Teofilo Cubillas: Part 3 – Trials And Tribulations

Fresh from being top scorer in the 1972 Copa Libertadores, as well as winning South American Footballer Of The Year, the question was now which big European club would Teofilo Cubillas sign for?


The smart money was on Italy, others said Spain, where fellow Peruvian Hugo Sotil had signed for Barcelona, or Portugal. Which is why everyone raised an eyebrow when it would be Switzerland. 



To understand why, we have to go to summer 1973, to a charity game organised by UNICEF between a South American XI vs European XI in Basel. Filled with the world’s best stars, Cubillas was the star of the show, netting twice in a 3-1 win. This was a needed tonic for Cubillas after Peru had failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, losing to Chile.


Watching the charity game was a Swiss millionaire by the name of Ruedi Reisdorf – a Basel fan and at the time working for UNICEF. As Cubillas would recollect to Swiss newspaper Basler Zeitung in 2005:


After the match he (Reisdorf) asked me how much I would cost and said he would like to bring me to FC Basel. Ruedi was a huge fan. I was 24 years old and famous in Europe as South America’s Footballer of the Year. But I didn’t know what my financial value was. I told Reisdorf on a whim that I would cost $100,000.


Shortly after the charity match in Basel, Reisdorf called me – from Lima! He had come to Peru without informing me beforehand. I was surprised and at the same time had a queasy feeling because I didn’t want to leave Alianza Lima.


Reisdorf, however, said he was here to pay the club the agreed $100,000 and to take me straight to Basel. But I didn’t want to leave, so I asked the president of Alianza to free me from this uncomfortable situation. He tried to do that by letting Reisdorf know that Cubillas’ market value had increased dramatically in the meantime, and was now worth $300,000.”


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Undeterred, Reisdorf promptly paid the $300,000 and Alianza sanctioned the biggest transfer in Swiss football at the time. Yet Switzerland is vastly different from Peru and Cubillas would stay for just six months as he explained to Basler Zeitung:


What caused me the most problems were the climatic conditions. It was so unbelievably cold in Switzerland, I was constantly freezing, I trained and played with sweaters, a hat and warm cream on my face. It was horrible. One day I told Reisdorf that I couldn’t stand another day in Basel, that he should sell me to another club immediately.”


Despite his short stay, Cubillas would remember his time at Basel as where he learned to be a professional player, even if he did lose 10kg as a result of a salad based diet. Unlike scrupulous football owners at the time, Cubillas had nothing but respect for Reisdorf who granted the Peruvian’s request for a transfer and moved to FC Porto for $400,000 in January 1974. Cubillas would remember his welcome when speaking to Portuguese outlet Maisfutebol in March 2010:


The streets were full! The journey from the airport to the Estádio das Antas was emotional. They welcomed me like a hero. The FC Porto fans were shouting my name, banging on the car, they were crazy! I had never felt like that before and I never felt like that again.”



In a country with a better climate, as well as being the highest paid player in Portugal ahead of the legendary Eusebio, Cubillas would stay at Porto for three years. Though unable to win the league due to the power of Benfica, Porto did win the Cup in the 1976-77 season and 66 goals in 110 games was a good return that made fans warmly remember his time in Oporto. But while there was a lack of success at Porto, things were different for Cubillas on the international stage.


Failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, Peru looked to the 1975 Copa America (back after a 8 year absence) as a chance to redeem lost honour. That chance became ever more pressing due to the format involving the 10 South American participants.


The teams were drawn into three groups of three teams each – one team playing their group opponent home and away. The winner of each group advanced to the semi final alongside Uruguay – they received a bye to the semis due to being defending champions back in 1967. 


La Bicolor were drawn in Group B with Bolivia and Chile. Under the stewardship of Marcos Calderón, he still had the experienced talents of Cubillas, Oswaldo Ramirez and Hugo Sotil. But they were reinforced by further attacking options in Percy Rojas, Juan Carlos Oblitas and the technical wizard César Cueto.


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Peru’s first game was away to Chile on the 17th July, coming away with a 1-1 draw after Rojas’s 72nd minute goal had cancelled out Chile’s opener by Julio Crisosto after just 10 minutes. Fate would smile on Peru as Chile played Bolivia three days later in Oruro and lost 2-1.


The well rested Peruvians would travel to Oruro to face Bolivia on the 27th July and do what Chile couldn’t – win via a solitary Oswaldo Ramirez’s goal. Peru would turn the screw in the return fixture on the 7th August in Lima – thumping Bolivia 3-1. With Chile beating Bolivia 4-0 on the 13th, it meant Peru had to avoid defeat against Chile in Lima to advance into the semi finals.


Peru sealed the game by taking a 3-0 lead by half time – goals by Oblitas, Rojas and a Cubillas rebound from close range left Chile stunned as the game would end 3-1. Atop Group B, Peru would advance to the semi finals, a two legged tie against a Brazil side in transition after the golden generation of the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups faded out in the 1974 edition.


The first leg would be played in Belo Horizonte and it took Cubillas just 19 minutes to make an impact. Receiving a bouncing ball just inside his own half, Cubillas lifted the ball past his marker and then accelerated dangerously past two Brazilians and towards the final third. Playing the ball to striker Enrique Casaretto, helped by a Brazilian defender misreading the pass, Casaretto guided the ball past the keeper to give Peru the lead.



Brazil would equalise via fortuitous means through Roberto Batata on 54 minutes. Though a draw in Brazil would normally be seen as a good result, Cubillas took the game by the scruff of its neck on 84 minutes. Awarded a free kick opposite the left edge of the box, Cubillas effortlessly with his right foot bent the ball up over the wall and back into the top corner. Things would get even better for Peru when Casaretto doubled their lead four minutes later to seal a 3-1 win.


However, the second leg in Lima five days later would prove to be tough going for Peru, Brazil winning 2-0 to tie the game on aggregate. Yet the 1975 Copa America semi final wasn’t decided on a third game at a neutral ground, neither was it via extra time, penalties or away goals. It was done via the drawing of lots. 


The president of CONMEBOL at the time was Teofilo Salinas of Peru and the Peruvian representative chosen to draw the lots was Veronica – daughter of Teofilo. She chose well – some allege the paper was kept chilled – but it would be Peru who advanced to face Colombia in a two legged final in mid-October.


But it would be done without Teofilo Cubillas. As it was during the European football season, Porto’s manager Branko Stankovic refused to release him to play for Peru. But there would be a twist in the tale –  Colombia won the first game 1-0 in Bogota while Peru won the second game 2-0 in Lima. CONMEBOL decided there would be a third game to decide the final at neutral ground on the 28th October – the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. 


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But as Cubillas told ESPN in an interview back in June 2016: “When I asked my coach in Porto to go, the coach said, ‘We have a game Sunday; if we win the game, you go. If you lose the game, sorry. We played the game and we lose. I was after the game, asking the coach, the president. They said, ‘Nene, I told you before, if you win, we let you go. If we lose, forget it. This is my answer.'”


So, Cubillas promptly paid to fly to Caracas behind the club’s back. But there was a problem as Cubillas recollected to ESPN:


When I arrived there, the president from the Peru delegation told me, ‘Nene, thank you for what you did, but you can’t play. Porto didn’t give the permission. We need authorization from the club so you can play.’ I started calling again to the people from Porto. “Finally they said, ‘We are going to give the authorization but when you come back, you have to accept what we decide.’ I said ‘OK.'”


With Cubillas joining part of a front three with Hugo Sotil (who had his running battles with Barcelona to play in the final) and Juan Carlos Obilitas, Peru sneaked a 1-0 win against Colombia thanks to a Sotil goal to lift the Copa America for only the 2nd time in their history.


Though Porto announced punishment would be taken against Cubillas, it was never implemented. However, it would be the struggles of Cubillas and Sotil to gain their release from their respective European clubs that led both players to return to Alianza in 1977 – which would benefit Peruvian football on the domestic and international stage.


By: Yousef Teclab / @TeclabYousef

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Paul Popper / Popperfoto