Rui Manuel César Costa, born on March 29, 1972, is a former Portuguese football player. He’s now the 34th president of the sports club S.L. Benfica and also took over from Luís Filipe Vieira as the president of the club’s SAD board of directors.
Known as “The Maestro,” Costa spent most of his football career with Benfica in Portugal and also played for Fiorentina and AC Milan in Italy. During his 17-year career, he won many trophies, including one Primeira Liga title, one Taça de Portugal, one Serie A title, three Coppa Italia, one UEFA Champions League, and one UEFA Super Cup. He represented Portugal in international football, earning 94 caps and scoring 26 goals for the national team. He played in three UEFA European Championships and one FIFA World Cup. Considered one of the best playmakers ever, Costa usually played as an attacking midfielder. He was known for his fantastic technique, ability to create scoring opportunities, and knack for scoring goals from the midfield. He’s recognized as one of the top midfielders in the world and one of the greatest Portuguese players of all time. In 2004, he was chosen by Pelé as one of the 125 greatest living football players in the FIFA 100 list.
At the age of five, Costa joined Damaia Ginásio Clube’s junior indoor football team. He later tried out for Benfica, catching the eye of Portugal legend Eusébio within ten minutes of training. Until 1990, he played for Benfica’s youth squads and was then loaned to A.D. Fafe for a season. After winning the Under-21 World Cup for Portugal in 1991 with a crucial penalty kick, Costa returned to Benfica. He played regularly in his first full season, contributing significantly to the team’s performance over the next two seasons, helping Benfica secure two trophies. He formed a strong midfield partnership with João Vieira Pinto. In his last two seasons with Benfica during his first stint, he won the Taça de Portugal in 1993 and the Portuguese First Division title in 1993–94, marking Benfica’s last league triumph for the following decade.
After his third season with Benfica, Fiorentina offered 1,200 million escudos (around €6 million) for the 21-year-old midfielder. Even among tough competition with the best midfielders at the time, Costa was recognized as the best number 10 player in Serie A multiple times. Throughout his time at Fiorentina, there were constant discussions about his potential departure, with many clubs expressing interest in signing him. However, he left Fiorentina only one season before the club faced bankruptcy in the 2001-02 season. During his stint with the Florentine club, Costa won the Coppa Italia twice and also secured a Supercoppa Italiana. In June 2001, Fiorentina agreed to sell both Costa and Francesco Toldo to Parma for 140 billion lire. Despite their refusal to join, Costa and Toldo were ultimately transferred to AC Milan and Inter Milan, respectively, for the same total transfer fee.
In the 2000-01 season, Fatih Terim coached Fiorentina. When Terim moved to AC Milan, he brought Costa with him, paying 85 billion lire (€43,898,836) for the player. This made Costa AC Milan’s most expensive transfer ever. Costa’s first goal for Milan was on September 27, 2001, in a 4-0 home victory (6-0 aggregate) against BATE Borisov in the first round of the UEFA Cup. He also scored in wins over CSKA Sofia (second round) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (quarter-finals) on the way to the semi-finals. He scored his first domestic goal for Milan on December 18, 2002, in a 5-1 victory (6-2 aggregate) against Ancona in the second leg of the last 16 of the Coppa Italia. In the 6-3 aggregate final win over Roma in May, he played for only 30 minutes as a substitute, with Rivaldo and Serginho preferred in attacking midfield. This decision was to prepare him for the 2003 UEFA Champions League Final against Juventus, during which he was substituted due to injury for Massimo Ambrosini near the end of regulation time. Milan won the match on penalties at Old Trafford. He also played in the 1-0 victory over Porto in the 2003 UEFA Super Cup on August 29, contributing to Andriy Shevchenko’s winning goal with a cross. From 2003-04, Costa’s playing time was reduced due to the emergence of the Brazilian youngster Kaká. He scored three league goals during Milan’s title-winning campaign, starting with one in a 5-0 home win over Ancona on January 25.
On May 25, 2006, Costa’s return to Benfica for the upcoming season was announced in a press conference. He had been released from Milan, ending his €4.6 million per year contract to fulfill his long-held dream of returning to Benfica. Costa started his return in a 2006-07 UEFA Champions League qualifier against Austria Wien in August 2006, scoring in his home comeback. Despite being a regular under manager Fernando Santos when available, the season was marred by injuries: he suffered a muscle tear in October, keeping him out of action for three months, and another muscular injury in February. Before the end of the season, Costa declared that the following one would be his last as a professional. After helping Benfica qualify for the Champions League group stage, including a brace from Costa against Copenhagen, Benfica was drawn against Costa’s former club Milan. He made his last appearance at the San Siro on September 18, 2007. Costa remained a first-team choice under José Antonio Camacho and Fernando Chalana, receiving the SJPF Player of the Month award for September 2007 and Benfica’s Player of the Year award for 2007 based on his performance. He played his final match on May 11, 2008, at the Estádio da Luz against Vitória de Setúbal. He was substituted in the 86th minute, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd. Unfortunately, both that season and the previous one ended without any trophies.
In the summer of 1991, Costa’s impressive performances at Fafe caught the attention of Portugal Under-21 coach Carlos Queiroz, leading to his call-up for the World Youth Cup. He played a key role as Portugal’s under-20 national team secured victory in the 1991 World Youth Championship. His crucial penalty kick in the final against Brazil helped clinch the title on home soil, marking Costa as a standout member of the renowned “Golden Generation.” Costa contributed significantly during Portugal’s successful years at the senior level, with notable performances as the team reached the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 1996, the semi-finals of Euro 2000, and the final of UEFA Euro 2004. His standout moment came during the Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal, where he scored a remarkable goal against England in the quarter-final match at the Estádio da Luz. The image of a disheartened Costa after a 1-0 loss to Greece in the final became a lasting memory of the competition. Costa also participated in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea, scoring Portugal’s winning goal in a 4-0 victory over Poland. The only instance in his career where Costa was sent off occurred during an international match against Germany. Despite his role primarily as a playmaker, Costa managed to score 26 goals in 94 games, making him Portugal’s eighth-highest capped player and seventh-highest goalscorer.