By Tom Hayward
LONDON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The late Tom Finney was the Lionel Messi of his day, said former Preston North End team mate Tommy Docherty on Saturday as he led the tributes to the England great.
Finney, who played in three World Cups and scored a total of 30 goals in 76 international appearances, died on Friday at the age of 91.
"Tom was something else, the Lionel Messi of his day," former Scotland manager Docherty told Talksport Radio, referring to the Argentina and Barcelona forward who won the World Player of the Year award in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
"He was a great person and a lovely man. I never heard him criticise anyone."
Finney was so popular at Preston, his only club, that if he was sidelined the attendances at Deepdale would invariably plummet.
"If Tom was injured they wouldn't tell you the team at all," added former Manchester United and Chelsea manager Docherty. "If he was injured, and that was rare, there would be 20,000 at the game instead of 42,000."
Sepp Blatter, president of soccer's governing body FIFA, also paid tribute to Finney who played in the World Cup finals of 1950, 1954 and 1958.
"Very sad news that Sir Tom Finney is no longer with us," Blatter said on his Twitter feed. "Had privilege of watching @pnefc man play at 1954 WC [World Cup]."
Blatter was also fulsome of his praise when Finney turned 90 in April 2012.
"Not only were you one of the greats of your era, entertaining the entire country during the golden era of post-war English football, but you were also - and still are - one of the game's true gentlemen," said the Swiss at the time.
"True football greats would be capable of playing in any era. You belong to that group."
FOOTBALLER OF YEAR
Finney was voted English Footballer of the Year in 1954 and 1957, the first man to receive the accolade twice.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke said: "On behalf of the FA I would like to send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sir Tom Finney.
"He was one of English football's all-time greats and will be much missed across the game. Sir Tom was a true one-club man at Preston and a fantastic player for England.
"He will rightly be forever remembered at Deepdale and Wembley."
Former Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton striker Gary Lineker, England's second highest goal-scorer behind Bobby Charlton, also spoke of his admiration for Finney.
"Sir Tom Finney has left us. One of the greatest players this country has ever seen and a true gentleman," Lineker said on his Twitter feed.
Nicknamed the 'Preston Plumber' after his father made him complete his plumbing apprenticeship before signing professional, Finney represented his hometown club Preston for 14 years.
He holds the club record for goals with 210 from 473 appearances. He retired in 1960.
Finney helped Preston win the second division title in 1951 and won first division runners-up medals in 1953 and 1958. He also played in the FA Cup final defeat by West Bromwich Albion in 1954.
United boss David Moyes, a former Preston player and manager, hailed the impact Finney had on his career.
"Sir Tom was a great help in the early stages of my management career. He had an incredible passion for the game and he was someone I had great admiration for," he said.
"There is no doubt he is one of the greatest players but to me he is also a great man."
'The Splash' statue situated outside Preston's National Football Museum portrays a famous image of Finney during a 1956 rain-lashed game against Chelsea and has become a temporary memorial.
Preston, fourth in League One, host third-placed Leyton Orient at Deepdale on Saturday.
The club from the north west announced that their players would have Finney's name on the back of their shirts as a mark of respect. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)
- Sports & Recreation
- Tom Finney
- Lionel Messi
- Tommy Docherty
- Sepp Blatter