It’s early 1971 and the footballing world is still coming to terms with the god like genius of current World Champions, Brazil. As the curtain comes down on an illustrious career, Dima Istow, for World Soccer magazine, catches up with the legendary USSR goalkeeper Lev Yashin to talk football and the future.
Q. It's generally accepted in the West that the World Cup sets the fashion in football. Do you agree?
A. Yes, at any rate since 1966 many international teams and clubs have taken up the 4-3-3 defensive system. And to some extent it lasted until the last World Cup in Mexico.
You were in Mexico-tell us about your impressions and then we can discuss whether the Brazilian victory gave anything to football.
Well, if we begin at the 1966 championships, the basic system there was 4-3-3. This system survived in the Mexico championships as well. If you look closely at the 1970 tournament, the 4-3-3 system was present in almost all teams. I don't think there was really any new system of placing or scheme of play there. So this system remained. Both the holders of the trophy, England, and the Brazilians themselves used this system.
What did the championships give you personally, leaving aside the Soviet team for now?
For me it was still a football school. I think that the championships can always give a footballer something. I was pleased that the football was so sharp. Despite the warm climate, despite the fact that the teams were playing in the noon-day heat, when the sun was at its peak-despite all this the players showed great moral and mental strength, when every team had to fight not only their opponents but also the problem of height and climate.
Nobody in England, either coaches or journalists, has really explained what, to my mind, was a comparatively disappointing performance by the Soviet team in Mexico.
Well, what can you say about our team? They did everything they could to get to the final. But that ill-fated game with Uruguay, that disputed goal which knocked all the players out of their stride and sealed the fate of the team was unfortunate. But that doesn't mean our team was unsuccessful, or that we do not have a good chance of a successful appearance at the next championship.
Is there a coming generation of talented players in the USSR who will be able to take their place in world-class football?
I think we've still got time, and within that time young footballers will naturally show themselves-even now there is in our team a number of young footballers, like Shevchenko, Kolotov and others, and I think they will strengthen their places in the team and will be well prepared. We are now mostly looking to young players.
Going back to the 1970 World Cup, Brazil won on the strength of five or six players, the like of which we just don't have in Europe. Sometimes one gets the impression that Europe cannot imitate Brazil because we don't have the Copacabana beach or places where children can play from the age of eight with highly technical opponents.
Well, we don 't have the Copacabana beach, but we do have places which are no worse where one can have first-class preparation for a world championship. In England you have first-class pitches, first-class turf - the like of which they don’t have in Brazil. It's quite possible in England to work out one’s technique and to play successfully. But what is the difference between Europe and South America? Quite naturally, it seems to me, the climate itself plays a role, the psychology of the individual, shall we say, his temperament; quite simply they have this ingrained feeling for superb technique, mastery in detail. But that doesn't mean they play better than Europeans-they play attractively, if you observe from the sidelines they play very attractively, but in Europe football is more severe, more dynamic, more physical. We Europeans lost to the Brazilians because they had a greater number of high-class players in their team on this occasion; more experienced, such as Pelé, Tostao, Jairzinho, Rivelino, but I don't think history will repeat itself in the next championship.
What can the European countries do to oppose the Brazilians in 1974?
I think first of all the European climate and atmosphere will hinder the Brazilians. I don’t think South American footballers ever feel at home in our continent, just the same as we feel strange over there... I think we can oppose them with our European football, physical and at the same time fast. You must play fast against the South Americans, develop attacks quickly, and round them off quickly, and I think the Europeans have the strength for this. I think success will be on the side of the Europeans in the next championship.
Recently Sir Alf Ramsey expressed the thought that Mexico had been and gone, that to some extent Europe, and particularly England, experienced defeat but that one must forget about that and think of the future. Do you think that’s right?
I think Alf Ramsey was right in this respect. Everything's over, everything’s forgotten and everything that could be learned from the championships has been learned. I think he's right to say that now one must prepare one’s players for West Germany it will be a hard and complicated task. A lot of responsible work. I think all will be well if we Europeans join hands with West Germany in mind.
What do you think of England's success under Alf Ramsey?
No, in general.
Well, firstly one should say that under him , before Mexico, they became champions. Of course, it was difficult for the champions to win in Mexico, because everyone plays twice as hard against the champions, so it was very difficult for Ramsey. I think he has got a lot of hard work ahead of him. I'd like to wish him all the best in his task of taking world football to greater things, to more exciting things.
In May 1971 you will have your last international match, USSR against the Rest of the World. Whom would you personally like to invite to play for the Rest of the World?
Banks, Mazurkiewicz, Schnellinger, Moore, Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton, Overath, Eusebio, Facchetti, Djavic, Pelé, Jairzinho, Amancio.
What are your plans for the future?
I still don’t know, but I cannot imagine a life without football.
Lev Yashin is the only goalkeeper ever to win the European Footballer of the Year Award (1963). He is also believed to have stopped around 150 penalty kicks during his career. When asked what his secret was, he would reply that the trick was "to have a smoke to calm your nerves, then toss back a strong drink to tone your muscles."
For his outstanding service to the people and to his country, Yashin was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1967, the highest award of the USSR. After retiring from playing, he spent almost twenty years in various administrative positions at Dynamo Moscow. A Bronze statue of Yashin was erected at the Dynamo Stadium in Moscow.
In 1986, following a thrombophlebitis contracted while he was in Budapest, Lev Yashin underwent the amputation of one of his legs.
He died in 1990 of stomach cancer, despite a surgical intervention in an attempt to save his life.
This article originally appeared in the January 1971 edition of World Soccer Magazine. You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.