The Legend of Ruth Malosso

He was not only a great inspiration but also an important figure in upholding the values, principles and feelings of football, even after finishing his career,” says Chelsea manager, José Mourinho. Srinwantu Dey tries to pay a humble tribute to the immortal ‘O Rei’, a wonderful soul and modest ambassador for both Portuguese football and Benfica

In one of football’s most recognizable traditions, live bald eagles swoop around the 65,000 odd crowd before every game at one of Portugal’s “Big Three” as mascots – Vitória and Glória (Victory and Glory). It’s a sad day for football lovers as Portugal and Benfica legend Eusébio leaves for his heavenly abode, leaving millions in grief, following a heart attack earlier today. His legacy can never fade into oblivion as long as ‘Victory’ and ‘Glory’ keep entertaining us – symbols befittingly synonymous to The Black Pearl.  Penning a tribute piece on this legend is a Herculean task I believe, as his stature, statistics and accolades are far too astonishing to translate into words. Let us instead look through a few incidents from the early years of his career, which announced to the world in the 60’s – a legend has arrived to rule Europe!

The victory and glory of Eusébio will always be remembered
The victory and glory of Eusébio will always be remembered

The Myth of Ruth Malosso

Eusébio was born to a poverty-stricken family in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). Football was more than a game to him and he was often found playing on the streets instead of attending school. As a result, he was the only member of his family who couldn’t finish schooling. He was an amazing talent since his childhood and no wonder he caught the eyes of several talent scouts. The scenario at Mozambique was very different back then – it was a Portuguese colony and there was no professional setup for playing football. The better clubs were actually feeder clubs of famous football clubs of Portugal. Eusébio was picked up by a local club – Sporting Clube de Lourenço Marques which had a tie-up with the very famous Sporting Clube de Portugal, Lisbon.

Being a subsidiary of big clubs of Portugal, often they used to get a chance to play against big guns of Portugal and other top clubs during their African tours. Such a tour of ‘Clube de Futebol Os Belenenses’ (current Portuguese Cup winners, 1960) discovered a young 17-year old boy who scored two goals against them with blistering pace. Former Brazilian international, José Carlos Bauer was the first person to notice his immense ability who was travelling to Mozambique at the same time with his São Paulo based club Ferroviária de Araraquara. Surprised by his skill level, Bauer immediately referred him to São Paulo, but the Brazilian club denied the chance to take risks for an unknown African footballer. There is a myth that after returning to his home town, Bauer went to a hair-cutting salon where he came across his old acquaintance Béla Guttmann. Guttmann, a Jewish-Hungarian, who was a former manager of São Paulo – was managing S.L. Benfica at the time. During a friendly conversation, Bauer mentioned to him about this young talent of Southeast Africa.

Eusébio with manager Béla Guttmann
Eusébio with manager Béla Guttmann

 

Guttmann was known to be a gold digger. He had just sacked 20 senior players after taking charge of Benfica and was looking for fresh faces. He enquired about Eusébio and came to know about his fascinating skills. He also learnt that Eusébio is currently playing for their biggest rival’s feeder club. At the same time, slow movements had started at other side of Lisbon when Eusébio’s childhood friend Hilário da Conceição – who already was an established defender of Sporting Lisbon – had recommended him to his club. Guttmann didn’t take any chances as he knew it was easier for Sporting to capture this raw talent as he was playing for their subsidiary club. This being a highly sensitive issue, the Benfica board decided that they will never use Eusébio’s name in any communication before the deal finalizes, and thus given a code name – Ruth Malosso. Guttmann went straight to Eusébio’s family home and convinced both him and his mother for this move and got him to sign a contract. He was brought to Portugal secretly after that in December 1960, and sent to the outskirts of Lisbon to prevent any kidnapping. After a long running tug-of-war between two rival clubs, it was agreed upon that Eusébio will be playing for Benfica and he was registered in May, 1961.

After seeing Eusébio train for the first time at the Estadio da Luz, Guttmann shouted to his assistant Fernando Caiado, “It is gold. It is gold”.  José Aguas, Benfica’s #9 and captain, promptly suggested “If it has to be me then so be it, but somebody has to drop out for him to play.” And the rest was history.

 

‘Eusébio 3-2 Pelé’

Just after Eusébio started displaying his charisma in Portugal, Benfica were invited to play in the Tornio International de Paris in 1961 and in the final they played against an exceptional Santos side, led by the ‘best in planet’ footballer Pelé. Within an hour, Benfica found themselves trailing by an insulting 5-0 scoreline, where Pelé struck twice. Guttman had to unleash his last weapon, codename Malosso, from the reserve. He was not mistaken. The 18-year old substitute scored a rapid hat-trick within 63rd to 80th minute of the match. He also won a penalty, which his teammate failed to converted. Guttmann’s young team eventually lost the tie 6-3 to a star-studded Santos team, but the young prodigy won everybody’s heart on that day. Next day, prestigious French magazine L’Équipe made a headline neglecting the main scoreline and Santos’ victory which read as ‘Eusébio 3-2 Pelé’. Later, Pelé stated about Eusébio – “He scored beautiful goals. All of the Santos players, including myself, thought Eusébio was a great player even if none of us knew who he was at that time.” After this encounter, they met quite a few times, but this game truly announced that another black pearl has come to rule the world.

Eusébio consoling Pelé during the 1966 World Cup
Eusébio consoling Pelé during the 1966 World Cup

 

Taking on the Galácticos

A crowd of over 60,000 gathered in Amsterdam’s Olympic Stadium hoping to witness a clash of the titans at 1962 European Cup final between Real Madrid and Benfica. This was a game where Real was trying to re-establish their dominance on European kingdom, and reigning champions Benfica were establishing themselves as an unstoppable force in the Europian mainland. Eusébio was there too. But he was more mesmerized to play against his childhood hero – Alfredo Di Stéfano. The classic final started and soon Di Stéfano took over control of the midfield playing from the deep, while razor-sharp Ferenc Puskás kept threatening the Benfica defence continuously.  Within 25 minutes, the Hungarian wizard put Madrid upfront with a two-goal lead. Though Benfica equalized the score, but again before half time, Puskás completed his hat-trick and gave Madrid back the lead. In the second half, Guttmann was able to shut down Madrid’s mastermind Di Stéfano’s elegance and that is when the ‘Black Panther’ took over control of the stage. Once Mário Coluna made it 3-3, Eusébio scored two goals within 5 minutes, and eventually, Benfica was the winner with a thumping 5-3 scoreline. But Eusébio didn’t forget his dream, he collected the shirt of the Argentine genius and kept it hidden underneath his shorts so that nobody can steal it from him – it was pretty precious to him. The scene was symbolic, as it depicted the passing of legacy from one legend to another. Eusébio definitely didn’t disappoint Di Stéfano!

Eusébio after winning 1962 European Cup
Eusébio after winning 1962 European Cup

 

The Legacy

In his decorated career, he kept scoring goals and making history for Benfica and Portugal. Numbers do the talking for him. One may browse the digital media to find countless lists of his achievements. For me he was a legend true to his own style – a perfect striker with blistering speed, silky skills and enormous power! Guttmann aptly described his shots like watching Sputnik launch into space!

His arrival in Europe was definitely not the first among Africans. Even before him, Maghrebi star player Larbi Ben Barek or Sebastião Lucas de Fonseca of Maputo – who was known as the eighth wonder of theworld among Portuguese – already pioneered that Africans also can contribute to European football.  But Eusébio was definitely the first imported African who ruled the European football demography for more than a decade. The floodgate was opened by him, leading to European powerhouses starting thorough scouting in their colonized provinces. He couldn’t play for his own country Mozambique. Mozambique football association wasn’t established until 1976, after they earned their sovereignty the preceding year. From early 60’s, Portugal regime was involved in turmoil, insurgencies and other political pressure. Rather his inclusion and glorious performance for the Portuguese national team helped the regime to highlight the unity of the metropole and the colonies, leading to racial harmony.  His nickname given as ‘O Rei’ (The King) had massive significance in a regime of fascist dictators.

New Picture
Weeping Eusebio after ‘Jogo das Lágrimas’ – ‘the game of tears’

Being a thorough gentleman and great ambassador of the game, Eusébio won the hearts of all his compatriots and opponents. During the ‘Game of Tears’ where Portugal lost to England 2-1 at Wembley and were knocked out of the 1966 World Cup, Eusébio was found to break down in tears and comforted to the dressing room by both team-mates and opponents. Truly, the greatest victory ever for Benfica over Sporting Lisbon has been nothing but winning Eusébio from them.

Rest in peace, Panther.

Scout’s Corner : Michael Simões Domingues (Mika)

Scouting Network identifies young players under the age of 21 who have exceptional talent and could be one of the leading players of the future. This month GoaldenTimes profiles Michael Domingoes

 

     Born: 08 March, 1991

     Nationality: Portuguese

     Height: 1.95m

     Weight: 90kg

     Position: Goalkeeper

     Contracted till: 2016 to Benfica

     Termination Fee: 20.0 m €

They say that goalkeepers mature with time and a bright start has often led to huge expectations and subsequent downfall of goalkeepers. The truly greats though signal their entrance – a 17 year old Gianluigi Buffon singlehandedly stopped the marauding Scudetto winners, Milan, to a 0-0 and Iker Casillas made his debut as a 17 year old and was Madrid’s #1 by next year. Michael Simões Domingues or Mika has put his markers early on in his career and in a season when a year older David de Gea was sold for 20m, Mika has taken strong strides to be a future #1 of Portugal.

Born in Yverden, Switzerland, Mika joined Sporting Clube de Pombal – a branch of the great Sporting Clube de Portugal, as a 10 year old. After 4 years there, he shifted to União de Leiria, a middle rung team, which managed to get itself relegated in 2007-08 but was promoted the very next year. Mika though was in the youth ranks and would only debut for Leiria in 2009-10 in a league match against Guimarães when the #1 goalkeeper got the marching orders. In those 30 minutes that he came in, Mika would concede a goal from a penalty but would make some brilliant saves to keep the score down to that single goal. His next opportunity would only come in the following season in a tough away match to one of the powerhouses of Portuguese SuperLiga – Sporting Lisbon. This time Mika kept a clean slate and came to the notice of the scouts. In two other matches, he would concede 6 goals, but the spark of the potential, that he had, was seen.

That spark though would become a raging fire in the FIFA U-20 World Cup held in Columbia in August 2011. Portugal reached the finals of the tournament only to lose to their Brazilian counterparts, but it was Mika who stole the show by not conceding his first goal till he came up against the hat-trick hero Oscar in the finals. That made it 575 minutes on the trot. It broke the previous record of going unbeaten for the longest duration in the U20 World Cup. To put it into perspective, the corresponding record in the FIFA World Cup is held by Walter Zenga of Italy and that is 518 minutes.  Mika’s heroics just didn’t stay confined to the regular playing time. He saved 3 Argentine U20 penalties in a shootout in the quarterfinal to take Portugal U20s to the semis. He was awarded the Golden Glove for the stellar show throughout the tournament.

Europe’s biggest clubs came calling for Mika but he chose to join Benfica and with Artur as the #1 and Eduardo, the former Portuguese #1, Mika will have to fight for opportunities. At 20, he has age on his side and has already progressed to being the #1 in the Portuguese U21 team. Keep your eyes on the Estádio da Luz, for the next big European goalkeeper may just come from there.