By Firdose Moonda
Eusebio scores for Portugal at the 1966 World Cup in England. Empics
Imagine if Eusebio had played for Mozambique and years later, Carlos Quieroz had managed them. Maybe they would have qualified for a World Cup or made it out of the first round of the African Nations’ Cup with such austere influence.
Maybe such a small selection of big names wouldn’t have made any difference at all. But they do add to the continuum of what-ifs and volume of legends about those who travelled across the continent and the Mediterranean to make in what was then considered Mozambique’s mother country, Portugal. Their stories are worth remembering for that alone.
Eusebio’s especially so because he may not have played professional football so notably if it was not for the intervention of a colonial power. He grew up on the streets of the Mafalala neighbourhood in Maputo, a poor area which bordered the elite white part of the city. People who lived there were forbidden from building their houses out of brick and had to make do with zinc or wood instead. Eusebio himself remembers playing football with rolled up newspapers because that was all they had.
He was spotted by a coach from a Brazilian team who were touring Mozambique and went on to Portugal. The man told the Benfica coach, Bela Guttman, about a young striker who could run 100 metres in 11 seconds. Guttman immediately flew to Maputo, signed Eusebio and took him to Portugal on December 16, 1960. Within two weeks, he was an international footballer. Imperialism at its most effective.
If Sporting Lisbon had had its way, it would have been even more so. Because Eusebio played at the club with their name attached to it in Mozambique they already knew a little about him. They wanted him to move to them as a junior player but offered no money in exchange for his services. Benfica brought out the cash though – enough to make Eusebio the highest paid footballer from Africa at the time. The rest of his story is the stuff of fairy-tale, particularly the 1966 World Cup.
It is a story he is willing to share. He goes back to Mozambique regularly and is involved in charity work there. Before the 2010 World Cup, he said: “Every time I go back it gets a bit better, more football pitches and better infrastructure.” The benefits from that tournament did not spill over enough to change the landscape of Mozambican football which still struggles with inadequacies.
Current coach Gert Engels noted that sometimes pitches are simply not ready so the team is unable to train. On other days, they may find themselves without a team bus. Engels called events like that “exciting” and while someone like Queiroz may only find that an irritation, it may be the best way to approach the complicated job of managing on the African continent.
Queiroz has travelled a long road from Nampula in Northern Mozambique to Portugal, Madrid, Manchester and now Tehran. The game has taken him far away but he has paid his dues to the country of his birth too.
His most well documented trip back to Mozambique was in 2005 when he went with the BBC World Service to make a documentary. They visited the island off the north-east coast of the mainland where he grew up and the nostalgia was overwhelming.
“When I was six and seven years old I would spend all day playing football on the beach. Nothing has really changed here – the kids are still there, playing barefoot just like I did 40 years ago. I stopped for a game in the street where I used to play. The kids had made their own ball, using string to tie together things they can find along the street,” he wrote in his tour diary.
But there was also some sadness. Quieroz said he felt like he had travelled back in time 30 years and he did not mean it only in terms of age. He saw the same desperate poverty, lack of running water and sanitation and risk of disease he had left behind. He also saw the lack of options for young Mozambicans which drove them to crime.
Through football, he hoped they would seek different futures. They need only look to Queiroz himself or someone like Eusebio as proof of how far another path could take them.
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