ZURICH: Various senior members of the football family died in 2014, as a year that served up so many wonderful memories also delivered much in the way of painful moments.
The list includes former players, such as revered duo Alfredo Di Stefano and Eusebio, and football officials, with the game having also mourned Julio Humberto Grondona, President of the Argentinian Football Association (AFA) and Senior Vice-President of FIFA.
Legendary forward Alfredo Di Stefano died shortly after his 88th birthday, suffering a heart attack in Madrid, not far from the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu where he spent his finest years on the pitch with Real Madrid. An honorary president at the club and considered ‘the best player in the world’ by Los Merengues’faithful, he left an indelible imprint on the global game. “All the openings that exist now for Latin American players at European clubs were created thanks to the work of Alfredo Di Stefano,” said Pele in a homage to his fellow great.
Fans of the global game also said goodbye to another indisputable legend in Portugal striker Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, the ‘Black Panther’ having died of heart failure aged 71. Top marksman at the 1966 FIFA World Cup™ with nine strikes, Eusebio remains the all-time record goalscorer for Lisbon giants Benfica. “Football has lost a fantastic forward who fully deserves his place alongside the greatest players of all time,” commented FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
The goalkeeping fraternity was particularly affected this year as well, with the game losing former Belgian international and Standard Liege stalwart Jean Nicolay at the age of 76 and 88-year-old Gyula Grosics, who represented Hungary 86 times between 1947 and 1962. Meanwhile, France bade farewell to a pair of custodians in the space of just two days in Georges Lamia, 73, and Rene Llense, the oldest living French international until his death aged 100.
Numerous other former stars featured in the obituary columns during 2014, including 46-year-old midfielder Klas Ingesson, who played 57 times for Sweden and helped his country finish third at the 1994 World Cup. Ingesson’s death came just weeks after he had stepped down as coach of Elfsborg. Football also mourned one of the greatest forwards ever to turn out for Yugoslavia in Milan Galic, 76, the Serbian having plundered 37 goals in 51 international appearances between 1959 and 1965.
There was much sadness too after the death of former France midfielder Jean-Jacques Marcel, 83, who won 44 caps and took part in the 1954 and 1958 World Cups, while Belarus lost Valentin Belkevich at 41 years of age and with 56 caps under his belt along with 70 goals in 317 outings for Dynamo Kyiv. Elsewhere, Richard Durr passed away at the age of 75, his 29 Switzerland games comprising matches at the 1962 and 1966 World Cup finals, and Brazil said goodbye to 83-year-old Hilderaldo Luiz Bellini, who captained a Seleção side featuring a young Pele to World Cup glory in 1958.
Nor can we forget the former Portugal captain and team-mate of Eusebio Mario Coluna, who died aged 78, and ex-defender Philippe Mahut, the 57-year-old having served on the French Football Federation’s national ethics council. In addition, Mohamed Salah Jedidi, who appeared 40 times for Tunisia, passed away on the day of his 76th birthday, while there was sombre news too concerning his compatriot, Tahar Chaibi, 68, plus the first Togolese player to ply his trade abroad, Wazo Kossi Denke, who died aged 55 after collecting 70 caps.
Sadly, accidents and tragedies of one kind or another claimed several lives as well. That was true of 36-year-old Brazilian forward Fernando Lucio da Costa, better known as Fernandao, who fell victim to a helicopter accident. As for South Africa captain Senzo Meyiwa, 27, he was shot to death in his own home, while former Dynamo Kyiv midfielder Andriy Husin, who disputed 71 matches for Ukraine, was killed at the age of 41 in a motorcycle accident.
The coaching death which shook the football world the most, however, was surely that of Tito Vilanova, who bravely led Barcelona to a record Liga title win before succumbing to illness just seven months later on 25 April 2014, at the age of 45.
Spanish football lost another major coach this year in Luis Aragones. The man whose name will forever be associated with Atletico Madrid passed on aged 75, having been one of the key architects of Spain’s rise to prominence by introducing the tiki-taka style that helped La Roja conquer all-comers until very recently.
Also in the managerial realm, there was cause to reflect on the achievements of former Yugoslavia and Madrid boss Vujadin Boskov, a fine player in his own right who died at the age of 83, and Richard Moller Nielsen, 76, who memorably led Denmark to a shock victory at Euro 92.
Julio Humberto Grondona, who died aged 82 in July, was President of the AFA but also a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee from 1988 onwards and President of FIFA’s Finance Committee.
Lastly, a pair of notable club presidents passed away in 2014: Malcolm Glazer, the 85-year-old American owner of Manchester United, and Said Fakhri, 77, the Senegalese owner of French side Cannes.