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Tribute paid at Puskás statue unveiling

Former colleagues György Szepesi and Ferenc Kovács remembered Ferenc Puskás as the unveiling of a statue of the Hungarian great marked what would have been his 86th birthday.

The Ferenc Puskás statue is unveiled in Obuda
The Ferenc Puskás statue is unveiled in Obuda ©www.pfla.hu - József Takács

Ferenc Puskás was born 86 years ago today – and shortly before what would have been his birthday, a life-size statue of the legendary Hungarian footballer was unveiled at the Puskás Öcsi square in the Obuda area of Budapest.

The statue was made by sculptors Gyula Pauer and Dávid Tóth, who conceived the idea from a photograph of Puskás enthralling a group of children with his ball control at the Toros de Las Ventas square in Madrid. The statue was erected by the municipality with the support of businesses and private sponsors.

In attendance for the unveiling ceremony were famous names from football, including Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) honorary chairman György Szepesi and Puskás's former Hungary team-mate Ferenc Kovács, now honorary president of Videoton FC.

The guests paid tribute to Puskás, who scored 84 international goals as well as 324 in 372 games for Real Madrid CF. Puskás won seven Spanish titles and three European Champion Clubs' Cups with the Merengues, the highlight coming in 1959/60 when he scored four times in the 7-3 final victory over Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow. The one-time Budapest Honvéd FC ace passed away in 2006 at the age of 79.

"Ferenc Puskás was the world's best ever – that's not just my opinion, many others feel the same," said Szepesi. "He was a simple, straightforward kind of person with a great sense of humour; he would make a joke out of all sorts of things. He also had great faith in his team's abilities and did not feel that knowing the opposition's tactics was necessarily important.

"An example of this was in the 1954 FIFA World Cup, when he came across the coach Gusztáv Sebes preparing for the semi-final against Uruguay. When he saw that he had prepared notes on our opponents, Puskás, who was unfortunately injured for that match, said: 'Don't worry about a thing! We don't need to know their tactics to beat them. Trust us and we'll get the job done.' And the Magyars did, winning 4-2 to progress to the final against West Germany, which they might have won had Puskás not still been carrying such a serious injury."

Puskás's former team-mate Kovács was equally effusive in his praise of Hungary's record marksman. "Everything nice that you can say about someone, can be said for Puskás, as both a player and a person," he said. Kovács told the story of an old man who approached the team bus as they were leaving for a national-team match in Austria. The pensioner asked for Puskás and explained to him that he really needed some medicine, but it was not possible to get it in Hungary. Once in Vienna, Puskás took Kovács with him to buy the medicine and duly returned with it to Budapest. There, the old man was waiting and immediately asked: 'Do you have the medicine?' Puskás replied: 'Yes, here it is. Get well soon, and be on your way."

It was left to the mayor of Obuda, Balázs Bús, to sum up his thoughts to the crowd gathered for the statue's unveiling. "Usually, whenever a statue is erected, it causes conflict on one side or another – except in this case here, with Puskás."