To help mark UEFA's Jubilee in 2004, each national association was asked to nominate its most outstanding player of the past 50 years. Hungary chose Ferenc Puskás as their Golden Player.
He was a star player for Budapest Honvéd FC and Real Madrid CF, he led Panathinaikos FC to the European Champion Clubs' Cup final as a coach and now Hungary's national stadium bears his name.
It was no surprise when Ferenc Puskás was named his country's Golden Player in 2004, two years before his death aged 79. After all, he remains simply the greatest name in Hungarian football. Born in Budapest on 2 April 1927, his first mentor was his father, a coach with Kispest Athletic Club where Ferenc played under an assumed identity – Miklós Kovács – until his 12th birthday when he was officially old enough to join.
Even before then he had met his best friend and future international colleague József Bozsik, who would win 101 caps to Puskás's 85. "I was three or four years old when Bozsik moved into our neighbourhood," he explained. "We soon became friends and had a secret sign – if I knocked on the wall, it meant: 'Let's go and play football.'"
Puskás was blessed with one of the best left feet in the history of the game, yet it was the ball which, he always said, was his 'kabala' or lucky charm: "I'm only calm when I have it with me," he explained. With it, the inside-forward won five Hungarian championships with Honvéd, was the league's top scorer on four occasions, claimed an Olympic gold medal in 1952, and finished runner-up at the 1954 FIFA World Cup finals as Hungary lost surprisingly to West Germany.
He was a national celebrity and there is a publicity shot of him and his 'Magical Magyars' team-mates laying the foundations at the Népstadion, now the Ferenc Puskás Stadium. That Hungarian side was perhaps most famous for beating England 6-3 at Wembley on 25 November 1953, when Puskás scored two of his 84 international goals. However, the team broke up with the 1956 revolution, which erupted at a time when Honvéd were touring abroad.
Puskás duly joined Real Madrid, where he embellished his reputation further. Playing alongside Alfredo Di Stéfano, Francisco Gento and Luis del Sol, he registered 324 goals in 372 games for the Spanish giants (finishing as the league's leading marksman for four seasons), won six Spanish titles and the European Cup in 1959/60, when he scored four times in the 7-3 final victory against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Watching television images of that game, it becomes clear that the 'Galloping Major' – so called because Honvéd were the army team – did not actually do too much leg work. Instead, he moved slowly but inexorably towards goal before letting fly shots from all possible angles and distances. He almost produced a repeat show with a hat-trick in the final two years later but Madrid lost 5-3 to SL Benfica. In recognition of his shooting power, the world governing body FIFA, in 2009, established the FIFA Puskás Award for the best goal of the year.
After Puskás retired from playing in 1966, he went on to coach teams in Spain, the United States, Canada, Paraguay, Chile, Saudi Arabia and Egypt until, in 1993, he took charge of the Hungarian national side for four matches. Yet the highlight of his career on the bench came in Greece with Panathinaikos, whom he guided to the European Cup final in 1970/71. It is through his exploits on the pitch, though, that he has the status of a sporting legend.
Last updated: 26 January 2011
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