In the modern era, the likes of Buffon, Casillas, Neuer, and earlier Kahn, Schmeichel or Chilavert are often considered the best goalkeepers in history. But those who watched Lev Yashin from the Soviet Union, remarked that he often looked like a machine, not a man.
Lev Yashin (1929 – 1990) was a football and hockey goalkeeper. He spent his whole career in Dynamo Moscow. His beginnings were not stellar – in 1950, when he debuted for Dynamo in a friendly match, he conceded a goal from the opponents goalkeeper. The sloppy performance had a high cost– he featured for Dynamo’s first team only 2 times in competitive matches in the next two years. But, he stayed determined, and waited for a chance to break through in the reserves.
He decided to play ice hockey for Dynamo as a goalkeeper, and he even managed to win the USSR hockey cup in 1953, and was the third best goalkeeper of the tournament.
His hockey adventure helped him to grow professionally and become the best goalkeeper of his time, and according to some even the best goalkeeper in the history of football.
Yashin was colossal for the standards of mid-20th century. Goalkeepers back then were often small and mobile, they were rarely taller than 180 cm. Yashin was 190 cm tall and weighed nearly 90 kg, and in his all black jersey he had a terrific, commanding presence on the pitch.
In the beginning he was considered too big and immobile to be a good goalkeeper, but Yashin proved them all wrong and really dominated on the field with his strength. He became famous for his reflexes, which were then proclaimed to be impossible and extra-terrestrial. Yashin earned the flattering nickname Black Panther, by always wearing a black jersey, and the nickname Black Spider since he looked like he had 8 hands instead of 2.
Lev Yashin had a rich domestic and international career. He played 326 competitive matches for Dynamo, from 1950 to 1970, and even scored one goal. He had also 78 international caps for the Soviet Union.
Yashin has won 1956 Summer Olympics, and 1960 European Championship. He also played in three World Cups, from 1958 to 1966, and he traveled to Mexico in 1970, as a third goalkeeper and assistant coach.
He was the first star of Soviet Union, led his team to 2 quarterfinals and one semifinal, in England 1966. In 1958, the Soviet Union lost to eventual champions Brazil in quarterfinals by 2 goals to 0, but he put on stellar performance and clearly saved his team from humiliation, since the Brazil team, led by Pele, simply was too powerful for all nations of that time. Yashin was selected as the best goalkeeper of that tournament.
In 1963 Yashin became the first and so far the only goalkeeper who won the prestigious Ballon D’Or award for the best footballer in the world.
Throughout his career, Yashin saved 151 penalty kicks, more than any other goalkeeper in the history of football. Also, Yashin kept 270 clean sheets, which is a remarkable achievement even by today’s standards.
After the ending of his career, he spent another 20 years in Dynamo Moscow, in various administrative positions.
In his honor, FIFA established a “Lev Yashin award”, for the best goalkeeper in the World Cup. In various polls, he was selected as best goalkeeper of the 20th century, in top 100 players of 20th century, in all-time World Cup ideal team and in the FIFA Dream team.
In Yashin’s honor, a bronze statue was erected at Dynamo stadium in Moscow.