The great and good of world football paid an emotional tribute to Nobby Stiles following news of the former Manchester United and England player’s passing.
Stiles, who died aged 78 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s, is one of only three Englishman to have won the World Cup and European Cup alongside his former United team-mate, Sir Bobby Charlton, and the ex-Liverpool midfielder, Ian Callaghan.
“I’m so desperately saddened by this news,” said Denis Law, the former United striker. “Nobby was a top player and a top man. He was such a popular guy in the dressing room. Everyone knew Nobby would be there when the going got tough on the pitch, but you shouldn’t underestimate what a good footballer he was too.
“I played against him in training and for Scotland against England and all I can say is I’m glad he was my teammate more often than my opponent.”
Rest in peace, Nobby ❤️
— England (@England) October 30, 2020
We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Nobby Stiles. He played in every minute of @England's #WorldCup-winning campaign in 1966. His performance in the semi-final, especially, will never be forgotten. RIP Nobby. pic.twitter.com/4W8fb6qJqJ
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) October 30, 2020
Few images are more iconic that that of Stiles dancing after England’s 1966 World Cup final win over West Germany. But talk about Stiles and it is hard not to also think of Eusebio, the legendary former Benfica and Portugal forward famously shackled by the United and England hard man, first in the World Cup semi-finals and, two years later, the European Cup at Wembley.
“If there is an afterlife, Eusebio had best put his shinpads on,” was one quip on social media and George Cohen still rates Stiles’ performance in that semi-final against Portugal as one of the best he has ever witnessed.
“It was the most wonderful performance. One of the most outstanding I've ever seen,” said Cohen, who was a part of that famous World Cup winning side. “He just made Eusebio go wherever he wanted him to go. He never allowed him to turn, and Eusebio never took him on. It was one of the best midfield performances I’ve ever seen. Eusebio went off crying.
“He was an intimidating player, one of those who understood where he was on the pitch and understood the players he was playing against. His instincts were first-class. He had a football brain. Would he have fitted in today's game? Not half.”
Sir Geoff Hurst, whose hat-trick sealed England's famous 4-2 victory over West Germany in the final, paid a glowing tribute to his former team-mate.
"Hugely sad to hear Nobby has passed away," he wrote on his official Twitter account.
"We were playing together way back for the U17s, U23s, and of course, for England, in fact, it was my first cap when Nobby scored, I think he was wearing No. 9! Great character, and the heart and soul of the team, he will be sorely missed."
Stiles went into management and coaching after a glittering playing career and proved a huge inspiration for many of United’s famed ‘Class of 92’, including Gary Neville.
Rest in Peace Nobby. Thank you for all you did for us. You taught us how to fight for everything in that red shirt .
“ Your studs are your best friends out there “ ❤️ pic.twitter.com/njE02x7yDx
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) October 30, 2020
“It’s an incredibly sad day,” the former United defender said. “He loved Manchester United and he loved his country also. He represented both with great pride and spirit. He was fantastic to work with, a great man. His messages taught us how to battle and fight in the red shirt.
“His coaching style was typical of how he played the game. He wanted to make sure we were never intimidated on the pitch, that we went out there and demonstrated our desire. I can still hearing him saying your best friends on the football pitch are your six studs.
“Nobby wanted us to go out there and make sure we always won the battle, to make sure we applied ourselves properly in our work ethic. He was a massive influence on us and everybody at the club. You don’t realise when you're 16 but you realise now looking back how blessed we were to be in the company of people like Nobby Stiles. It was like the best football university you could ever have.”