UEFA President Michel Platini spoke of "a moving experience that I shall never forget" in bestowing the 2014 UEFA President's Award on Josef Masopust.
Article top media content
UEFA President Michel Platini has spoken of his emotion at bestowing the 2014 UEFA President's Award upon Czech great Josef Masopust this past weekend. Masopust, European Footballer of the Year in 1962, passed away on Monday at the age of 84.
Masopust joins a distinguished selection of football legends – all fellow European Footballers of the Year – who have received the UEFA President's Award: Alfredo Di Stéfano (2007), Sir Bobby Charlton (2008), Eusébio (2009), Raymond Kopa (2010), Gianni Rivera (2011), Franz Beckenbauer (2012) and Johan Cruyff (2013).
The award recognises outstanding achievements, professional excellence and exemplary personal qualities, and focuses especially on the players who have advanced the game's development and success.
"One year ago, I took the decision to give the UEFA President's Award to a Czech football legend, the great Josef Masopust," Michel Platini reflected. "I wanted to give this award to Josef in his home country and actually saw him on Sunday, at his home, before he passed away. It was a moving experience that I shall never forget."
Winning 63 caps for his country, Masopust inspired Czechoslovakia to the 1962 FIFA World Cup final in Chile – scoring the Czechs' goal in their 3-1 defeat to Brazil in the decider in Santiago – as well as third place at the 1960 UEFA European Championship. The influential midfielder also helped Dukla Praha win eight league championships, and coached FC Zbrojovka Brno to the Czech title in 1978.
"In his day, Josef was truly an outstanding player as well as being a true gentleman," Mr Platini said. "A classic midfielder for Dukla Praha with a flair and talent for goalscoring and an uncanny ability for elegant dribbling. He deservedly won the Ballon d'Or in 1962 and was part of the great Czechoslovak squad that became World Cup runners-up in Chile that year."
To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years, and the Czech Republic chose Josef Masopust as their golden player.
"It feels as if my father died," said Masopust's colleague and close friend in the 1962 World Cup team, Josef Jelínek. "He was a modest man, a great footballer and also a football gentleman.
"During the World Cup in Chile, Pelé was injured during our [group] game against Brazil. Substitutes were not allowed at that time, so Pelé was just standing on the pitch. When Masopust noticed this, he stopped and let Pelé control the ball and pass it away without pressing him. All the stands applauded that great demonstration of fair play." Pelé himself once said that Masopust "played like a Brazilian. He looked, behaved and played as a born Brazilian. He was really excellent on the ball."
Miroslav Pelta, president of the Football Association of the Czech Republic, added: "Josef Masopust was a unique personality on the pitch as well as off it. His passing away personally touched me. It is an irretrievable loss. His heritage, including phenomenal performances and fair play behaviour should be an example for all players."
Fellow Czech Republic great and 2003 European Footballer of the Year Pavel Nedvěd also paid warm homage. "Masopust was a great role model for me and for us all," he said. "The mixture of football art, modesty and friendship. He was the best Czech footballer of all times. And a great example - as a player as well as a man. When I won the Golden Ball myself, everybody mentioned his name. I have never thought of standing next to him." Ivo Viktor, a European champion with Czechoslovakia in 1976, added: "Thanks to his creative thinking, he was a genial footballer comparable to Pelé or [Johan] Cruyff."
At its meeting in Prague on Monday, the UEFA Executive Committee observed a minute's silence in memory of one of the finest players of his generation. A minute's silence was also held at Tuesday night's UEFA European Under-21 Championship final between Sweden and Portugal at the Eden Stadium in Prague.