A Tribute To...Ferenc Puskas
Barney Corkhill's A Tribute To... series this time looks at football. In this series I look at legends from sport and pay tribute to them.
Today's tribute is to perhaps the greatest shooter in football history, the man who was the star of the all-conquering "Magical Magyars" and the man who played for two different national sides—Ferenc Puskas.
His deadly accurate left-foot struck fear into his opponents worldwide, and his short, stocky frame meant he was often under-estimated, and overlooked, much to his opponents' peril.
Born on April 2nd, 1927 in Budapest, Hungary, Ferenc Purczeld Biro was something of a child prodigy. A supporter of Arsenal in his youth, Puskas' dad lied about his son's age and used a fake name just so he could include him in the youth team he coached, Kispest AC.
It wasn't long before the 12-year-old became the star in a team of players much older than him. By the time he was 15 he was pushing for a first team place in Kispest AC's full team.
His chance came a few months later when a now 16-year-old Puskas made his professional debut. He soon became a regular player and scorer for them, so much so that within a year of his arrival on the scene, there was talk of an international call-up.
That call-up came in 1945, just two years after making his first appearance for Kispest. At just 18 years old, Puskas made his debut for Hungary, scoring in a 5-2 win over Austria. The legend of Ferenc Puskas had begun.
While many thought that Puskas' goal tally would soon run out, it just kept on going. The youngster was scoring for fun, and, in the 1945/46, 1946/47, and 1947/48 seasons for Kispest he averaged more than a goal a game, even managing 50 goals in 32 games in the 1947/48 season.
These 50 goals secured Puskas the title of Europe's top scorer.
In 1948, Kispest was taken over by the authorities and was renamed Honved, a club which was essentially the Hungarian Army Team. This was due to the occupation by the Soviet Union and the transition of the country to a Communist satellite. Puskas ended his Kispest career with a phenomenal 187 goals in 177 appearances.
Honved used the powers of conscription to acquire the best players from all over Hungary. The 'signings' of Zoltan Czibor and Sander Kocsis helped the team become the overwhelming force in Hungarian football, and one of the first truly great club sides.
All the players were given military ranks, despite few, if any, of them actually doing any fighting. Puskas was named a major, which lead to his nickname "The Galloping Major."
The great Honved team cruised to four league titles, spearheaded by a further three top-scoring seasons from Puskas to add to his one from his days at Kispest. While Puskas was experiencing huge success at club level, it was getting even better internationally.
The Hungarian team of the early 50's included many of Honved's great players, and added others such as Jozsef Bozsik, Gyula Grosics and Nandor Hidegkuti, to create a formidable team.
In 1952, Puskas, who was classed as a soldier, so could play in the Olympics, led his team to the Helsinki Games. He scored four goals in the tournament, including the opener in Hungary's 2-0 win over Yugoslavia in the final.
The "Magical Magyars" had been born!
Ferenc Puskas was the brightest star in a group of very talented players. His form at the Olympics, and role in the development and dominance of the Magical Magyars was recognized as he was crowned World Player of the Year.
In 1953, the ever improving Magyars took on England, football's founders and still regarded, by themselves at least, as undisputed champions of world football. They were in for a big shock.
Puskas and co blew England away with a fantastic, fluid performance. England were no match as Hungary won 6-3, at Wembley, inflicting the first defeat England had ever suffered against over-seas opposition. Puskas scored two of the goals.
Surely it was just a fluke? Well, England had the chance to prove that when they travelled to Budapest just a few months later. They knew more about Hungary than last time, and would not let themselves be on the end of such a drubbing again.
To be honest, they didn't have much choice.
Another jaw-dropping performance from Hungary, and a brace from Puskas, gave the Magyars a 7-1 win, a result which, to this day, is England's heaviest ever defeat.
Puskas again won World Player of the Year in 1953.
Hungary were hot favourites going into the 1954 World Cup. They were unbeaten since 1950, already a record, and had demolished England just a few months earlier. They certainly started as they meant to go on, with a 9-0 win over South Korea, in which Puskas scored twice, and an 8-3 win over West Germany, a match in which Puskas got injured.
He returned in the final, again against West Germany. Hungary were overwhelming favourites now. After 32 consecutive games unbeaten, a record which still stand today, including dominant performances against England twice and even West Germany just a few weeks before the final.
When Hungary went up 2-0 within 10 minutes, it looked set to be another thrashing. However, West Germany weren't having it. Two goals took them level going into half time.
They had the momentum, but the Magical Magyars were still favourites. But with 84 minutes on the clock West Germany took a surprise lead. They were six minutes away from World Cup success. But then up popped Puskas to draw it all level again. Or so he thought. In a highly controversial decision, the goal was ruled out for offside.
Somehow, the greatest international team there had ever been hadn't won the World Cup. It was a gross injustice, and one that would later befall the Dutch "Total Footballers" of 1974.
Honved carried on where they left off after the World Cup and competed in the 1956 European Cup. After an away leg against Athletic Bilbao, the Hungarian Revolution broke out. Most of the Honved players never went back to Hungary, instead choosing to move to Western European countries.
Puskas ended his successful career with Hungary with a remarkable 84 goals in 85 matches, becoming one of the most prolific international strikers of all time. In the great Honved side, he managed 165 goals in 164 games.
Unbelievably, Puskas found himself without a club, and with no serious takers. Juventus, AC Milan and Manchester United all expressed an interest, but decided against the ageing and overweight Puskas.
It was the all-conquering Real Madrid side who took the gamble, signing Puskas for £10,000. They already had the great Alfredo Di Stefano and other players of the highest quality who had helped them to consecutive European Cups.
People wondered what Puskas, now 31, could offer which Madrid didn't already have. The answer soon became obvious.
Four hat-tricks in his first season showed people that he still had the quality. He was an integral part to Real Madrid's retention of the European Cup in 1959, and then again in 1960. It was this final in which Ferenc Puskas showed his class. In the 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, Puskas scored four, and helped Di Stefano get three in one of the best club performances ever seen.
The next season, 1960/61, Puskas helped Real Madrid to the La Liga title. With Gento, Di Stefano and Puskas, Madrid went on to win it each of the following four seasons as well.
In 1962, Puskas became registered to play for the Spanish national side. He played a total of four matches, but was unable to score in any of them.
His career was coming to an end as he got older and older, and retired in 1966, but not before guiding a new generation of Madrid stars to the European Cup.
He ended his career in Spain with 156 La Liga goals in 180 appearances, as well as 35 goals in 39 European ties.
He turned to coaching after his playing days, and his success was limited. By far the best achievement of his managerial career was taking an unfancied Panathanikos side to the 1971 European Cup final, where they were beaten by a Johan Cruyff inspired Ajax.
He will always be remembered for his legendary playing days, however, in which he became the most prolific striker in Europe, and the best player from one of the best teams that has ever been assembled. This has been a tribute to Ferenc Puskas.
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