Eusebio reminded us of thrill of drama

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Eusebio reminded us of thrill of drama


In 1950, an 8-year-old boy watched as kids played soccer in Portuguese East Africa, the modern-day Mozambique. When the ball rolled in front of him, he kicked it into the ground. It was the first time he played with a ball. In fact, the ball was made of crumbled newspapers and fabrics bundled up into a sphere. A few days later, the boy joined a team, which was short on players. The boy played barefoot. When he returned home after his first match, there was nothing to eat, and the single mother of eight children scolded him for being late.

On Sunday, Portuguese soccer legend Eusebio da Silva Ferreira died at the age of 71. He recalled this childhood experience in his autobiography, “My Name is Eusebio.” When I learned of his passing through a smartphone news alert, I lamented the loss. The name “Eusebio” always accompanies nostalgic memories. In the 1970s, when he was better known by the English pronunciation of his name, he was the symbol of a sports star who came from poverty. He was a hero who overcame challenges with strenuous efforts and became the world’s best player.

The life of the barefoot boy on the street was filled with struggles for survival and success. He first started to play for an amateur team called “The Brazilians,” formed by a local man. The boys who had played with him won money by winning games and eventually bought a rubber ball, then a real leather-bound ball. Finally, the team had soccer shoes and uniforms. The boys were desperate to win in order to keep playing. When Eusebio was 15, he joined a professional team in Mozambique, and at the age of 19, he moved to Benfica, a prestigious team in Portugal. In the 1966 England World Cup, he scored nine goals, leading Portugal to finish in third place.

However, he became a respected sportsman not only because of his record. He was gentle and generous. After a match, he would always compliment the strength of the players on the other team. So the other players held him in high regard. He was also active in charity. He played for Benfica for 15 years, and since he retired, the team has hosted the Eusebio Cup, a friendly tournament, every year.

This year, the Sochi Winter Olympics are scheduled from Feb. 7 to 23 in Russia, and the FIFA World Cup is to be held from June 13 to July 14 in Brazil. Sports are charming as they are. During fierce competition, more dramatic scenes can be found on the playing field than in movies. Sports fans are excited to see triumphs of those who worked so hard to train themselves. Eusebio reminded us of the thrill of human drama. But perhaps the “killer instinct” from his poor background may be disappearing today.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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