Hungarian and European football is mourning the loss of an all-time great today after Ferenc Puskás, the inspiration behind the 'Magical Magyars', died in Budapest at the age of 79 after a long illness.
Nicknamed the 'Galloping Major', Puskás won league titles in his homeland with Kispest Honvéd FC and in Spain with Real Madrid CF, with whom he also lifted the European Champion Clubs' Cup. On the international stage, Puskás and his Hungary team-mates captured gold at the 1952 Olympic Games and followed that up with victories such as the 6-3 defeat of England at Wembley on 25 November 1953. Then, in the return at the Népstadion several months later, the Magyars showed the result in London was no fluke as a 7-1 scoreline testified.
World Cup loss
Again, Puskás scored twice and the unbeaten run extended to 28. But the sequence was to end in untimely fashion in the 1954 FIFA World Cup final where the Hungarians were shocked 3-2 by West Germany, with Puskás left to labour in the latter stages of the match after picking up an injury earlier in the competition.
On the field, as an inside left, Puskás was the Magyars' attacking linchpin. The son of a semi-professional footballer with Kispesti AC, Puskás learned his sporting trade from his father, although his first registration papers at the club carried the name Miklós Kovács. False identities were quickly replaced by his more regular nickname 'Száguldó õrnagy' - the Galloping Major - as Puskás and Kispest (then officially renamed Honvéd as it became the club of the Hungarian army) rattled off five titles in seven seasons, with Puskás, a debutant at the age of 15, scoring 154 goals in 179 league appearances.
Puskás's international record was equally impressive as he struck a world-record 84 goals in 85 full internationals before political events curtailed his contribution. Following the Soviet repression of the Hungarian uprising of October 1956, Puskás and some of his national-team colleagues defected to Spain. And not only did Puskás play for Madrid under the stewardship of his old Kispest coach Emil Oestreicher, but dual citizenship allowed him to represent Spain on four occasions.
Undoubtedly it was a matter of great sadness for Hungarians that their national side gradually fell apart and that their greatest player plied the remainder of his playing career on Spanish soil. For Puskás, though, success was never far away as he was involved in seven league championships and three European Cup triumphs with Madrid - the highlight being his appearance, and record four-goal haul, in the 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1959/60 final.
Despite his stocky build, among his footballing contemporaries, Öcsi – his other nickname, meaning 'little brother' – was king. "If he kicked the ball once, he scored two goals," remarked Zoltán Czibor, Puskás's team-mate at Kispest and Hungary. "He had a full career in Hungary and he repeated it in Spain with Real Madrid," added Gyula Grosics, Hungary's goalkeeper of the era. "That's why he is not only world class, but he belongs to the realm of dreams."
Puskás, exiled from Hungary, made a fleeting return to his homeland in 1981, ironically to appear in a game at the Népstadion. In total, the demand for tickets outstripped the stadium's capacity fivefold for a match that was promoted only by word of mouth among the Budapest public as national newspapers failed to cover it due to the prevailing political régime's instructions. But Puskás, whose coaching career spanned six continents, eventually returned for good in 1990 at the invitation of the government at a time when the political winds had turned in a more democratic direction.
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