Every protagonist in every story has an obstacle to overcome. When the striker emerged from the bench in the final of the European Championships and made history, it seemed like a movie, with the striker playing the central role as the downtrodden hero with something to prove.
From humble beginnings to top dog, The Panenka looks at the struggling career of a striker who’s goal landed his country it’s first ever major tournament win.
In the first half talisman and captain, Cristiano Ronaldo had been substituted after picking up a knee injury. Against the odds the forward fired home a long-range effort with 11 minutes remaining of extra-time to secure a 1-0 victory.
The second half substitute picked the ball up 30-yards from goal, muscled his way past Laurent Koscielny and fired a low shot past Hugo Lloris in the France goal to etch his name into the history books.
The day of Portugal’s first game at Euro 2016, Eder made a Facebook post. It read: “Go ahead, underestimate me.” Portugal boss Fernando Santos may have been guilty of just that as he granted the forward only bit-part roles in the squad, only introducing the striker in substitute appearances against Austria and Iceland.
After the final, the triumphant coach said: “Eder was an ugly duckling, now he’s a beautiful swan.”
The 28-year-old goalscorer had a difficult start to life. Eder was born in Guinea-Bissau and moved to Europe as a young child. “I moved to Portugal when I was two years old, so I don’t remember living in Guinea-Bissau,” he revealed in an interview with Swansea City Football Club.
Adding: “My family moved to Lisbon so that we could live in better conditions and have a better way of life. My father was already living in Portugal, so I moved over with my mother.”
At the age of 8-years-old the forward was put in a care home because his family lacked the means to support him and The Sunflower Care Home in Coimbra became his new family. “It was really good for me. It helped me grow up into the man that I have become and aided my football career,” he reflected.
Full name, Ederzito Antonio Macedo Lopes, idolized Brazil legend Ronaldo and was rarely seen in school as he was usually playing football. As a young teenager he was signed by local academy ADC Ademia. The sports club nurtured his talent and was helped him get chance with lower tier clubs such as FC Oliveira do Hospital and Tourizense.
The new darling of Portugal got his big break with top-flight Academia where after making his debut in 2008, won the Taca de Portugal in 2012. “We won the cup, which was fantastic. I enjoyed my time at Academia,” he said. Adding: “I grew up in Coimbra so I was very happy to play for the club. I had some fantastic times there.”
The same year, the burgeoning talent was snapped up by Portuguese giants Braga who acquired the forward on a four-year deal. In his first season he racked up 13 goals in just 18 appearances but his campaign was cut short by a serious knee injury which plagued the striker the following season as well. In his third season with Os Arcebisops his form stuttered but he still managed to make it into double figures with 10 goals in 28 appearances.
Eder eventually found his way to Swansea City for a fee in the region of $7 million where he failed to net a single goal. Before the cruciate ligament injury his potential was deemed much higher when Braga inserted a $30 million minimum-fee release-clause in his contract. The Tottenham Hotspur manger at the time, Andre Villas-Boas, had coached Eder at Academia and, among others, was reported to be interested in signing his former protégé.
Rarely used on the Welsh south coast, the African-born striker was loaned to Ligue 1 side Lille where he netted six goals in 13 appearances. Eder’s goals improved Les Dogues attack significantly and lifted the side from relegation battlers to Europa league qualifiers between February and May 2016. At the end of the campaign he signed for the French club on a permanent deal.
The forward was reportedly “disappointed and heartbroken” with his performances for the Premier league club though. The writing really was on the wall when he was an unused substitute in the FA Cup defeat at Oxford United.
“Even when Bafetimbi Gomis was suffering an extended goal drought, Eder was rarely used, and reasons were never made clear,” ESPN FC’s Swansea blogger Max Hicks explains. “Eder’s performances ranged from enthusiastic to anonymous.”
With Portugal Eder has amassed 29 caps and four goals, although every time he found the back of the net it was in a friendly which did little to raise hopes of the forward performing on the big stage in France.
“He was a bit of a laughing stock in Portugal,” Expresso journalist Mariana Cabral explained to ESPN FC. “We have been used to mobile and technically sound strikers who score a lot of goals, like Pauleta, Nuno Gomes and Domingos. Eder pretty much never scored, and he is a bit clumsy.”
The match winner’s inclusion in the final 23-man squad for Euro 2016 was debated in Portugal as well. Names such as Hugo Vieira of Red Star Belgrade and Bruno Moreira who has recently moved from the tiny Pacos Ferreira to Buriram United in Thailand were mentioned, highlighting the lack of alternatives. “The Portuguese have never rated Eder, because they saw him as a poor finisher,” explains Luis Catarino, analyst for RTP TV.
With Eder’s story now written firmly into folklore it is a triumph of individual self-belief. Coach Fernando Santos reveled in a press conference after the victory that: “When he came on he told me he would score.”
The 28-year-old goalscoring sensation revealed it was Ronaldo, forced off with injury midway through the first half, who provided words of inspiration prior to making the decisive contribution. “[Ronaldo] told me I would score the winning goal for the team,” Eder said. “He gave me this strength, this energy and it was vital.”