I am the son of a murder convict, says Portugal hero Eder

I am the son of a murder convict, says Portugal hero Eder
September 02 12:36 2016

In a hotel lobby in northern France, Eder is out of his seat. He’s moving the table condiments, bringing to life the most important goal scored in European football in 2016.

‘I received it on the half-turn,’ he grins, shifting his salt away from Laurent Koscielny’s pepper.

‘I jinked away from Koscielny and found some space to shoot. Then I just let fly. And how it flew! I hit it so hard and when the ball smashed into the net I was so happy. It was huge for me, huge for us, huge for the country.’

The forward is reliving the goal that beat France to win Euro 2016 for Portugal on that balmy July evening in Paris. ‘I must have watched it back 15 times… OK, maybe more! Sometimes, I will just go on YouTube and rewatch it. Why not?’

Indeed, why not? At 28, this, remarkably, was Eder’s first competitive goal for Portugal.

Eder, let us not forget, was the £5million Swansea forward who made 13 Premier League appearances last season without a shot on target.

As the national coach Fernando Santos put it, the ‘ugly duckling became a beautiful swan’ in Paris.

There had been a few international goals, in friendlies. But none like this. None that would take Cristiano Ronaldo from despair to elation in the blink of an eye.

None that would take his nation to her first trophy. None that Portuguese legends Eusebio, Luis Figo and Ronaldo dreamed of delivering. A goal, surely, beyond imagination.

‘You say that,’ he grins, ‘but I just had a feeling. Even before the Euros, I was convinced something was going to happen for me.

‘Even before the coach called me to come on, I said to him, “Don’t worry, I’m going to score”.

‘Cristiano was on the touchline at that point cheering us on and he told me I was going to score. I was prepared. I had worked so hard in training and then it was the game, the last chance and I just went for it.’

In the weeks that followed, Eder estimates he received more than 200 messages of congratulations.

‘My father was so happy that he cried on the phone. He said he was happy and proud of me,’ he says.

So far, so normal — except for one chilling fact.

His father, Filomeno Antonio Lopes, has been in an English prison since 2003, serving a life sentence for the murder of Eder’s stepmother, Domingas Olivais.

Eder falls silent, takes a sip of water and says: ‘OK, let’s talk properly about this.’

This is the moment that Eder’s story alters from that of a happy footballer into one of immense personal distress.

Over the half hour that follows, Eder answers questions about his father’s past, relives his upbringing in an orphanage and explains why, just two years ago, he came very close to ending his own life.

Eder was born in the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau in December 1987, before moving to Portugal when he was three.

However, the family were unable to make ends meet and, at the age of eight, Eder was taken in by an orphanage.

‘I can’t lie, it was hard,’ he says, explaining how he played football in bare feet on a playground littered with broken glass.

‘Yeah — very difficult. I was in an orphanage without my parents.

‘Things can go badly in those places. I look at where some of my friends are now and… yeah, they’re not very well.

‘I had two or three mentors but it’s not the same as your mum and dad. I had little contact with my parents. I was resentful.

‘As I got older, my mum and I increased contact, but it was irregular. We don’t have a normal relationship because we lost those big moments together when I was growing up.

‘Now, my mum and I are reunited and back in contact. She moved to England and my sister lives in Wolverhampton. And then there’s my father…’

In 2003, a jury at Norwich Crown Court heard that Eder’s father had murdered his partner.

It was said that he picked her up from work, struck her with a steering wheel lock, strangled her and dumped her body into the River Bure by Great Yarmouth.

Eder’s dad said that he went to McDonald’s after dropping Ms Olivais back at a hotel. CCTV footage did not vouch for him.

Local reports add that his father had sought asylum in England by claiming that he was fleeing civil war in his homeland but there are also claims that he was the subject of an extradition order by Portuguese authorities in connection with three armed robberies.

‘I was 12 and in an orphanage,’ Eder says, puffing his cheeks out. ‘My stepmother died, they accused my father and he’s in prison.

‘I wasn’t there and obviously I can’t say for certain what happened. But my dad says he is innocent. Then, it becomes a question that requires a lot of soul-searching.

‘He’s my dad and I believe him. I am not stating that the court did anything wrong but he’s my father. He’s still in jail in England. I’ve visited him.

‘I started to visit him when I was 22 and when I have time, I see him.’

After he had developed a passion for football at the orphanage, Eder would escape to a nearby cafe to watch Premier League matches.

He moved out aged 18 and joined Portuguese second-tier club Tourizense on a monthly wage of £330. He moved on to Academica and Braga, where he would play Champions League football and get his international call-up in 2012.

By Eder’s own admission, he is a deep thinker and self-critical. After the 2014 World Cup, where Portugal failed to progress from the group stage, he was ridiculed by the press.

On social media he was compared to a traffic cone. Self-doubts emerged.

In the darkest moments, this charming young man contemplated ending his own life. ‘Yeah…’ he says, steadying himself.

‘My mind went to some very bad places. I went through a very low phase. I had suffered some bad injuries and went to the World Cup and things didn’t go well.

‘It was hard. I struggled to believe in things and dream again. It was a really horrible period for me and you wonder whether you can escape it.

‘My turning point came after one game in Braga. I went to kick a ball about with a little girl who was wearing our colours. Her mum, Susana Torres, asked if she could have a picture.

‘We began to exchange emails. Before the World Cup, she sent me a Facebook message saying her daughter wanted to go. I missed it and I didn’t respond. After a year, I saw the message and apologised.

‘I gave a jersey with her daughter’s name. Then she said that if my friends needed a psychological coach, then I should let them know about her.

‘I worked hard on my mentality and began to dream again. Susana was the catalyst. She helped a lot.

‘I think footballers are still a bit funny about this kind of thing. Some think that they can seem weaker. But it’s changing.’

Eder now believes he is over his psychological problems but he continues to work closely with Susana. Indeed, they are planning to write a book.

In Portugal, all has been forgiven and a website has been launched called DisculpaEder.com (Sorry Eder), where fans have sent messages apologising for all that has gone on before.

He is a bright man, a fluent speaker of four languages — English, French, Spanish and Portuguese — and with a sharp interest in world issues.

When the interview ends, his first question is — ‘Brexit, man, what the hell is going on over in Britain?’

And as talk turns to the UK, Eder reflects on his time at Swansea.

‘Garry Monk, who signed me, sent me the most lovely text after the final saying it was an incredible goal and that he was thrilled.

‘It was hard at Swansea. I started just two Premier League games and if you look at the statistics, you will see I mostly had 10 or 20 minutes. I came to Lille because I wanted to make the Euros.

‘There was something poetic about the goal. It was the tournament of the underdog.

‘Unexpected teams did very well and then I scored my goal. Wales did it. Iceland did it. I did it. People have to dream and believe. Sport can never lose that.’

Daily Mail UK