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'A football man through and through'

Published: Monday 31 December 2007, 19.08CET
Football mourned the loss of some cherished figures during 2007 with the deaths of players Phil O'Donnell and Antonio Puerta shocking the European game. features

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Published: Monday 31 December 2007, 19.08CET

'A football man through and through'

Football mourned the loss of some cherished figures during 2007 with the deaths of players Phil O'Donnell and Antonio Puerta shocking the European game.

Football mourned the loss of some cherished figures during 2007 including Alan Ball and Nils Liedholm while the deaths of players Phil O'Donnell and Antonio Puerta shocked the European game.

Saddest days
"Today is one of the saddest days in the history of Sevilla FC," the Andalusian club's president, José María Del Nido said following the announcement that Puerta, aged just 22, had passed away on 28 August. "That diamond left foot of Antonio Puerta has left us, that left foot that changed our lives has left us." Puerta had been in a critical condition at a hospital in Seville after collapsing the previous Saturday during Sevilla's opening league match of the season and then suffering a cardiac arrest. Puerta's name had been inextricably linked to Sevilla's recent success in European competition.

UEFA Cup hero
Born in the city's working-class district of Triana, Puerta had come up through the ranks of his hometown club. It was his extra-time goal that won the UEFA Cup semi-final against FC Schalke 04 in April 2006 and he appeared as a substitute in the final defeat of Middlesbrough FC in Eindhoven that May. He surpassed those achievements by converting the winning penalty in last season's UEFA Cup final against RCD Espanyol following a 2-2 draw in Glasgow. Sevilla agreed to play in the UEFA Super Cup against AC Milan three days after Puerta's death as a tribute to the player.

Hometown hero
The year ended in Britain on a tragic note following the death of 35-year-old Motherwell FC captain Phil O'Donnell who collapsed because of heart failure during his team's match against Dundee United FC on 29 December. "Our players are so close, and Phil was a figurehead to them," Motherwell manager Mark McGhee said. "Phil was not just any player, he was the focal point and the senior member of the squad. For any of us to contemplate going on a training ground, never mind a football ground, at this moment is impossible. We are all going to need time to get back to work." O'Donnell was part of the Motherwell side that defeated Dundee United FC in the 1991 Scottish Cup final, scoring in a 4-3 victory when still a teenager. He also played for Celtic FC and Sheffield Wednesday FC before rejoining Motherwell in 2003, becoming a key figure in a young and exciting squad.

'Everybody loved Alan'
Alan Ball, who died of a heart attack in April at the age of 61, was just 21 when he helped England win the FIFA World Cup in 1966, shining in the 4-2 final victory against West Germany at Wembley. Capped 72 times by his country, he was a marauding midfielder and a giant presence on the pitch despite his diminutive frame. "He was probably the best player [in the final] and if it had not been for his impact, the result could have been totally different,” said Sir Bobby Charlton, his midfield partner in 1966. "He was a terrific character who was always bubbly and jolly and a football man through and through."

'Like a father'
The same could be said of former Sweden and AC Milan forward Nils Liedholm who died aged 85 after a long illness in November. A year after helping Sweden win Olympic gold in 1948 Liedholm joined Milan where he formed the 'Gre-No-Li' trio with compatriots Gunnar Nordahl and Gunnar Gren. In 1950/51 they inspired Milan to their first Scudetto in 44 years and further titles followed in 1955, 1957 and 1959. After retiring from playing in 1961 Liedholm would enjoy further success as coach. He returned to San Siro to guide Milan to their tenth championship in 1979, then, in 1983, steered AS Roma to their first domestic crown since 1942. The following Liedholm year took them to the European Champion Clubs' Cup final where they lost on penalties to Liverpool FC. "He was like a father to me," said Falcão, the leader of that Giallorossi side. "He knew how to love with altruism."

Derwall remembered
Other famous figures to pass away in 2007 include Josef 'Jupp' Derwall, who took Germany to the 1980 UEFA European Championship title and the 1982 FIFA World Cup final. The much-travelled Armenia coach Ian Porterfield died of a heart-attack aged 61 while Portuguese football mourned the death of Sporting Clube de Portugal legend Júlio Cernadas Pereira, better known as Juca, at the age of 78. Juca famously was the first player to score a goal at the old Estádio José Alvalade and would later became the youngest coach to win the Portuguese title, leading Sporting to glory in 1962 at the age of 33.

Last updated: 02/01/08 12.26CET