In October 1966, a then 25-year-old Dynamos forward Freddy Mukwesha made his first step on his journey for a date with football stars when he embarked on a road trip to Mozambique enroute to Portugal.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
He was due to sign for Sporting de Braga but needed to complete medicals in Maputo first before flying to Braga via Lisbon and Porto.
His late former Dynamos teammate Morrison Sifelani drove him to Maputo in the company of the late Armando Ferreira. Little did he know that he was on his way to eat on the same table with World Cup legend Eusebio and Portugal captain Mario Coluna.
It was at a time when the late Eusebio was a global football soundtrack after emerging top scorer at the 1966 Fifa World Cup with nine goals for Portugal and also having been named Europe’s best player the previous season.
Mozambique-born Eusebio died in Lisbon seven days ago at 71.
With Portugal finishing the 1966 World Cup on third place, Mukwesha was ecstatic that he was going to rub shoulders with the world’s best.
Never did he ever imagine that he would not only play along or against them, but dine with them as well.
He on various occassions had dinner with Eusebio and Coluna who like Eusebio was born in Mozambique.
“During off seasons we would meet as Africans to eat funchi (sadza) and galinha (chicken),” said Mukwesha.
“We were a small group of Africans and we would look for each other for get-togethers. There were others from Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau but myself and guys from Angola and Mozambique were too familiar with funchi. Eusebio liked funchi a lot.
“He was a very down to earth person and very quiet and at one time we ate at his modest apartment in Lisbon. We all liked him. We would talk and talk about football.”
The script of his trip to stardom began when Sporting de Braga toured the country to play then Rhodesia in 1965 at Glamis Stadium.
As a striker, Mukwesha was menacing on that afternoon and Sporting de Braga made no time to put him on top of their priority signings before eventually capturing their man the following year.
“I did not go for trials but signed right away. They warmly welcomed me. Since I went there during a time when whites oppressed us here, I thought I was plunging myself into hell but they treated me like one of their own. Braga fans loved me and I was like a hero when I walked in the streets,” he said.
Playing against Eusebio whenever they met giants Benfica, Mukwesha had the chance to witness the legend’s magic up, close and personal.
“He was a marvel to watch,” said Mukwesha.
“The coach would assign two or more guys to police Eusebio and he would still be a handful. Since we were both strikers, I was lucky not to have a role to contain him. But I learnt a lot from closely watching him play. His dribbling and shooting was perfect.
“To me he was in the same league as Pele. People talk much about Pele because Pele also talks too much unlike Eusebio who was too reserved. People used all dirty tricks to stop Eusebio especially by hard tackles, but he would never retaliate or complain.”
During our interview at Raylton Sports Club last Thursday, Mukwesha was seated next to an ever-smiling Dynamos legend George “Mastermind” Shaya who in our one and half hour long chat gulped three Lion Lager pints.
Surprisingly, none of their children or grandchildren retraced their footsteps to play football.
“Even vakuru ava (Shaya) vane vana vakawanda asi hapana kana one ari kutamba bhora asi yaiva shasha. Zvakaramba asi taida kuti vana vedu vatambewo. (Even this gentleman has many children but none of them played football despite him being a star. We wanted our children to be footballers but it could not happen),” he said as Shaya nodded in agreement with a beaming smile.
Mukwesha became the first person in this country to sign for an overseas club in a move that everyone thought was to unlock doors for other locals in Europe.