Larbi Benbarek or Larbi Ben Mbarek was a Moroccan football player recognized as the first successful African player in Europe. He was the first player to bear the nickname of Black Pearl. Larbi rose to fame in the French league and played for France.
Benbarek was born and raised in Morocco in the period when the country was under the French rule. The first African star and the first to bear the nickname of « Black Pearl, » Ben Barek blazed a trail to the European, and particularly French and Spanish, leagues for African-born players. He arrived in Marseille, France, at the age of 20 and became an instant favorite with fans for his skills and technical abilities. Pelé took the name of the « Black Pearl » after he made a famous statement about Larbi: « If I am the King of Football, then Larbi Ben Barek is the God of it ».
He is largely remembered as the first successful African footballer in Europe.
His career was interrupted by the onset of World War II, but he was soon back to his best with Stade Français FC, eventually moving on to Spain with Atlético Madrid, where his international reputation spread. His nickname with the fans in Spain was « The Foot of God ». With the help of Benbarek, Atlético won La Liga in 1950 and 1951. He returned to Marseille in 1953 but joined USM Bel-Abbès shortly thereafter, where he ended his playing career.
One of the finest players ever to represent France, he made 19 appearances for Les Bleus between 1938 and 1954. His comeback in 1954 against Germany in Hanover was curtailed by an injury after half an hour and proved to be the end of his career.
He was the first coach of the Morocco national team following its independence from France. Larbi Ben Barek died in his hometown on 16 September 1992. Six years after his death, he was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit Award, which is the award of the highest honor in FIFA.