For more than half a century, the nations of Luxembourg and Portugal have enjoyed strong links, with the first wave of Lusitanian immigrants – fleeing Antonio’s Salazar’s authoritarian rule – hing arrived in the Grand Duchy in the 1960s.
In 1980, Maximino da Mota travelled in the same direction, to “find a better life”, in the words of his son Daniel, who is living proof that his father achieved his aim.
Maximino, who had been a farmer and carpenter in the village of Rego in northern Portugal, successfully resettled in Luxembourg, where he raised a family. Daniel, the eldest son, and his siblings have flourished.
“We received an excellent education, and our father tried to persuade us to not end up following the same path as him,” Daniel da Mota – who works in a bank like one of his brothers, while his other brother is an accountant and his sister is a primary school teacher – told FIFA.com.
“He told us to steer clear of hard, physically demanding work and to prioritise our studies so that we could find a better job, without physical demands. We followed his advice; none of us work on rooftops or in the forest!”
Although he leaves forestry to others, Da Mota does spend a large proportion of his time in what many consider a veritable jungle: the world of football. Despite holding down a full-time job as a banker, he also performs up front for Luxembourg and for F91 Dudelange, one of the country’s most prominent clubs.
“I work at the bank from Monday to Friday, from 7.30 am to 5.30 pm, and I have training from 6.15 pm to 8.30 pm four times a week. And then there are matches on Sunday, as well as national-team games. It’s fair to say I’ve not got much spare time!” he explained with a broad smile, conscious of the fact that in a country where football is played on an amateur basis, he cannot really complain too much.
“My work is what pays the bills. Football is my passion. The two things are interlinked, but without a permanent job I wouldn’t be able to do anything,” said the 30-year-old.
Da Mota has done a marvellous job balancing those two areas of his life since joining Dudelange in 2008, because, despite his busy schedule, his collection of winners’ medals and international caps (now over 60) has continued to increase.
A four-time Luxembourg National Division champion and two-time Luxembourg Cup winner, the left-footed striker enjoyed a memorable moment in the sun during a qualifying match for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on 7 September 2012.
The opponents at a packed Stade Josy Barthel that day were Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, the country of his ancestors and that of nearly 15 per cent of the 100,000 people that reside in Luxembourg City.
In the 13th minute of the match, Da Mota controlled an excellent cross-field pass from Aurelien Joachim beautifully on the run, prior to cutting inside from the left wing and brilliantly firing the ball into the far right-hand corner of Rui Patricio’s net with his normally less reliable right foot.
“The night before, a journalist from Luxembourg had asked me whether, in the event of me getting a goalscoring opportunity, I would hesitate or if I would dare to put the ball in the net,” said Da Mota, whose family are all enthusiastic Porto supporters. “But of course, no matter which team you’re facing, when you’re wearing your national jersey, if you get a chance to score, you score!”
And the talented forward did exactly that, temporarily troubling A Selecção das Quinas, who eventually fought back to prevail 2-1. “It was an inexplicable feeling, but what was even more incredible was that the stadium was full of Portuguese fans, and they all got out of their seats to applaud the goal,” recalled Da Mota, who received a standing ovation upon leaving the pitch in the 79th minute.
He would get on the scoreboard once again four days later, firing in the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland, a match which took place on his birthday. “My family and I went out for a meal afterwards to celebrate my birthday, and at the restaurant, my brothers gave me a golden ball that they’d made themselves,” he continued. “It was a lovely gift.”
While the Ettelbruck-born attacker has not completely ruled out achieving his dream of enjoying a professional football career, he maintains a realistic outlook, aware that his opportunities of rubbing shoulders with elite players are currently limited to international matches with Luxembourg, a team that, in his view, is constantly improving.
“Even if it was just for one year, I would love to experience the world of professional football, just to see which level I would be comfortable playing at.
“To be honest, in 2007, when I first started playing for Luxembourg, we would go out onto the pitch knowing that we were going to lose. But over the past five years or so, we’ve produced some great play and created lots of chances.
“Over the course of a match, the fitness of professional players will often tell, but any team that comes to Luxembourg now knows that you have to give us respect and that we’re a dangerous prospect.”
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, due to visit for a pair of friendly encounters at the end of March, and then the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Bulgaria and Belarus – future opponents of the D'Roud Léiwen (the Red Lions) on the road to the 2018 World Cup in Russia – will soon all be able to attest to that fact.
Da Mota goes as far as to say that he and his team-mates may even have a surprise up their sleeves. “I think that in five or six years, we might be capable of qualifying for a major tournament,” said the former Etzella Ettelbruck player.
“Lots of our young players now play abroad in the reserve teams of professional clubs. It’ll depend on their development, but if they stay there, even in the German second or third division, for example, it’s still a level above what they would be experiencing in Luxembourg. If they get used to that standard every weekend, we might soon have a chance of competing for a qualifying spot.”
The day that comes to pass, the entire country will rejoice. And if Da Mota is still part of the national set-up, perhaps a second European nation will join in the celebrations.