Michel Platini praised Sir Bobby Charlton's impact on the world of football on Wednesday when he presented him with the UEFA President's Award.
The UEFA president made the presentation to the legendary Manchester United FC and England player at a lunch at Old Trafford ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi-final first-leg tie between titleholders United and Arsenal FC.
Mr Platini issued the award for the first time in 2008 when he honoured Real Madrid CF great Alfredo Di Stéfano, and he said Sir Bobby had made a similar contribution to football. "I decided to give this award to legendary players and last year it was Di Stéfano and now it is Sir Bobby. We have to say thank you to them, they had an impact on a generation and we can say because of them that many millions of people love the game."
Sir Bobby responded by saying: "This is a beautiful trophy and it flatters me no end. I appreciate that the first trophy was given to Alfredo Di Stéfano, who happened to be my favourite footballer." A survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster, Sir Bobby was voted European Footballer of the Year after helping inspire England to the 1966 FIFA World Cup. Two years later he scored two of United's goals in the 4-1 defeat of SL Benfica at Wembley as they became the first English winners of the European Champion Clubs' Cup.
A long list of former Old Trafford team-mates joined Sir Bobby at the presentation, including fellow Munich survivors Kenny Morgans and Albert Scanlon, and David Sadler and Alex Stepney with whom he won the European Cup. Denis Law – another one-time European Footballer of the Year – and England's 1966 World Cup hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst were also in attendance. Sir Bobby said: "I'm so happy so many important people in my life are here today." Another familiar face was Eusébio, a respected opponent in both the 1966 World Cup and 1968 European Cup final. "I always feel apologetic towards Eusébio because in the major games we always beat them."
Mr Platini hailed Sir Bobby's loyalty to United and the sporting manner which earned him so many admirers. "Around Europe, Bobby Charlton's name means respect. He showed great respect for his opponents and for the public in his conduct." The UEFA president also shared a personal recollection of watching as an eleven-year-old when Sir Bobby triumphed with England at the World Cup. "Many people of my generation remember the 1966 World Cup as their first great football moment and part of that was the fantastic energy that Bobby projected on to the TV with his fierce long-range shots and marvellous ability."
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson added to the plaudits when he said: "It is well-deserved for his fantastic career and life in football. Ever since the day I came here, he has been a great supporter of me in everything I've tried to achieve for the club, particularly the youth set-up. He was always down checking on how the progress of the young players was going. As a person he has never changed. He has kept his humility, he has kept his dignity at all times and if you ally that to his playing career, he is a very special man."
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