Tributes have poured in from across Europe in honour of former England manager Sir Bobby Robson.
Robson, the country's most successful manager after Sir Alf Ramsey, died of cancer today aged 76. He had been fighting the disease for a number of years. Players who played under the former Ipswich, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Newcastle boss at the 1986 and 1990 FIFA World Cups™ led the eulogies.
Robson took the team to the quarter-finals in 1986 where they were defeated by Argentina, thanks in part to Diego Maradona's infamous 'hand of God' goal. Four years later, the boyhood Newcastle fan led them to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup in Italy losing on penalties to West Germany.
Glenn Hoddle, who later followed in Robson's footsteps when he became England manager in 1996, told Sky Sports News: "He's the closest we've come to winning the World Cup (since 1966) - that's how good Bobby was. "In the 1990 World Cup with a little bit more luck and calmness in the penalty shoot-out, who knows what could have happened? He was right up there behind Sir Alf Ramsey in that sense. He was a football man, a very endearing man, quite comical.
"You can see how respected he was all around the world," he went on. "He was someone that would talk to you. The lads really did take to him and have respect for what he's done not only in football but off the pitch. He was a very charming man but also a winner."
Gary Lineker, who won the golden boot in 1986 and whose goals were also crucial in 1990, said: "He had a tremendous enthusiasm and passion for football and life and continued to retain this right to the last days of his life. He will be deeply missed by everyone, especially those who played for him. I have the fondest memories of playing for him at two World Cups."
England U-21 coach Stuart Pearce, another of the class of 1990, added: "I cannot think of anyone in the game who was held in higher esteem. It was an absolute privilege and honour for me to work with him."
Robson's death was also mourned at PSV, whom he led back-to-back Dutch titles with in 1991 and 1992, and Barcelona, with whom he he won the Spanish Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup in 1997. A statement on PSV's website read: "Robson was an icon from British football and he had enormous popularity among our fans."
"Barcelona is in mourning,'' a statement from the European champions read. "During his period with the club, Robson won the affection of all Cules (Barca supporters). He is a true legend of world football."
England have still not yet managed to match achievements of Robson's side in 1990, 19 years and seven managers down the line. Only Terry Venables at UEFA EURO 96 has guided the side to the last four of a major championship, where they again lost on penalties to the Germans.
The Football Association acknowledged his achievements in a statement which read: "Sir Bobby will forever be remembered as one of the nation's greatest ever football managers. Flags at Soho Square and Wembley Stadium will fly at half mast in honour of Sir Bobby.''
One of those who tried - and failed - to emulate Robson's success, Steve McClaren, credited his predecessor with helping him rebuild his career after being sacked by the national team. McClaren has excelled in the Dutch Eredivisie since taking over at FC Twente last summer. "I became quite close to Bobby during my England career. I often had talks with him and he gave me great advice," he said. "He advised me to come over here to Holland, he said 'Get over there, you'll love it'. It's the best advice I've ever had."
Former prime minister Tony Blair, a Newcastle supporter like Robson, added: "Sir Bobby was one of the nicest, most caring and genuine people I ever met - a real Geordie gentleman. He was, of course, an outstanding coach, but he was also immensely generous with his time and energy across a range of charitable activities. It was a privilege to have known him."
Stars remember Robson
There were further tributes from Manchester United great Bryan Robson, who was handed the England captaincy by his namesake, and fellow Red Devils legend Denis Law. Bryan Robson said: "I was fortunate enough to be given the England captaincy by him and I thoroughly enjoyed that role and everything about playing for him for eight years. We had some great times - the World Cups in Mexico in 1986 when we reached the quarter-finals and then Italy in 1990 when we got to the semi-final. He was just a pleasure to work with.
"I was with him in Portugal only a few weeks ago when I went over to play in his charity golf day which was a fantastic event. He was struggling [with illness] at the time and had been advised not to travel, but he wanted to be there. And last week he was at a charity football match at Newcastle raising money for others. That just shows the character of the man."
Law added: "I was extremely sad to hear the news about Bobby. I was with him last year at a charity event in Portugal where he was raising funds for an orphanage over there with a friend of mine and he was struggling a bit [with illness] then. He got up to make a speech and I thought he'd probably just do a few minutes, but he ended up speaking for half an hour! I couldn't believe it, but that was Bobby all over. He was enthusiastic about everything he did. Not only was he a wonderful player and manager, he was a wonderful man and a very brave man."
UEFA president Michel Platini said: "It is with great sadness that I learned today of the death of Sir Bobby Robson. He was a great ambassador for football and a true gentleman in everything he did. He will be remembered not only for his playing career and his outstanding managerial career at both club and international level, but also because he was a truly warm and passionate human being. My thoughts and condolences go to his wife and family at this time."
Former England manager Terry Venables said: "It is a really sad day. Everyone knows him around the country and around the world. He has always been a fighter and he has really fought everything that has been thrown at him but he has just run out of luck this time. It is really sad and I am really hard put to put a few words together because we came across each other many times whether on ITV for World Cups, or playing against each other - we go back that far.
"You just thought he was indestructible and he would get over everything but of course it comes to everybody. He has been suffering for a while and he has shown great bravery and always in a dignified fashion. We wish his family well and it really is a very sad evening for everybody, for those that have come across Bobby and even for those that haven't, for those that have seen what he has done in football and the way he has done it.
"He has been a credit to everybody, he has been a credit to his country, his family and himself. I spoke to him five weeks ago. I spoke on the phone and he was as you imagine to be, still talking about football and he was trying hard to battle away."
Graham Taylor, the man who succeeded Robson at the England helm after the 1990 FIFA World Cup, paid tribute to his predecessor as a true gentleman. "I first met Bobby in the very early '70s when I was a young manager at Lincoln City, just finding my way," he said. "I met him on a coaching course at Lilleshall. From that meeting, he invited myself to spend a day with him at Ipswich to see what he was doing, what he was trying to do. He was so enthusiastic. For a manager to do that for a young manager now, you don't get that too often. So I owe Bobby Robson a lot."
Speaking at Edgbaston, during the tea break of the third Test between England and Australia, he added on Sky Sports 1: "I'll always remember Bobby as a gentleman. We all know about his achievements in football - they're there for everybody to see - but the Bobby Robson I remember will be Bobby Robson the gentleman."