Having worked in sports media since 1997, I met Eusébio in person in 2003 ahead of UEFA EURO 2004.
With all the excitement surrounding the competition in the country, I was working at the time for national newspaper Diário de Notícias writing a European Championship Encyclopaedia. When the subject of who should write the foreword for the chapter 'The Legends – Hall of Fame from A to Z' the team behind the publication were unanimous: it had to be Eusébio.
He was a little suspicious when I initially explained what we wanted from him. Despite being a star, Eusébio was not used to doing that kind of thing so I told him we would talk as if doing an interview about his footballing passion, about what it meant for Portugal, the Portuguese people and Portuguese football to host the competition. Then I would sum it all up, putting his signature on it.
The first meeting was planned at Adega da Tia Matilde, the restaurant in the Rego neighbourhood of Lisbon that was like a second home for Eusébio. He missed the appointment as something came up at the last minute. I was frustrated, of course, fearing it would not be possible to meet the tight deadlines we had, but hearing all about his character I knew he would not let me down – I don't think he ever let anyone down. He apologised for missing our first gathering and scheduled another for the following day.
I was nervous as I waited in the restaurant. He arrived on time, but it took him a while to reach me as he stopped at almost every table. Everybody wanted to talk with him – and he had time for everybody. When he did eventually reach me the conversation between us was fluid and I was able to confirm what everyone said about him: a humble, kind man, much more at ease applauding his opponents than boasting about his own feats.
It was actually my second meeting with Eusébio. I had my first brief contact with him in the early 1980s, soon after he had retired, when I was having trials for the Benfica academy under his guidance. The experience was very short-lived (the trial was more down to my living a stone's throw from the stadium than my ability with a football), but for me it was a dream to simply play with Eusébio watching on.
Like me, most of the kids that day had never actually seen him play; he had gained our respect as we heard our elders praising him. That's how much he meant to Portugal and Portuguese football. I am lucky to have these two moments; I will never forget them.
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