Legends: Ferenc Puskas

The world in your left leg : Puskas

If you want to annoy a Hungarian, you should spit the sentence on him: “Ferenc Puskas was actually German.” When he was born, Puskas was named Purczeld, which indicated that his ancestors had moved from Germany to Hungary at some point. But he had only one significant deal to do with Germany: On July 4th, 1954 in the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern, and that was a painful experience: the 2: 3 in the World Cup final against Germany. The Hungarians have always called Puskas “Öcsi”. It is called “little brother”. You also called him that when he dawned in a sanatorium. And even now that he died yesterday in a Budapest clinic at the age of 79, they will call him that.

The others called Ferenc Puskas “Major”: the Germans, the English, the Spaniards. Puskas played for Honved Budapest in the early 1950s. It was the military team and – as is common in socialism – all players were soldiers by definition. Puskas ’life always shifted between“ little brother ”and“ major ”, between someone who was underestimated at first sight and someone whose jaws dropped at the precision of his passports. The writer Peter Esterhazy wrote about Puskas: “The world is everything that his left leg does.” Puskas only shot with his left. Otherwise he wasn’t a footballer in the true sense of the word. He was short and fat, but very successful. 349 games for Honved: 358 goals. 84 games for Hungary: 83 goals. 179 games for Real Madrid: 156 goals. Eight times top scorer, four times in Hungary, four times in Spain. If you put his goals in the Hungarian and Spanish leagues together, he’s the top scorer of the 20th century. Puskas turned pro at 16 and quit at 39. During this time, there were three games that were the most important of his career. You can tell his life on them, which first went steeply uphill, then steeply downhill and finally once more slowly up to the summit. The first of these important games was called by those who were there at Wembley Stadium, the “Game of the Century”. The English have been unbeaten in football for 90 years. Then came this “fat little guy”, as the English newspapers called him, scored two goals and ruined everything. It was 6: 3 for Hungary in the end. On November 25, 1953, the Hungarian “Golden Team” was at its peak. She had humiliated the motherland of football. At the 1954 World Cup, the bookmakers no longer accepted bets on a world champion Hungary. It seemed too clear that the team, unbeaten in 32 games in a row, would become world champions.

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The award for the best goal of the year is called the Puskas award.
Puskas was one of the most talented football stars in history

Puskas was the face of this favorite, and he took things that were impossible for mere mortals. In 1954 he enjoyed cigarettes and beer in the World Cup quarter. In the final, he still scored the first goal after six minutes. Well, what happened next is well known. When the Germans led 3-2 shortly before the end, he scored another goal, which the linesman did not give because of offside position. “Wasn’t offside,” yelled Puskas and was probably right. But it didn’t help. He had failed in the decisive game. After that game, the magic surrounding the Golden Team was gone.

The Hungarian uprising in 1956 marked the end of Puskas ’career in Hungary. In the revolutionary turmoil he came to the West. At the instigation of the Hungarian association, he was initially banned by the world association Fifa for 18 months. Puskas put on 18 kilos, then nobody seemed to want him anymore. 31 years old, not played for two years. “Look at me,” said Puskas at a meeting with Real Madrid boss Santiago Bernabeu: “I’m fat!” – “That’s your problem, not mine,” replied Bernabeu. Puskas signed a contract. In the Real hierarchy, the star position was already occupied by Alfredo di Stefano, but Puskas became a crowd favorite. And when the final whistle sounded in the third decisive game of his career in 1960, Real had won 7-3 in the European Cup final of the national champions against Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow. Puskas had scored four times.

In the Puskas era, Real were six times champions and twice European Cup winners. “It was very nice to play in a golden team again,” he said later. The prodigal son’s second career was hardly reported in Hungary. When he also played for Spain at the 1962 World Cup in Chile, Hungarian television only spoke of the “FIFA player” with touching helplessness. Before his compatriots were able to award him the title of “Hungary’s Sportsman of the Century”, it was not until 1996 when Puskas returned home. This recognition did him good, because behind him after the end of his playing career were some less glorious coaching stations such as San Francisco Gales, Vancouver Royals or Panhellenic Melbourne. Behind him was a bankrupt Wurstfabrik.

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For Hungarians and Madrilenians alike, he has remained a hero. The Hungarian government and the football association paid for the treatment of his Alzheimer’s disease in the Budapest celebrity clinic Kutvögly. Real transferred, it is said, a monthly pension of 2000 euros. It was a final gesture of appreciation for Major Ösci, one of the great football players of the 20th century.


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