Demential knows no boundaries – it'claims the world's finest players

Charlton, Muller, Stiles… They were history’s finest footballers, but now a generation of World Cup winners and greats from across the globe are succumbing to dementia – and showing all their famed fight against the cruel disease

  • Sir Bobby Charlton’s family have revealed England and Manchester United legend has Alzheimer’s disease
  • Five members of the 1966 England World Cup-winning team are now known to have developed dementia
  • But the problem is not confined to Britain, World Cup winners all around the globe are suffering too
  • Scientists have proved that footballers are at more risk of dying from the condition than other people
  • Sportsmail pays tribute to some of the finest players at home and abroad who have entertained us for years

Within hours of the tragic news that England legend Sir Bobby Charlton had been diagnosed with dementia, the wife of Gerd Muller, one of Germany’s greatest players, shed more light on the painful decline of her husband, who has the same disease.

Charlton, a Manchester United hero, and Muller, the talisman of Bayern Munich, did battle on the pitch during their illustrious careers, notably for their countries in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final in Mexico.

England were cruelly eliminated that day in Leon. After taking a 2-0 lead against West Germany, they conceded the equalizer with eight minutes to go, and Muller, of course, forced the winner in extra-time.

England’s Bobby Charlton (heading for goal against Brazil) has been diagnosed with dementia and is the fifth member of the 1966 World Cup-winning team to suffer from the condition

Charlton was a key player in England’s World Cup triumph over West Germany and was capped 106 times, scoring 49 goals

Germany’s Gerd Muller (scoring against the Soviet Unuon in the final of the 1972 European Championship) has suffered with Alzheimer’s for many years

Now, 50 years on the pair are both battling a disease that quietly strips away a person’s physical and mental capacity, taking a fearful toll on them and their loved ones.

‘He has bad days and good days,’ said Sir Bobby’s brother, Tommy, on Monday. ‘He only has a few waking moments,’ revealed Gerd’s wife, Uschi Muller, after visiting him at his Bavarian nursing home.

Following the premature death from dementia of West Bromwich Albion’s centre forward, Jeff Astle, aged 59, in 2002, scientific research has now finally proven footballers are at a higher risk of the condition.

Charlton, who is cared for by his family,  has ‘bad days and good days’, according to his brother Tommy, as he battles the neurological condition, Alzheimer’s disease

Muller, pictured in 2014, ‘only has a few waking moments’ each day, according to his wife, Uschi

Charlton is the fifth member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team to suffer from the debilitating neurological condition. The others are Charlton’s brother, Jack, who died in July, Nobby Stiles, who died in October, Ray Wilson and Martin Peters.

As the illnesses of Charlton, 83, and Muller, 74, so painfully demonstrate, dementia is a disease that has no boundaries. Professional players from every country live and die with it.

Here, Sportsmail highlights some of the world’s finest players, who have suffered like Charlton and Muller, and we recall how these men thrilled football fans on the pitch, before the cruelty of dementia took hold.

Five members of England’s World Cup-winning side have suffered  from dementia, including from left to right, Jack Charlton, Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton and Ray Wilson. Jimmy Greaves, second left, has not been affected

Gerd Müller

Nicknamed ‘Der Bomber’, German international Gerd Muller, 74, was an outstanding striker. He scored from everywhere and often, but was particularly lethal in and around the six-yard box, popping up just before half-time in 1974 World Cup Final to score the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Holland in Munich. 

Muller netted an extraordinary 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany, 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich and a further 66 in 74 European club games. 

He has suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years and on Monday his wife, Uschi Muller, said the disease has advanced and he now ‘eats next to nothing, lies in bed almost 24 hours a day, and only has a few waking moments’.

Muller nets for West Germany to knock England out of the 1970 World Cup in extra time of their quarter-final in Mexico

Muller was known for predatory instincts around the penalty area and scored 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany

Bob Paisley

Bob Paisley made 253 appearances for Liverpool as a wing-half from 1946 to 1954 and in his first season he helped the club win the First Division title, but his biggest impact was in the dugout. 

He guided The Reds to six league titles and three European Cups as a manager. However, he began to display the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 1992, when he started to get lost on his way home from Anfield. 

In 1994, he was too unwell to attend a ceremony to mark the last game in front of the old Kop and his wife, Jessie, went in his place. He died in a Merseyside nursing home in 1996, aged 77.

Liverpool manager Bob Paisley proudly displays his haul of silverware and Bell’s Manager of the Month awards for 1980-81

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease began to emerge in 1992 as Paisley started to get lost on his way home from Anfield

Ferenc Puskas

Football’s first international superstar, Hungarian Ferenc Puskas is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. He was the talisman of the Mighty Magyars, who took Europe by storm in the early fifties. 

Puskas horrified and thrilled English fans in equal measure when he led Hungary to a shocking 6-3 win at Wembley in 1953. It was a performance that included previously unseen skill, including an outrageous drag back in the penalty area before shooting past Gil Merrick in England’s goal. 

Puskas emigrated to Spain in 1958, where he played for Real Madrid for the next nine years. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2000 and died in 2006. In a state funeral, his coffin was moved from Puskas Ferenc Stadion to Heroes’ Square for a military salute.

Hungary captain Ferenc Puskas exchanges pennants with Billy Wright at Wembley before the Magyars’ stunning display

Puskas was a national hero in Hungary and when he died as a result of dementia in 2006 in was give a state funeral

Hungary amazed English fans in 1953 by beating England 6-3 at Wembley in style. England are seen pulling one back

Nat Lofthouse

Thousands of people lined the streets outside Bolton Parish Church to pay their respects to Nat Lofthouse after he died in 2011. Known as ‘Lofty’, the striker was dedicated to Bolton Wanderers and its fans. 

Lofthouse played more than 500 games and scored 285 times for the Trotters between 1946 and 1960. He earned the title ‘Lion of Vienna’ after scoring his second goal in England’s 3–2 victory over Austria after being elbowed in the face, tackled from behind and felled by the keeper. 

He died in his sleep at a nursing home in Bolton, aged 85. He had suffered with dementia.

Bolton Wanderers forward Nat Lofthouse was the town’s favourite son and thousands turned out for his funeral in 2011

Bolton captain Lofthouse holds the FA Cup aloft after his side defeated Manchester United 2-0 in the 1958 final

Hilderaldo Bellini

The first Brazilian to lift the World Cup, Hilderaldo Bellini was a solid central defender who provided the stable platform on which his more flamboyant team-mates could perform and thrill.  Capped 51 times by Brazil, Bellini played in three World Cups, winning two of them, in 1958 and 1962. 

He is honoured by a statue outside the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which depicts him holding the trophy aloft. He was the first captain to assume this pose and it became forever synonymous with sporting triumph. 

Bellini died in 2014, aged 83, as a result of Alzheimer’s. Following his death an analysis of his brain discovered he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition associated with severe brain damage. It is the same condition that affected Jeff Astle.

Brazilian defender Hilderaldo Bellini won the World Cup twice in 1958 and 1962; he died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2014

Bellini captained Brazil in the 1958 World Cup finals and his side featured a 17-year-old Pele, seen in action against Wales

After Brazil won the World Cup in 1958 the moment was preserved in a statue of Bellini outside the Maracana Stadium

Dave McKay

Upon his death in 2015, Tottenham Hotspur wrote an obituary to Dave McKay: ‘He will always be remembered here as one of our greatest ever players and a man who never failed to inspire those around him. In short, a Spurs legend.’ 

McKay was a member of the Double-winning Tottenham side of 1961, but he also won honours with Hearts and played 22 times for Scotland. 

As a manger, he led Derby County to the Division One title in 1975. He was affected by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in later life, but continued to make public appearances until 2013. He died two years later, aged 80.

Dave McKay was a Spurs legend and a tough tackling left half – as West Ham’s Trevor Brooking found out here

McKay and Alan Mullery (left) celebrate with the FA Cup after beating Leicester City 2-0 in Spurs’ Double-winning 1961 season

Goyo Benito

Goyo Benito was loved at Real Madrid for his attitude

Goyo Benito was not the most talented footballer to play for Real Madrid, but he is one of the most loved. Benito is celebrated for his never-say-die attitude and when the going got tough, fans at the Santiago Bernabeu would sing: ‘Get the axe out, Benito.’

And yet he was respected by opponents and team-mates alike. 

After his career, which included 317 appearances for Real Madrid and 22 for Spain, he opened a restaurant frequented by Real and Atletico Madrid players. 

He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and spent his last years in a Madrid nursing home. 

He died this year of coronavirus after the pandemic engulfed the home where he was staying. Right up to the end he was visited by the Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez.

Stan Bowles

Only capped five times for England, attacking midfielder Stan Bowles thrilled the fans of Queens Park Rangers for seven years from 1972 to 1979, gaining a reputation as one of the great mavericks of the English game. 

Voted QPR’s greatest ever player, Bowles fell out with new manager Tommy Docherty, when he took over in 1979. Docherty promised Bowles: ‘You can trust me, Stan.’ To which the player responded, ‘I’d rather trust my chickens with Colonel Sanders,’ before spending six months training with the reserves and eventually being sold to Nottingham Forest. 

He was diagnosed with dementia in 2013 and lives with his family in Manchester.

Stan Bowles was a mercurial talent and he was capped five times for England but kept his best performances for QPR

Bowles spent seven years at Loftus Road but he fell out with new manager Tommy Docherty and moved to Nottingham Forest

Pietro Rava

Pietro Rava, a full-back for Juventus and Italy, was in the dressing room preparing for the 1938 World Cup Final, when a telegram arrived from Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. 

The now infamous dispatch, issued a year before the outbreak of the Second World War, is reported to have said: ‘Win or die.’ Fortunately, for Rava and his team-mates, Italy beat Hungary 4-2. 

Rava had a fine career, playing 232 times for Juve and making 30 appearances for Italy either side of the war. He died in Turin in 2006 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. He was the last surviving member of the 1938 World Cup-winning side.

Pietro Rava, pictured second from the right in the bottom row, led Italy to a World Cup win in the 1938 tournament

Jose Luis Brown

Central defender Jose Luis Brown lifted the World Cup with Argentina in Mexico in 1986. He was a member of the Argentinian team that knocked England out of the tournament in the quarter-finals, following both infamous and famous goals from Diego Maradona.

The opener was the ‘Hand of God’ goal, which Maradona punched over Peter Shilton, and the second has been described as the ‘goal of the century’ in which Maradona dribbled through the entire English team. 

Despite a late flurry from England, Brown and his team mates hung on to win 2-1. He then scored in the final as Argentina beat West Germany 3-2.  Brown spent the majority of his career at Estudiantes and played 36 times for Argentina. He died in 2019 in La Plata at the age of 62, due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Jose Luis Brown, pictured competing with Terry Butcher, was part of the Argentinian side that beat England in 1986

Brown scored the opening goal of the 1986 World Cup Final, which Argentina won 3-2 against West Germany

Danny Blanchflower

Northern Irishman Danny Blanchflower captained Tottenham’s 1961 Double-winning team and scooped every prize in the domestic game, as well as the European Cup-Winners Cup in 1963.

Following his death in 1993, Billy Bingham, a fellow team-mate in the 1958 Irish World Cup side, said poignantly: ‘Let’s remember him at his sparkling best – off the pitch with his wit and great skills as a raconteur, a pleasure to be with; and on the pitch with his elegant passing and great leadership qualities.’

Blanchflower died aged 67 in a nursing home in Cobham, Surrey, after slipping into a coma. ‘Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise,’ said his brother, Jackie. His early death helped to establish some of the first scientific links between football and dementia.

Danny Blanchflower and Dave McKay both starred in Spurs’ Double-winning season of 1961

Spurs and Blanchflower (centre, holding the right handle of the trophy) celebrate their 1961 FA Cup final win over Leicester

Leonidas da Silva

Brazilian centre-forward Leonidas da Silva is one of the players credited with inventing the ‘bicycle kick’.

Nicknamed the ‘Rubber Man’ due to his agility, Leonidas played for Brazil in the 1934 World Cup and then wowed crowds at the 1938 tournament when he performed the spectacular volley. It was so unusual the referee was unsure if such a manoeuvre was allowed. Leonidas was the tournament’s top scorer with seven goals. 

Even before the competition began, Leonidas performed ball tricks for the crowd as he arrived at a Paris railway station. After the tournament, a Brazilian company used his nickname on one of its chocolate bars, which remains a best seller. Leonidas played 19 times for Brazil over a 14-year period, spanning the war, scoring 21 goals. He developed Alzheimer’s disease in 1974 and died as a result of the condition in 2004.

Leonidas da Silva was an exceptionally gifted footballer, who was nicknamed the ‘Rubber Man’ because of his agility

When Leonidas arrived in Paris for the 1938 World Cup he put on an impromptu exhibition of skill  at the railway station

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