was an artist on the football pitch. He became a one-person national icon
for his gift of football. He failed to win the World Cup, but he had
practically achieved everything that a footballer can achieve. Throughout
his life, he was recognized as one of the greatest. This world-class
player for Budapest Honvéd and Real Madrid had Spanish citizenship, but he
never denied Hungary, not even when his name was expunged from records and
One of the most gifted footballers of the world, the most renowned
Hungarian of the twentieth century, Ferenc Puskás passed away after a long
and serious illness at the age of 79.
The most famous, most renowned Hungarian, one of the best footballers of
the world, the holder of the title "Sportsman of the Nation" has died.
Now it is hard to put into words what he must have been like at his very
best. To whom could he be compared? Of the footballers today, we may
mention the French player Zinedine Zidane or the Brazilian Ronaldino. True,
both of them were world champions, and Puskás lost the World Cup final. In
the 1954 World Cup final, he scored two goals in Bern against the German
team, which would have been enough to win the final, but the referee
invalidated the second, absolutely legitimate goal.
was a two-time Spanish Cup final champion, and he scored as many as one
thousand goals. His world record of eighty-four goals in eighty-five games
while playing on Hungary's Best Eleven is still unbroken.
In Hungary, Puskás played on Kispest AC for thirteen years. After a
two-year suspension at the age of thirty-one, and while considerably
overweight, he resumed his career in Spain, where he served Real Madrid.
It well describes his will-power that he did not even think of giving up.
His fellow players highly esteemed his skills and gave him the strip
bearing the number 10. When the Portuguese player Figo went to play for
the King's Guard (i.e., Real Madrid), the president of the club told him
that he should be aware that the shirt Figo was going to wear had belonged
to Puskás before it was given to him.
As the owner of Real Madrid's strip No. 10, Puskás scored four goals in
the European Champion League final in 1960, an accomplishment unparalleled
even today, and very unlikely to be equalled for a good while.
policeman in Tirana, an airport attendant in Sevilla, a tourist guide in
Guadeloupe, a taxi driver in Athens, and a pub-keeper in London - all
associated Hungary with Puskás.
Puskas was a one-person national image, a household name, an
emblematic figure of football in Hungary and the worldwide. The
chief editor of a Russian newspaper said of him, "If it hadn't been
for Puskás, there wouldn't have been Hungarian football - or Soviet
football, for that matter - and mankind would certainly be poorer."
Those who had the chance to see him play at least once will never
forget his dodges and shots.
Those who never saw him play also swear Puskás was one of the
During the Communist regime, Puskás could not be the greatest in his
own country. After he left the country illegally, it was not allowed
in Hungary to even write his name. They tried to defame him. There
were articles about his money-mindedness, constantly referring to
one of his well-known statements ("Little money, little soccer; big
money, big soccer"). When it came time to elect someone for the
Golden Ball Award in 1960, the journalist representing Hungary was
not allowed to vote for Puskás; still, Puskás captured the second
place. According to the Hungarian press, for the Real Madrid - Vasas
match in Hungary, the Spainsh team had only ten members. His name
was not to be mentioned, even though he was playing. When Puskás
first returned to Hungary for a partial rehabilitation, after
twenty-five years of absence, he met with accusations rather than
welcomes. A star television reporter's interview at that time was
compiled so that Puskás would feature negatively.
Once I had the
opportunity to travel with him. In 1999, a sports gala for "Sportsmen
of the Century" was arranged in Vienna. Krisztina Egerszegi,
László Papp, and Ferenc Puskás were there - three Hungarians
among the one hundred invited athletes. We travelled by train.
György Szöllősi, the author of Puskás's biography, was
travelling with us.
It was already hard to communicate with "Uncle" Buddy. The
damage to his mind was already obvious, and it was difficult
to find logic in his speech. Being very young, 22-year old
journalists just then beginning, we were too shy to initiate a
conversation with him.
We were happy and lucky enough to be seated next to him, and
we exchange a few words with him about the food and drink. We
thought he did not care at all, but we were astonished to find
he did care.
At the station in Vienna, a limousine was waiting for "Uncle"
Buddy, but nothing for us. "I'm not leaving here until these
two kids have a cab," he stated firmly.
We were touched by his consideration for us, even though he
did not know us. The cab arrived, and we met again in the
hotel. "Uncle" Buddy smiled at us and patted us on the back.
Then, di Stefano, Zoff, Eusibio, Mark Spitz, Carl Lewis,
Muhamed Ali, and Pelé appeared to shake hands and exchange a
few words with him.
was so honoured in Madrid that the entire income from his final match in
1966 was allotted to him by President Bernabéu.
Earlier, fifty years ago, Puskás was said to have died. After the
Revolution of 1956, at the end of October, the Interpress Agency announced
- and newspapers the world over published - that the Olympic champion and
silver medal-winning team's captain fell in the battles in Budapest. In
his case, the saying "false reports of one's death mean a long life" came
true, because he lived a long life.
Alfredo di Stefano, Puskás's Spanish forward mate, summed up his character
best when he said, "Both as a player and as a person, Puskás is a ten on a
scale of ten." If anybody knew Puskás well, it was di Stefano. He became
his best friend in Spain, he helped him with his language studies, and he
visited him several times in Buda when Puskás was seriously ill. Di
Stfeano also revealed that Puskás was the most charitable patron of the
Hungarians who deserted the country in 1956. "He helped each and every
Hungarian. He was like an embassy. All his money went to his fellow
spoke five languages. He was not some sort of uneducated, spendthrift
football star, as they often tried to portray him. He never made a great
fortune. His business ventures in Spain failed (for example, the sausage
After his career as a football player, he became a successful coach. His
motto was "The ball never sweats or gets tired."
Puskás led the Greek team Panathinaikos, an unlisted club before, to the
Champion League Cup final in 1971. Ha also worked in Latin America;
however, he failed, like many others, to boost Hungarian football. As
coach of the Hungarian National Team, he fared well in only one of four
Puskás developed the fatal Alzheimer's disease at the end of the 1990s. He
still looked young. With his straight hair combed back, his kind, impish
look, and his confident postures, he continued to give the impression,
even long afterwards, that though he was ill, he would carry on for many
Ferenc Puskás died on 17 November 2006. He lived 79 years.