Tributes poured in today to Welsh football legend John Charles, who has died at the age of 72.
Wales’ first minister Rhodri Morgan said: “We have lost one of the greatest Welshmen of the 20th century.”
During his career Charles played for Wales, Italian giants Juventus, and Leeds United, and was known as “the Gentle Giant”.
He was admitted to hospital in January after feeling unwell before a guest appearance on an Italian television programme.
Earlier this month the front section of Charles’ right foot was amputated in Milan due to gangrene caused by circulation problems, a month after he underwent heart surgery.
He was then flown to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
Mr Morgan said the 6ft 2ins, 13 stone legend had iconic status among Italians who called him “il gigante gentile” – the gentle giant.
“It’s only when you are in Italy – in Turin or Rome – that you realise just how high his reputation is. He is almost regarded as a saint in Italy as he resolutely refused to use his immense power and strength to overcome others.
“If he knocked someone down he immediately picked them up to see if they were all right.”
Mr Morgan said Charles, a “Swansea boy” who left home when he was a teenager to play for Leeds, was part of a “mythical generation” in Welsh football.
He starred in the 1958 World Cup and told Mr Morgan of his “immense regret” at not being able to play in a quarter final match against Brazil which the Welsh side lost 1-0.
Mr Morgan said Charles was injured and believed the team could have drawn, if not won, if he had been playing.
He added: “I think even probably the modern stars would say he was a world legend.”
Football Association of Wales general secretary David Collins said: “John was one of the greatest of all Welsh players, if not one of the world’s great players. His career over many years will be remembered with great fondness by many, many people.”
Charles scored 93 goals in 155 matches for Juventus and achieved the notable feat of never being booked or sent off throughout his career.
He also played for Roma and Cardiff, and was equally at home at centre-half or centre-forward, even though it was for his goalscoring that Charles found fame.
Awarded the CBE in 2001, he won 38 caps for Wales and scored 15 goals. He played in the last Wales team to qualify for the World Cup in 1958.
Though living out his days in West Yorkshire, Charles said he was “proud to be Welsh”.
He leaves four sons. The eldest, Terry, is a selector with Cardiff Rugby Club and another, Melvyn, was a professional rugby league player with Halifax.