Belfast Telegraph

Our good friend, Eusebio: Northern Ireland mourns a football genius

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

He dazzled football fans with his skills during glamour games in Belfast and gave George Best a run for his money, both on and off the pitch.

Last night one of football's greatest ever players, Eusebio, was hailed as a true friend of Northern Ireland.

The Portuguese legend died yesterday, aged 71, of heart failure.

Eusebio played and scored against two Irish League sides in Belfast in the 1960s and travelled to Northern Ireland to make the draw for leading youth competition, the Milk Cup.

The striker was also a close friend of Northern Ireland and Manchester United star, the late George Best – with the east Belfast native once commenting on Eusebio's drinking prowess.

Jim Boyce, vice president of football's governing body FIFA, said that along with Best and Pele, Eusebio was one of the greatest to ever play the game.

"He was an absolute gentleman who epitomised to me what football was all about both on and off the field," Mr Boyce, president of Cliftonville, told the Belfast Telegraph. "He was a good friend to people here, very humble, and he will be sadly missed by all of us who remember him for the great player he was."

Eusebio demonstrated his illustrious talents in front of thousands of football fans in the 1960s, scoring for Benfica in European matches against Glentoran and Lisburn Distillery.

In 1967 he spared the blushes of the Portuguese giants when he scored to ensure the game against Glentoran ended in a 1-1 draw.

The east Belfast side kept the striker quiet in the second leg of the competition but bowed out as a result of the away-goals rule following a draw in Portugal.

In a statement, Glentoran paid tribute to "one of the greatest players ever to grace the Oval".

"The death of a legend," the club added.

Lisburn Distillery also paid tribute to the star.

He scored during a game between the Whites and Benfica, which took place at Windsor Park in 1963 and ended in a 3-3 draw. The star also made his mark in matches between Portugal and Northern Ireland.

In 1989 he was pictured behind a bar in Londonderry.

Eusebio travelled to Northern Ireland with Benfica for the side's European game against Derry City.

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan yesterday tweeted the photograph, adding: "Saddened by death of the legendary Eusebio," he said.

"Met him in 1989 and remember his humility. He sat on a step in the stand."

In 1996 Eusebio made the draw for that summer's Milk Cup tournament.

Following the death of Manchester United hero George Best in 2005, Eusebio hailed him "a genius". The stars played against each other for their respective teams, notably in the 1968 European Cup final in which Best scored to help Manchester United to victory.

After another game between the sides, Best remarked: "Boy, can he drink."

"George Best was the best player in the world, not just England, and a good friend of mine", said Eusebio following Best's death. Eusebio had suffered from heart problems in recent years.

Star names across the sport yesterday shared their memories of the legendary striker.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who is also from Portugal, said he was one of his country's greatest figures. "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," he said.

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