Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another, much more important page was closed in 1971 – Lev Yashin officially retired. In a very rare, if not entirely unique, gesture the Soviets permitted thorough tribute: the match between Dynamo (Moscow) and the Rest of the World Stars. 100 000 fans went to the stadium. Born in 1929, Yashin debuted in 1950, but his first season was 1949 (he did not play a single game in 1949). At that early years Yashin also played ice-hockey – a goalie, although with his 180 cm height he was too tall for hockey net. Not bad hockey player either – he won the Soviet Cup with Dynamo in 1953. As a footballer success was much bigger: 5 times champion of USSR, 3 times Cup holder. With the national team he won the Summer Olympics 1956 and European Championship 1960. He played 3 World Cup Finals – 1958, 1962, and 1966. He was in the 1970 Soviet selection at the World Cup finals, but in rather strange role – listed as a third goalkeeper, he was really assistant coach and did not play. He was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1963. After 326 official games for Dynamo and 74 for the national team, Yashin called it a day at 42 years of age. Pele, Eusebio, and Beckenbauer, along with lesser international stars, went to Moscow to pay their respects. The man more than deserved it – it is still considered the best goalkeeper of all time.
Soviets were very strict with their players, right? Iron regime and clean image. Yashin (allegedly) saved more than 150 penalty kicks during his career. When he was asked what was his secret, he answered "to have a smoke to calm your nerves, then toss back a strong drink to tone your muscles." This revelation came late, though – when he was in the World XI, to play against England in the 1963 FA Centenary match (one of his best ever), Yashin was shocked to see the Spanish players casually ordering glasses of wine with their lunch. He timidly asked Ferenc Puskas about this open breach of sporting discipline – the former Hungarian merely shrugged: what was the big deal? It was normal in the proffesional world – a glass of wine was not going to ruin a player. Yashin’s habbits were kept secret in USSR – actually, he got special individual permission to smoke and drink in the dressing room only he got quite old.