To help mark UEFA's Jubilee, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Russia selected Lev Yashin as their Golden Player.
Lev Yashin's childhood ended in 1941 when the Second World War started. Sent to work in a military factory in Moscow where he played for its football team, he was spotted and invited to join the FC Dinamo Moskva youth side.
Yashin's debut in Dinamo in 1950 was disappointing, as he conceded a soft goal in a friendly match straight from a clearance by the opposing keeper. He played in only two league games that year, and did not appear in a senior match again until 1953. But he remained determined, and stayed at Dinamo in the reserves waiting for another opportunity.
Yashin was 41 when he retired, having lit up stadiums all over the world. In a professional career which ran from 1950 to 1970, he played in 812 official matches keeping 207 clean sheets, and winning five league titles and three USSR Cups in the process. He also represented the USSR national team on 79 occasions, adding Olympic gold in 1956 and a [UEFA] European championship winners' medal in 1960 to his burgeoning collection of silverware. In 1966 in the FIFA World Cup in England, Russia reached the semi-finals and Yashin was hailed as the goalkeeper of the tournament.
The year 1962 was Yashin's nadir, as he was blamed above all others for the USSR's failure to qualify for the World Cup in Chile. Soviet propaganda and the people were against him, so he decided to quit football. However, the 33-year-old did return to both Dinamo and the national team, and the 1963 season proved, in contrast, to be one of his best. He conceded only six goals in 27 appearances, an all-time record.
Not only at home but also in Europe, 1963 was a wonderful year for Yashin. His display in a European championship qualifying game against Italy in Rome was of the highest quality. Yashin kept everything out, the culmination being a Sandro Mazzola penalty which he caught low down in the corner. "Yashin can play football better than me," said Mazzola after the game. That year he received the Golden Ball for the best European player, the only time in history that the prize has gone to a goalkeeper.
'Thank you people!'
The last time he played was on 27 May 1971 in the Luzhniki Stadium in front of 100,000 spectators. He played for Dinamo against an all-star team which included great players like Giacinto Fachetti, Willi Schulz, Gerd Müller, György Mezey, Bobby Charlton, Wlódzimierz Lubanski and Hristo Bonev. After the game Yashin began his speech in the stadium with: "Thank you people!"
Plethora of awards
Olympic merit awards, FIFA golden merit awards and "sporting legend" tags, are just some of the plaudits that Yashin has received. He regularly makes both European and World all-star elevens', and in 2004 came eighth in UEFA's Golden Jubilee 50/50 poll conducted by uefa.com.
'A man with a big heart'
Since the 1994 World Cup the "Lev Yashin trophy" has been awarded, with Michel Preud'homme, Fabien Barthez and Oliver Kahn the first three recipients. Many great players considered Yashin their friend, including Eusébio, Bobby Charlton, Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé, who recalls: "I met him in 1958 at the World Cup. Later we met many times. He was a great a goalkeeper and a man with big heart." And Eusébio had this to say: "Yashin is still the greatest goalkeeper in the world for me. I am very happy that we were friends, even though we were opponents on the pitch."