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Such is the extent to which he downplays his achievements it would be difficult to believe that the man in the chair is one of European football's finest players ever were his face not so familiar. Yet Eusébio's words are no false modesty, but instead based on a true belief that great players do not exist in isolation, they must be surrounded by a team.
"When I played, I wasn't doing it alone," the former SL Benfica and Portugal star told euro2008.com. "I had my colleagues and I thank them for supporting me so much." Even though the current Portugal team boasts arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo, Eusébio believes the same rules apply in 2008. "Pelé, [Johan] Cruyff and Bobby Charlton couldn't play alone either, just like Ronaldo has to have his team-mates behind him today," he added.
He does believe, however, that the Manchester United FC forward's qualities could take Portugal all the way to glory in Vienna on 29 June. "He's one of the best players at the moment. He can help the team a lot and go on to be named the very best in the world." Four years ago in Lisbon the words Eusébio had for his young successor were ones of consolation, after Portugal were defeated by Greece in the final of UEFA EURO 2004™. Eusébio generally has fond memories of the tournament: "I felt an enormous joy, that for the first time in the history of Portuguese football, we hosted a European Championship."
'Like a family'
Though the anti-climax of the final loss hit hard, Eusébio feels that the experience could actually stand those in the 2008 squad who were there in good stead. "I spoke to them with all my experience, and I saw them listen and accept it," he said. "They are great players and great professionals." Eusébio, who retired in 1978 after 41 goals in 64 appearances for Portugal, said the atmosphere at the team's base in Neuchatel reminded him of the one Portugal had when they reached the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup in 1966, saying: "It's like a family". He also believes that this vintage are carrying on the best flair traditions of Portuguese football, and have every chance of going one better than in 2004. "That's gone now," he said. "As a former player and someone who loves football, I think we're on the right road."
The 66-year-old, who took time to thank departing coach Luiz Felipe Scolari "with all my heart" for his contribution to Portuguese football, is showing no sign of tiring of his role as travelling ambassador for the Selecção and confesses he is still addicted to the atmosphere of big matches. "When I see a stadium full of people, I feel free," he said. Not that he is here just for the spectacle: "The players know that we are here to go all the way. When I was playing, I always said, 'We are here to win, not to muck around'." Forty-two years on from his last major tournament with Portugal, Eusébio's attitude has not changed one bit.
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