While it is strikers and midfielders who win most plaudits in football, Lev Yashin is the only goalkeeper who managed to break that pattern. Imagine a goalie having the stature of today’s Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi! That is how this Russian goalkeeper was in his peak. From Edwin van der Sar to Iker Casillas to Gianluigi Buffon, many exceptional goalkeeping talents have come and gone after him, with some winning almost every trophy there is to win in world football. However, there is one thing that only Lev Yashin could do: winning the Ballon d’Or. Yes, he did it in 1963. Looking at how football has evolved since Yashin last touched the ball, no goalkeeper will lay their hands on this ultimate award any time soon, and this will continue at least for the foreseeable future.
Nicknamed the Black Spider, Lev revolutionised the role of a goalkeeper. Realising that goalkeepers have a better pitch vision than other players, Lev could organise his defence and the entire team like a coach and with the authority of an army commander. When he had to go clash with the opponents, the Black Panther did not hesitate even if it meant getting out of his position – this was completely unthinkable in his days.
Yashin was perhaps best known for his acrobatic reflex saves, excellent positioning, athleticism, and the bravery he demonstrated in matches, however tension-evoking they were. In fact, if there is one goalkeeper who won matches for his Soviet Union national team and CSK Moscow, it was Yashin. He racked up a whopping 270 career clean sheets, and he was named the goalie of the 20th C by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, ascertaining why he was the safest pair of hands between the sticks. So as we say ‘requiescat in pace’ to this legend, let’s not forget that his legacy is there to stay.