The recently published Ballon d’Or Dream Team by France Football has brought back fond memories of the world’s greatest goalkeeper that ever lived – Lev Yashin.
Nicknamed the “Black Spider” or the “Black Panther” for his customary black outfits, Yashin was known for his imposing presence in goal, and acrobatic reflex saves.
Yashin was born to a family of industrial workers in Moscow on 22 October 1929. However, World War II forced him to work in a factory to support war efforts at the age of 12.
Due to his deteriorating health (nervous breakdown) at age 18, Yashin was transferred to a military factory in Moscow. It was there he first showed his potential in football as a scout spotted him playing for the factory team.
He was invited to play for Dynamo Moscow youth team and thus began his outstanding career.
Although “Black Panther” spent all of his club career in Dynamo Moscow, he is best remembered for his outstanding athleticism in international games where he represented the Soviet Union, now known as Russia, 74 times.
With the national team, he won the 1956 Summer Olympics and the first European championship, 1960 European Nations’ Cup. He also played in three World Cups, (1958, 1962 and 1966) where kept four clean sheets out of twelve games in the finals.
Yashin retired in 1971 and died of stomach cancer on March 20 1990 at the age of 60.
Yashin was a figure to behold in goal due to his tall 6 ft 2 in stature, making spectacular saves. His acrobatics were second to none in his generation. He was also known for shouting orders at his defenders, coming off his line to intercept crosses and he also ran out to meet onrushing attackers, a feat he revolutionised at a time when other goalkeepers stood in goal for the entire 90 minutes, waiting to be called into action.
France Football wrote this about the legend: “Yashin revolutionised the role of goalkeeper like no other before him, by always being ready to act as an extra defender” and by “starting dangerous counter-attacks with his positioning and quick throws”.
FIFA called him an “impregnable spider” whose positioning, catching and punching were impeccable.
However, for all his achievements which include becoming the only goalkeeper in history to win the prestigious Ballon d’Or (1963) and being the only goalkeeper in the history of sports to stop 151 penalty kicks and the first Winner of The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper, Yashin didn’t start out an exceptional keeper.
He conceded a soft goal on his debut for Dynamo Moscow in 1950 and never appeared for the club until 1953. Yashin is also the first and only goalkeeper in history to concede a straight World Cup corner kick. He was nominated twice for Ballon d’Or in 1960 and 1961, placing fifth and fourth respectively before eventually winning the award in 1963.
But these flaws among others, only made Yashin human as fans were beginning to believe he had eight arms due to his exceptional abilities in goal.
For every mistakes he made, he came out stronger and more determined. And 30 years after his death, his record is yet to be broken as he is and will always remain the greatest goalkeeper of all time.