People we lost in 2014: Portuguese football legend Eusebio

    Story highlights

    • CNN associate producer remembers the passing of his countryman
    • Portuguese footballer hailed as one of the all-time greats died in January aged 71
    • Striker scored 733 goals during career and won 11 Portuguese league titles
    • Eusebio's name still very much present in the culture of not only his club, but the country

    In a series of articles, CNN journalists are sharing stories of deaths in 2014 that affected them personally. To share your story, please visit CNN iReport.

    (CNN)In Portugal and in particular for supporters of Benfica football club, the name of Eusebio da Silva Ferreira is synonymous with greatness.

    Even though my generation never actually saw him play, we were able to access plenty of archive footage in which he showcased his skill on the pitch.
      But the real insight came from generations before me, like my parents or grandparents. Through them, I was able to learn about the man and athlete known to the world as "A Pantera Negra" (The Black Panther).
      Those stories still resonate till this day almost like fairy tales.
      The young kid who ended up traveling almost 5,000 miles to pursue his passion for soccer and ended up with a lot more than he bargained for. The teen striker moved to Portugal at the age of 18, after a former Brazilian footballer working at the time as a scout, told Benfica's manager Béla Guttmann about his promising talents.
      Since joining the team in 1960 up until 1975, Eusebio won 11 league titles, one European Cup, five Portuguese cups, among several other team and individual records.
      People would say he was the best player to ever grace Portugal with his talent. That the way he exploded on the pitch with his fast pace combined with the power of his right foot was a joy to watch. Adding his phenomenal stats with 733 goals, including 41 for country, it then became obvious we were talking about one of the greats.
      It didn't take me long to understand what people meant every time they spoke about him. A few YouTube clips could easily testify to this and go as far as to reveal that such attributes would still make him a star, even in today's game.
      His success on the pitch, however, took on massive proportions, as it was not a mere sporting achievement. It was proof that Portugal was able to produce great talent and conquer new and different horizons. It gave people hope, happiness and some comfort, which was all much needed at the time.
      During the period when Eusebio burst onto the scene, Portugal was going through a rough stage under the decades-long dictatorship of Antonio Salazar. Only what was known as the "three F's:" Fado, Football and Fatima (the Virgin Mary) would cheer the masses.
      So the level of success that Portugal enjoyed under the leadership of Eusebio was crucial as a distraction that kept the population together. It is therefore no surprise that many people from all over the country admired Eusebio, regardless of the club they supported.
      As years went by and my passion for the game of soccer grew stronger, the "King's" (his other nickname) life and career became even more appealing to me.
      I can't deny that a big part of it has to do with my allegiance to Benfica, the club for which the Mozambique-born Portuguese footballer played 15 out of his 22 years as a professional athlete. It was obvious that this love affair would continue after his career ended. After retiring, he was offered a role as an ambassador, which he played until his last breath. Equally, he also acted worldwide as a spokesperson for the game.
      The part seemed fitting for a man of his skills. More than just making use of his legendary status, as a man he was known for being a humble, kind and tremendously charismatic, making him very popular across the country as well as beyond our own borders.
      It is then no surprise that, on January 5th, the world reacted with shock to the news of his passing at the age of 71.
      Soon after, I was called by CNN to travel to Lisbon in order to cover the story. I remember having mixed feelings at the time. On one hand I was saddened by the news, but on the other hand I felt incredibly privileged to have the opportunity to cover the story by attending his funeral from a journalistic standpoint. This had a very special meaning, as it allowed me to also pay my respects as a long-time admirer.
      I was able to witness how his death brought the country closer together. It was beautiful to see the amount of people that followed the coffin or showed up at the church. The crowds assembling close to his statue at the Stadium of Light, statue which by the way was covered from head to toe with flowers and scarves from various Portuguese clubs, as a sign of admiration.
      You could say that on that day, even the biggest soccer fanatic was colour-blind. There was no Benfica, Sporting or Porto -- there was only a unified country!
      At a time when Portugal is facing a long, hard financial depression -- which has not only affected our country's economy, but also our spirits -- it was remarkable to see that, even if just for a few days, fans -- including longtime rivals -- were paying homage to a man they've learned to respect and admire for his talent and flair, but also for his personality.
      His name is still very much present in the culture of not only the club, but the country. Being such a timeless character, I can only wait for the time where I tell my kids the same stories I was told growing up. It is an ongoing way of celebrating his life.