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Player Plunder

Joseph Opio/Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

Europe plunders African footballers.

Colonialists are often accused of ransacking their African colonies and voraciously depleting them of all mineral wealth. It is an indictment met with vehement denials from the likes of Britain, France and Portugal. Yet these colonial masters should count themselves fortunate they aren’t accused of a sin far worse - plundering Africa’s finest football gems. That would be a charge hard for them to refute.

Perhaps the most sparkling pearl Europe ever looted from these shores was Eusébio. Mentioned regularly among the finest purveyors of the Beautiful Game, Eusébio was plundered from Mozambique by colonial masters Portugal in 1960. He had been born in Maputo in 1942, but as soon as Eusébio’s bewitching skills came to the attention of the Portuguese powers-that-be, it was time for him to be transplanted. The prodigy had no choice in the matter.

As per the harsh colonial laws in place then, Eusébio wasn’t regarded as Mozambican and he never held a Mozambican passport. All residents of Mozambique were, at that time, denied their rights of heritage and had Portuguese citizenship foisted upon them as soon as they were born.

In fact, the city Eusébio left behind then wasn’t Maputo, it was called Lourenco Marques, the capital of the Overseas Province of Portugal. All inhabitants of the province were deemed to have sworn allegiance to the republic of Portugal and all were eligible to serve in Portugal's army. Every official document...

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