Legends lost in 2021

Although 2021 yielded many great moments in the beautiful game, it was also the year in which the football family bade a sad farewell to a few of its favourite sons.

Here, we remember a few of the all-time greats who passed away over the course of the last year.

IMAGO / Horstmüller

Weltmeisterschaft Finale, BR Deutschland - Niederlande in München: Gerd Müller (li., BRD) trifft vorbei an Ruud Krol (Niederlande) zum 1:0

Gerd Müller (1945-2021)

Müller, who lifted the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ with West Germany, was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of the game.

Commonly referred to by his nickname, Der Bomber (the Bomber), Müller rewrote the history books for both Bayern Munich and West Germany as he claimed numerous trophies and set countless records during an illustrious career. The striker plundered a total of 68 goals in 62 appearances for his country.

Müller netted 14 FIFA World Cup™ goals, a tally surpassed only by his compatriot Miroslav Klose (16) and Brazil’s Ronaldo Nazário (15). He is Germany’s second-highest all-time goalscorer behind Klose, although it took the Poland-born goal machine 137 games to reach his total of 71, whilst Müller managed his 68 goals in just 62 outings.

The most significant goal of the Bayern Munich legend’s career was the winner he hit as West Germany ran out 2-1 winners over the Netherlands in the 1974 FIFA World Cup final in Munich.

At club level, Müller is the most prolific goalscorer in Bundesliga history and struck 365 goals in 427 league appearances for Bayern Munich during a 15-year stint with the Bavarians.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 11: England striker Jimmy Greaves outpaces a Uruguay defender during the 1966 FIFA World Cup Finals group A match between England and Uruguay at Wembley Stadium on July 11, 1966 in London, England. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images)

Jimmy Greaves (1940-2021)

Greaves remains by far and away the top scorer in the history of the English top flight, thanks to the 357 league goals he netted during spells with Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United.

He was equally prolific for England and registered 44 times in just 57 games for his national team. His goalscoring exploits for the Three Lions make him the fifth-highest goalscorer in the country’s history.

Although an England regular throughout his career and despite starting the tournament in the starting line-up, Greaves did not feature in England’s 4-2 success over West Germany in the 1966 FIFA World Cup™ final, due to injury.

1958: Italian footballer with Juventus, Giampiero Boniperti. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Giampiero Boniperti (1928-2021)

Over the course of Juventus’s decorated history, few players have represented the club’s famous black-and-white stripes with more distinction than Boniperti.

A creative, technical attacking player, Boniperti spent his entire 15-year playing career with Juve, before going on to serve as a club director and enjoying a two-decade stint as president.

Boniperti was one of the finest players of his generation and featured for Italy at the 1950 FIFA World Cup™ and the 1952 Summer Olympics, whilst he captained his country at the 1954 FIFA World Cup™.

He also captured the Serie A title five times with the Turin-based outfit.

IMAGO / Ferdi Hartung

Roger Hunt (England, Mitte) gegen Karl Heinz Schnellinger (li.) und Wolfgang Weber (beide BR Deutschland)

Roger Hunt (1938-2021)

Roger Hunt partnered hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst in attack for England in the 1966 FIFA World Cup final, which ended in a 4-2 win over West Germany. It remains England’s only major trophy to date.

Often overlooked in the pantheon of England greats, Hunt scored 18 goals in 34 appearances for England, including three at the 1966 World Cup.

Hunt is also the second-highest goalscorer in Liverpool’s illustrious history, with a total of 285 goals in 492 appearances for the Reds. Only Ian Rush, with 346 in 660, has scored more goals for the club.

IMAGO / Sven Simon

Tarcisio Burgnich (li., Italien) nimmt Pele (Brasilien) in Manndeckung

Tarcisio Burgnich (1939-2021)

Tarcisio Burgnich appeared in three FIFA World Cups for Italy and was a pillar of Inter Milan’s defence for over a decade.

Nicknamed La Rocchia (the Rock) by Inter captain Armando Picchi, Burgnich made 66 appearances for Italy, representing the Azzurri at the 1966, 1970 and 1974 World Cups.

He scored a rare goal in the semi-final of the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ against West Germany, which was dubbed the Game of the Century, only to appear on the losing side in the final when Italy were beaten by Brazil.

He was also a member of the Italian team that won the UEFA European Championship on home soil in 1968.

Football, 2002 FIFA World Cup Finals, Group D, Incheon, South Korea, 14th June 2002, South Korea 1 v Portugal 0, South Korea's Yoo Sang Chul beats Portugal's Paulo Bento, Credit: POPPERFOTO/JOHN MCDERMOTT (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)

Yoo Sangchul (1971-2021)

Widely regarded as one of the greatest Korea Republic players of all time, Yoo Sang-chul's name will live forever in his country's football history.

Yoo gained 120 international caps from 1994 to 2005 and was an integral part of the historic Korea Republic team that reached the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™.

During the tournament, co-hosted by Korea Republic and Japan, Yoo’s team were a revelation, beating the likes of Portugal, Italy and Spain en route to the semi-finals.

Yoo scored in the 2-0 win over Poland in their competition opener – the first-ever World Cup win for Korea Republic – and was included in the team of the tournament, such was his influence.

Yoo passed away this year at the age of just 49.

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - JUNE 2: Leopoldo Luque of Argentina in action during the FIFA World Cup Group 1 match between Argentina and Hungary at the Estadio Monumental on June 2, 1978 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images)

Leopoldo Luque (1949-2021)

Leopoldo Luque may have only featured at one FIFA World Cup, in 1978, but he certainly made his mark at it by scoring four goals as Argentina won the trophy on home soil.

After scoring in Argentina's first two matches of the tournament, Luque was struck with a double tragedy; he dislocated his elbow and his brother was killed in a traffic accident.

Luque missed the next two games but returned to score twice against Peru and play the full 120 minutes in the final against the Netherlands as Argentina won their first FIFA World Cup.

He scored 22 goals for Argentina, the last coming in 1980.

1954 World Cup Final, Bern,Switzerland, 4th July 1954, West Germany,3,v Hungary,2, Hungary forward Nandor Hidegkuti fires in a shot as West Germany's Horst Eckel watches (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Horst Eckel (1931-2021)

Horst Eckel was the last surviving member of the West Germany side that won the 1954 FIFA World Cup. On 3 December 2021, he passed away at the age of 89. A highly versatile player, Eckel was an integral part of the West German side that upset the much-favoured Hungary in the 1954 final that became known as the ‘Miracle of Bern’. A universally-admired figure, Eckel as the last surviving member of the team that won West Germany’s first World Cup and laid the foundation for the decades of consistency and excellence of Die Mannschaft since. Eckel made 32 appearances for West Germany, the pinnacle of which was the 3-2 win over the golden generation of Hungarian players in the 1954 final. Eckel achieved great success at club level too, making his debut for Kaiserslautern in 1950 and going on to win two German league titles. After his playing days were over, Eckel retrained and worked as a teacher until his retirement 1997.