When discussing the best players of all time, one of the names that is consistently in the conversation, no matter what era you speak of, is Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, or simply Eusébio. Born in Mozambique when it was a colony of Portugal, Eusébio was known for his speed, his freak athleticism, and his ferocious shot. It was no wonder that Eusébio was known simply as “The Black Panther.”
Eusébio first began play with a local amateur team called Os Brasileiros (The Brazilians), which was typical given that he would later be compared to some of the great players that he attempted to emulate as a kid. He played soccer with balls made from rolled-up socks or newspapers, and he played on the streets of Maputo, his hometown in Mozambique. Eusébio spoke of how he felt that “the football of [his] time was better” because it wasn’t commercial and it was players simply competing for the fun of the game. In a day and age where technology and metrics are used to develop players, Eusébio always felt that the basic element of soccer was in the streets with equipment that most would consider primitive. It was how he crafted his game and it’s how he became noticed.
He then moved on to begin his professional career with his local club in Mozambique, Sporting Club Lourenco Marques, in 1957. His ferocious play was infectious, and his play soon hit the radar of the major Portuguese clubs. While he played for a team that was a feeder club to Sporting Clube de Portugal in Lisbon, he also was highly coveted by Sporting’s rival club, Benfica. Eusébio spoke in an interview with The Guardian about Benfica’s pursuit:
”I used to play in Sporting’s feeder club in Mozambique. Benfica wanted to pay me in a contract to go while Sporting wanted to take me as a junior player for the experience with no monetary reward...Benfica made a nice approach. They went to speak to my mum, my brother, and offered €1,000 for three years. My brother asked for double and they paid it. They signed the contract with my mother and she got the money.
There was a newspaper picture of her with all the money on the table with her arms round it. I had never seen such money in my life. Sporting tried to spread the story that I’d stitched them up, but it was the other way round, because they tried to take me for free while Benfica were willing to pay.”
The battle between rival clubs Benfica and Sporting Clube de Portugal was so intense that Eusébio had to leave Lisbon for fear of being kidnapped by Sporting fans while the back-and-forth was settled. In the end, Eusébio signed with Benfica.
At Benfica, Eusébio became a legend, scoring 727 goals in only 715 appearances for the club. In his 14 seasons with the club, he won 11 league titles, 5 league cups, a European Cup (1962), and 9 Lisbon Cups while he was with the club. Benfica was also European Cup runners-up 3 times while he was with the club. He was Benfica’s greatest talent, and his path from Mozambique to starring for one of Portugal’s biggest clubs is one that was marveled throughout the world.
After he left Benfica in 1975, Eusébio headed to the NASL to play for the Boston Minutemen. He also had stints with Monterrey, the Toronto Metros-Croatia (where he helped them win a title in 1976), S.C. Beira-Mar, the Las Vegas Quicksilvers, and União de Tomar before finishing his career with the New Jersey Americans. Throughout his career, he scored 790 goals in 809 matches.
With the Portuguese national team, Eusébio flourished, scoring 41 goals in 64 appearances. In the 1966 World Cup, he was the Golden Boot winner, leading Portugal to a 3rd place finish, including knocking out Pelé and defending champions Brazil in the group stage. For his scoring efforts, he won the World Cup Bronze Ball. The team played like he did, with technique, athleticism, and pace. When he finished his career, he was the all-time leader in caps and goals for Portugal (both records have since been broken).
Eusébio’s individual accolades are astonishing and indicative of the brilliant player. He won the Ballon d’Or in 1965, was named to the FIFA XI in 1963 and 1967, won the Bola de Prata 7 times, and was named to the FIFA 100 list as one of the world’s greatest living players in 2004. The International Federation of Football History and Statistics voted him the 9th best player in the 20th century. But, there may have been no bigger praise for Eusébio than Alfredo Di Stefano, Argentine and Real Madrid legend, who proclaimed after Eusébio’s death in 2014, “For me, Eusébio will always be the best player of all time.”
Eusébio is easily one of the greatest players the world has ever produced. His path from Mozambique to dominating in Portugal is one that only adds to his legacy. Some of his records may have been broken, but there’s no replacing Eusébio. The way he played the game is something that many will emulate for generations to come.