By the time Lev Yashin reached football, the profession of goalkeeper was almost 80 years old. However, he was the pioneer of modern goalkeepers in the birth of traditional patterns of behavior.
- European champion (1960) and Olympic winner (1956)
- The only goalkeeper to win the Ballon d’Or (1963)
- 5x Russian champion
- 151 goals scored (record)
- IFFHS’s best goalkeeper of the 20th century
Giving instructions to defenders, going to the centerpieces, fighting with fists, rushing against the attackers, opening counter-attacks with quick throws – qualities that no one can imagine a modern goalkeeper with. Before Yashin, however, the gatekeepers were men in a different shirt, standing on the goal line and repelling the blows.
Someone must always be guilty
In the apartment that was given to the Jašin family in 1964, behind the kitchen table, where Levi’s widow Valentina is still sitting, the cream of the football world from Franz Beckenbauer to Eusebion has enjoyed dinner. Although the legendary goalkeeper spoke only Russian in letter and speech, this did not stop him from making friends. In their souls, they all spoke the language of football.
The 1958 World Championships in Sweden – Yashin’s first – were significant. For the first time, television broadcast World Cup heroes around the world; for the first time not only Jašin, but also someone Pele took the stage. The goalkeeper introduced only a 17-year-old Brazilian to his Valentina.
Lev grabbed him by the neck and then turned to me, ‘Look at this boy.’ He will soon be the best footballer in the world. There were no interpreters nearby. But for Levi, Pele was the best ever,” Valentina reminded The Blizzard of the meeting.
In many ways, Jašin and Pele were companions of fate, because at the club level, neither was able to test themselves against the best in Europe. But in his own sad way, Yashin was much more influenced by the man he hoped would get better than Pele. It was Anatoly Kožemjakin.
Their career as a player overlapped only briefly, but after hanging his gloves, Yashin started working as a manager for the Moscow Dinamo representative team, so he saw Kozhiakin’s talent and development curve very closely. The attacker, who already stood out as a schoolboy, also adapted by playing with Russia’s top level; in the youth classes, he was an equal partner to Oleg Blohhin, who was declared the best football player in the world in 1975. But Kožemjakin’s eyes did not see it.
He had been injured and in October 1974, before playing Moscow’s Torpedo, Dinamo’s coaches informed the attacker that he should rest. Kožemjakin, who had become free in the evening, went to a rock concert, where he probably went too far with a snack, because after midnight, knocking on the door at home, his partner – their common child in his arms – sent him away. A friend took a headful of Kožemjakin to sleep on his couch.
In the morning, the men happily stepped into the elevator, which was hit by a technical failure halfway through. As strong young men, they slammed the doors wide and a friend climbed up the floor. Anatoli didn’t tend to make his jeans black at first, but eventually he did. And then the mechanisms started working again. The elevator extinguished the 21-year-old gate hunter with a moment of life candle.
Jašin was already severely affected by Kožemjakin’s death, but in the spirit of the state order, Dinamo chairman Pyotr Bogdanov was somehow found guilty of the death of a legendary goalkeeper – as a punishment, Jašin was sent to office work with a couple of accomplices. With a tender soul, Yashin did not understand this. His relationship with the management was ripped apart.
He sat in the office, quickly picking up ten extra pounds behind the desk. Lack of exercise and chain smoking caused health problems: 48-year-old first heart attack, 56-year-old leg amputation, 60-year-old abdominal cancer. The last way to Yashin’s grave was on Friday, 30 years ago.