Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano has led the tributes to his former friend, colleague and opponent Eusebio, following the former Portugal striker’s death at the age of 71 on Sunday.
Leading football figures from Pele to Bobby Charlton to Cristiano Ronaldo have shared their sorrow at the passing of one of the greatest players in the game’s history, while remembering fondly a man who made a huge impression on fellow players and supporters all around the world.
Eusebio had been a great player and person who made playing football enjoyable, said Di Stefano, in quotes provided to news agency EFE by Madrid.
“He was a great friend and together we made our profession fun,” Di Stefano said. “I want to give my condolences to all his family and friends. We were eating together not long ago in Madrid and in Lisbon, and I feel this loss a lot. I knew him very well, and do not have the words to describe what has happened.
"He was an excellent person, and as a player was a great teammate and friend. We were opponents and companions in football. He was a great kid, and we became great friends during our shared football history. He was a really great guy, and still young.”
The legendary pair’s paths first crossed in the 1962 European Cup final, when Eusebio’s Benfica beat Di Stefano’s Madrid 5-3 in the final in Amsterdam, with the Portugal international scoring the final two goals of the game.
“He came up to me to ask for my jersey after the game,” Di Stefano said. “I was delighted to give it to him. I never imagined at this moment a great friendship would begin. He was a born goalscorer and played football marvellously. He was a good kid and an example as a person.”
Over the years Eusebio became very close to Di Stefano, and also built a strong relationship with Madrid, as Los Blancos president Florentino Perez recalled on Sunday.
Such links meant Eusebio was present along with Di Stefano at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in 2009 when his fellow Portuguese, Cristiano Ronaldo, was presented as a Madrid player following his 80 million pound move from Manchester United.
“The last I remember was that we filmed an advert together for England,” Di Stefano said. “When we finished up we were asking each other what the future had in store for us. We were together many times, and were very close. He is among the best friends I have had.”
Besides the 1962 European Cup, Eusebio also won 11 league titles during a 15-year spell at Benfica, when he scored 320 goals in 313 games, and also claimed two Golden Boot awards as Europe's leading goalscorer in 1968 and 1973. The Mozambique-born striker scored 41 goals in 64 international appearances, helping adopted country Portugal to third place at the 1966 World Cup, where he was the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals.
Reports in Portugal said he had died of a cardiac arrest in the early hours of Sunday morning, having been in poor health recently. Thousands of fans gathered at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz over the weekend, hanging scarves and leaving flowers at his statue at the ground in tribute.