Another childhood hero had gone, the game had lost a great and we are all another step away from the summer of innocence on our way to the winter of old age.
It also got me thinking about the age old dilemma about the favoured sons of Africa who hit the big time far from home. Should they come home when they have won their laurels and learned their trade? Should they return to Africa to share their skills and experience?
In telling this story, let’s take a look at the journeys of two men from Maputo in Mozambique who wrote world headlines with their talented feet.
Eusebio and Mario Coluna both cut their teeth – and probably their feet on occasions – in the rough and tumble of barefoot football in the township of Mafalala in Maputo. Both were spotted by European scouts and both ended up playing for Benfica in Portugal. Coluna captained Benfica and Portugal playing nearly 700 games for his club and 67 for his country; Eusebio scored 473 goals in 440 games for Benfica and scored 41 times in 64 games for Portugal, including nine goals winning the golden boot at the 1966 World Cup in England. Both acquired flamboyant nicknames: Eusebio was called ‘the Black Panther’ and midfield colossus Coluna ‘the Sacred Monster’ on the grounds that he was both terrifying and beautiful.
Both never played for the country of their birth. In colonial days, Mozambique was considered an overseas province of Portugal so talent, like that of Eusebio and Coluna, was subsumed by the mother country.
The difference between the two is that when Coluna’s playing days ended he headed back to the country of his birth. He returned to western Mozambique to coach Text Chimoio. Now Chimoio is about 50 km from the Zimbabwean border and a million miles from the rest of the world. The job of coaching Text Chimoio must have been one of the most unfashionable jobs in world of football, but Coluna did it, drawing vast crowds, taking Text Chimoio to the national championship for the first time. In the years that followed Coluna was a tireless administrator for the fragile game in Mozambique. He is retired in Maputo in modesty. It pains me sometimes that he does not get as much recognition as his younger countryman and former team mate.
Eusebio visited Mozambique, after he retired, where his down-to-earth humility augmented the reverence in which he was held by his people. To my knowledge, never did he settle down to transfer the skills he had learned to a Mozambique that is crying out for them. I think he should have.
Message to all those African expatriates out there. Don’t leave this continent for dead when you make it to the big time.
Well done, now come back.