This article was originally published in February 2022 as part of a project to celebrate the legacy and valuable contribution of Afro-Latino athletes for Black History Month. Today, we repost it following the same purpose.
Teófilo Cubillas is considered one of the best players in the history of South American soccer and “El Nene”, as he was popularly known, had a great career with the Peruvian national team and on club teams such as Alianza Lima, Basel, Porto, and Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The great Pelé said that the 21-year-old was “his successor”, and although in the end Nene Cubillas did not reach the Brazilian’s level, it can be said that Cubillas was the “Pelé of Peru”, the best Peruvian player of all time.
Teófilo Cubillas, who was born on March 8, 1949, in Lima, Peru, debuted wearing the Alianza Lima jersey at the age of 17 in 1966 and was the top scorer in his first season with 19 goals. This club was the most important of his career, as in total he spent nine and a half seasons wearing its colors, at different stages of his career.
In 1973 he began his international adventure in Europe, signing for the Swiss team FC Basel, although he was there only half a year, before joining FC Porto. While at the Portuguese club, at one point he was the highest paid footballer in the league, earning above legendary player Eusébio, who played for Benfica.
In 1977, Cubillas returned to Alianza Lima, playing two seasons with the Peruvian team, and then went on to play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League (NASL) before announcing his retirement in 1985. He would return from retirement after the tragedy experienced by the club in which he debuted.
On December 8, 1987, the plane carrying Alianza Lima fell into the sea, causing the death of the entire team that was onboard, the staff, and their coach. A total of 43 people lost their lives. Cubillas returned from retirement to join the seven team players who survived by not being present on that trip, and they were joined by their youth team, while the Chilean club Colo-Colo lent some of their players, in an act of solidarity.
Despite the enormous adversity, Alianza Lima managed to reach the Peruvian Championship Final that same year, eventually falling to team Universitario, but winning the admiration of all of Peru. Afterward, Cubillas returned to play for the Strikers for half a year until 1989. He then signed on with what would be the last club of his career, the Miami Freedom.
Teófilo Cubillas, historical player in the World Cups
While Nene Cubillas had great performances in club competition, it was his outstanding play during World Cups that further cemented his legend, winning the affection of the Peruvian people. The first was the World Cup in Mexico ’70, in which he scored five goals with an assist in four games. Peru was however eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual champions Brazil.
In Argentina ‘78, he also had outstanding games, also scoring five goals, over six matches. In the first phase, Peru was first in its group above the Netherlands, Scotland, and Iran, although in the second phase it did not do well, ending at last place in the group that included powerhouses Argentina and Brazil, while also finishing behind Poland.
The last World Cup event he participated in was Spain ‘82. He failed to score a goal and his team was eliminated in the group stage. After this tournament he announced his retirement from the Peruvian national team.
His 10 goals in World Cups, position him in the 12th place of the top scorers in the history of this competition above historical players such as Villa, Baggio, Maradona, Eusébio, among others.
Winner of the 1975 Copa America
Cubillas was part of the Peruvian team that won the second Copa America in that country’s history. Peru eliminated Brazil in the semifinals of the tournament and beat Colombia in the Final. Cubillas scored two goals, one against Chile in the group stage, and another against Brazil in the first leg semifinal.
Pele named him as his successor
After facing each other on June 14, 1970, in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, Pelé, who was 30 years old at the time, said that Cubillas was going to be his successor, since at the age of 21 he dazzled in that World Cup, and stood out in that match against Brazil. At the end of the tournament, the Peruvian was chosen best young player.
Cubillas was undoubtedly one of the most important players in the 70s, dazzling in World Cups, key to Peru’s last Copa America title, and a driving force during some of the best soccer played in that country’s history.