Sir Tom Finney was the Lionel Messi of his day, according to former team-mate Tommy Docherty.
Preston confirmed on Friday night that Finney, who scored 210 goals in 473 games for the Lillywhites and 30 in 76 England appearances, had died at the age of 91.
Finney was renowned as one of the game’s great wingers and was famed for his double act in England colours with fellow wideman Sir Stanley Matthews.
But playing his entire career at Preston after eschewing the chance for a lucrative move to Palermo, he was denied the silverware his talent deserved.
According to Docherty, though, his ability was worth more than medals and he classes him in the same bracket as Barcelona star Messi.
“He was something else, the Lionel Messi of his day,” Docherty, who played with Finney between 1949 and 1958, told talkSPORT.
“He was a great person and a lovely man. I never heard him criticise anyone.”
Finney will be forever linked with Preston, his home-town club, and Docherty recalled how gates at Deepdale would be lower if Finney was not playing.
“If Tom was injured, they wouldn’t tell you the team at all,” he said. “If he was injured, and that was rare, there would be 20,000 at the game instead of 42,000.”
And in terms of where Finney ranks as a winger through the ages, Docherty is in no doubt.
“I think he’s the best ever,” he said.
“He was Preston North End. He was such a lovely man and I never heard anyone say a disrespectful word about him.”
Docherty’s views were shared by former England captain Jimmy Armfield.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “He, in my opinion, is one of the really great footballers that this country has produced.
“Even going back to his early days, the Italians tried to snatch him away from England - but he wouldn’t leave Preston. He was a loyalist as well.
“As much as anything else, and it’s hard to explain to many people today, but it was the way he played and the way he carried himself - his whole demeanour of life. Really, Preston will be a very sad place.”
He played in three World Cups in a career which, after being delayed by the Second World War, spanned from 1946-60 and was the first player to win two Footballer of the Year Awards.
Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager and a former Preston team-mate, once said: “Tom Finney would have been great in any team, in any match and in any age... even if he had been wearing an overcoat.”
Finney was nicknamed the ‘Preston Plumber’ during his career after his first trade, to which he returned and ran a successful business in after retiring from the game.
Additionally he worked in the media, was chairman of the Preston Health Authority and in 1998 was awarded a knighthood.
Preston announced the news in a brief statement on Friday night, adding that a fuller response would be released on Saturday.
“Sir Tom was the greatest player to ever play for Preston North End and one of the all-time greats for England,” the statement read.
“The thoughts of everyone at the club, and those connected with it, are with his family at this time.”
Aside from a Second Division championship title, Finney never won any of the game’s major honours.
In 1954 the FA Cup final was billed to be his day - a year after his friend and rival Matthews inspired a famous Blackpool win - but Preston were beaten by West Brom.
Preston also finished First Division runner-up twice during his career.
Current club captain Kevin Davies tweeted: “Tonight we have lost a footballing Legend. A true gent and a loyal servant to his beloved PNE. RIP Sir Tom Finney.”
Finney remains joint sixth on England’s all-time goalscoring list.
Gary Lineker, the second-highest scorer with 48, tweeted: “Sir Tom Finney has left us. One of the greatest players this country has ever seen, and a true gentleman. #RIP.”
Football League Chairman Greg Clarke also added to the tributes, saying: “The Football League is deeply saddened to learn of Sir Tom’s death.
“He was quite possibly the finest player to have ever played in the Football League and was a true gentleman. He was also the epitome of the one-club man with few people ever having contributed as much to a single team, their city or our competition.
“He will be greatly missed by the English game.”
Former Republic of Ireland international Kevin Kilbane was also born in and played for Preston, and he tweeted: “I’m proud to say I grew up on the same street as Sir Tom Finney. Very sad to hear of his passing. #RIPSirTom #theprestonplumber.”