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No Hungarian Football Without Puskás

 

Attila Ághassi
17 November 2006, 8:44

Puskás 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 denigrated.

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.

Puskás 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.

A 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 greatest players.

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.

Memories

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.

Puskás 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.

Perhaps 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 expatriates."

Puskás 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 factory).

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 matches.

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 years.

Ferenc Puskás died on 17 November 2006. He lived 79 years.

 

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