Legends Series #3

Mario Esteves Coluna – S.L. Benfica

Mario Esteves Coluna AKA “Monstro Sagrado” (Sacred Monster) was a Portuguese midfield player who played most of his career with SL Benfica in the Portuguese League.

Mario Coluna was born on August 6, 1935, in Inhaca, Mozambique a Portuguese colony at the time, his father was from Portugal and his mother was from Mozambique. Growing up in a soccer crazed neighborhood, soccer was not even something he wanted to do. Coluna wanted to simply be a car mechanic, his preferred sport was not even soccer it was boxing. Not only that but he was a national record holder in athletics with the high-jump.

This play maker and legend did not touch a soccer ball until the age of 15, he played on a team where his father was a founding member, Desportivo Lourenco Marques. This club was a feeder club to Benfica and despite offers from Portugal heavy weights Porto and Sporting Lisbon, Coluna opted to sign for Benfica in 1954. He scored a total of 14 goals in his first 26 games of his first season and would win the first of many trophies with the club. Coluna was originally a centre forward but was converted to an attacking midfielder by the Chilean manager Fernando Riera. This is where he excelled he had great strength, great stamina, and great technical skills on the ball making some serious long distance passes. In all he scored a total of 89 goals in 364 appearances for Benfica, he had a brief spell at French giants Lyon making a total of 19 appearances and 2 goals.

Coluna was the first black man to wear the captain’s armband for a European team with Portugal and would help lead the country to 3rd place in the 1966 World Cup along with Eusebio. He appeared a total of 57 times for Portugal scoring 8 goals. His most famous goal among others was his 30 yard cracker against Barcelona in the 1961 European Cup final to beat them 3-2 while playing with a broken nose for most of the game. He won the European Cup with Benfica 2 times and won the Portuguese League a total of 10 times.

When Mozambique gained Independence in 1975, Mario Coluna become President of the Football Federation and in 1994 become the sports minister of the country. Mario Coluna a leader on the field helping Portugal to its greatest ever finish, 3rd place in the World Cup of 1966. He broke the race barrier by being the first black man to captain a major European country, a big feet in a time of racial hostilities. Sadly he passed away this year on February 25th at the age of 78 in Maputo, Mozambique. Truly a legend for Portugal and Benfica and one of the greatest play makers of the game.