A Tribute To... Lev Yashin

Barney Corkhill@@BarneyCorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 19, 2008

Welcome to the fourth in the "A Tribute To..." series. Today's tribute is for the man widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper ever: Lev Yashin.

He had some of the best reflexes the footballing world has ever seen, and this coupled with his superb athleticism enabled him to pull of some jaw-dropping saves. He revolutionised and some say invented the idea of goalkeeper sweeping.

On October 22, 1929 in Moscow, Lev Ivanovich Yashin was born. 12 years later and World War II forced him to go to work in a military factory. He started playing for the factory's team, and soon his displays were being noticed by scouts from all over Moscow.

It was Dynamo Moscow who captured the signing of this young talent. In 1949, at 20 years old, Lev Yashin signed for them. This was quite possibly the best signing they have made in their history.

Although, it may not have seemed that way early on. In his debut match, a friendly, Yashin conceded a goal scored by the opposing 'keeper. It was a soft goal which Yashin, uncharacteristically even at this early stage, let through his guard.

He only appeared on two more occasions that season, both in the league. It was 1953 until Yashin played in a senior match for Dynamo Moscow again. His career had not got off to a great start.

The reason for these lack of appearances was that Yashin was playing second fiddle to Alexei Khomich, nicknamed "Tiger."

However, while a lack of playing time between the sticks on a football field was occuring, the same could not be said on the ice hockey rink. In 1953 Yashin was the regular 'keeper for the Dynamo Ice Hockey team, helping them to the USSR Ice Hockey Cup.

Although not in the sport he would later become a legend of, Yashin had experienced his first taste of success.

From 1953 onwards, Yashin began getting more exposure to the Dynamo Moscow first team. His consistent stunning displays helped banish the demons of three years previously, and he soon became one of Russia's top goalkeeper's.

Inevitably, the national team came knocking. Yashin was called up to the USSR squad and made his debut in 1954, and soon became the country's No. 1.

His spectacular saves and goal-line heroics for both club and country soon coined him the nickname "The Black Panther," for his notorious all black attire and his cat-like reactions. Others knew him by "The Black Spider," again for his attire, and for his ability to just get something on the ball to save it even when it seemed impossible, like a spider with eight legs.

In 1956, Yashin was selected as USSR's goalkeeper to go the the Melbourne Olympics. His world-class displays helped his country to gold medal at the games, beating Germany, Indonesia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia on the way. In the five games they played (they had to replay their match against Indonesia), Yashin only conceded two goals.

Time and time again, Lev Yashin put in match winning performances for club and country. This helped Dynamo Moscow to establish themselves as top contenders in the Russian League.

It also helped him retain his No. 1 spot for the 1958 World Cup. This was when Yashin really exploded onto the world scene.

His performances helped USSR through the group stages, keeping two clean sheets along the way. He also impressed against the great 1958 Brazil side, keeping the score down to 2-0 when it could have been much worse.

USSR were eliminated in the quarter-finals to host nation Sweden, but Yashin had left his mark on the tournament. His performances had earned him the goalkeeper spot in the World Cup All-Star Team.

Two years later and he was still USSR's No. 1, and getting geared up for the first ever European Championships. He had now established himself as one of the World's best goalkeepers, and strikers throughout the footballing globe knew that when they came up against the USSR, they were going to find it hard to score.

Indeed, only two men managed to score past Yashin in the European Championships, as he led them to victory, again beating Yugoslavia in the final. They were the first ever European Championships winner, and Yashin and the rest of the USSR team had written their names into the history books.

In 1962, another World Cup came along. This time people were expectant of the USSR. Everyone wanted to see how well the European Champions, with "the Black Panther" in goal, could do.

It turned out to be something of a disappointment. Another quarter-final finish and some uncharacteristic mistakes from Yashin led some to question whether his career was over. Two concussions during the tournament meant that he wasn't at his very best.

But Yashin showed great mental strength to bounce back. The very next year He became the first, and to this day the only, goalkeeper to win the Ballon d'Or. He was the European Footballer of the Year just one year after some questioned his future.

It was in this year that Yashin produced one of his most memorable performances. In an FA Centenary match, he constantly pulled off saves that looked impossible and seemed unimaginable. The match, held at Wembley, showed the mass English public the sheer quality of this man from Moscow.

In 1966 Yashin, now 36, led his country into that year's World Cup. Once again, he impressed on the world stage, leading his team to the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by West Germany, and later lost the third place playoff to Portugal.

FIFA didn't let his performances go unnoticed. They recognised his brilliance and now the World Cup Best Goalkeeper award is now known as the Lev Yashin award. The USSR government didn't let his importance go unnoticed either.

In 1967 they awarded him the Order of Lenin, the second highest award the USSR has. He was still just 37 when he received this.

Towards this time his career was coming to an end. It was then that Yashin played his last game for the USSR, although he did travel to the 1970 World Cup, he didn't play any games. In all, he played 78 times for the USSR, conceding just 70 goals.

In 22 years at Dynamo Moscow he played 326 times in the league. He won the Russian league five times in his time there, as well as the USSR Cup three times. In a reported 812 career games played, he kept a phenomenal 480 clean sheets, far more than any other keeper, and saved over 150 penalties, also a lot more than any other player.

He has been voted the World Goalkeeper of the Century and been included in the Century World XI team. He was truly a great.

Probably the greatest goalkeeper of all time. This has been a tribute to Lev Yashin.

Click here to see other tributes made by this author.


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