Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton underwent minor surgery after being taken ill before the Laureus World Sports Awards, organisers said on Monday evening.
The 74-year-old World Cup-winner had been due to receive an award but left London after starting to feel unwell on Sunday and needed a minor operation, understood to be to remove a gallstone.
A statement from Laureus read: "Sir Bobby Charlton was unable to receive the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in person at the Laureus World Sports Awards in London this evening.
"Sir Bobby felt unwell on Sunday and returned to Manchester earlier today for minor surgery."
United boss Sir Alex Ferguson added: "Sir Bobby is fine, but it was felt he should go back to Manchester. He is very annoyed not to be here to receive this Award.
"I'll be taking the statuette back to Old Trafford for him.
"He loves the work he does for Laureus and I know how delighted he is to have received this tribute."
(reopens) Ferguson added: "It was already a very emotional night for Bobby. This is the 54th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, when we lost eight of our young players. Through that time, Bobby has kept his fantastic humility, and that makes him very special to me.
"Manchester United is Bobby's life. He came to the club as a 15-year-old boy and he's been with us ever since - he is one of our ambassadors now. In my own 25 years at the club, Bobby has supported every step I've taken.
"At the beginning, they were very small steps. Later, they became big steps.
"But without his support, I don't know where I'd have been."