thing Ronaldo has written.

In the photo, Eusebio bears a facial resemblance to Desmond Tutu, the South African human rights campaigner. And there is significance in Eusebio, born in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, becoming so loved, and now so mourned, in the southern African countries former colonial ruler, Portugal.

We know that Eusebio's childhood was a struggle after his father, a railroad mechanic, died when the boy and four siblings were of school or pre-school age. Kicking around a makeshift ball of old socks or rolled-up paper with bare feet was always Eusebio's escape, and the source of his sense of self-worth.

By the time that Benfica came for him when he was 15, he knew his destiny. Benfica was not the Lisbon team he admired from afar, but it, rather than a rival club, Sporting, made his mother an offer (a pittance worth a few thousand dollars by today's standards). It was an offer one of Eusebio's brothers insisted the club double -- and no contest, since Sporting made no financial offer at all, trying to insist instead that the fledgling player was bound to it by virtue of playing for a Mozambican feeder club in his boyhood.

From the start, Eusebio lit up Benfica's Estadio da Luz, the Stadium of Light.

He lit up this reporter's youth too when, in 1966, he arrived in England for the World Cup. His contemporaries included Pele and Bobby Charlton, arguably the finest of Brazilian and English talents. …

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