I write this in response to the creator of the node's write up on Alfredo Di Stefano. It is suggested that Di Stefano was the greatest player of his time, without giving due acknowledgement to the other great player of his era - Ferenc Puskas.
No, I am not trying to prove that Puskas is the greatest player ever, but I would like to emphasize the absurdity of comparing different players who were great in their own mileu. I've not watched both of them play, except for the youtube videos, but I am here to make a case for Puskas - that he is a name worth mentioning in any of the 'greatest lists', if at all the creation of lists is justified.
Puskas had his share of (bad) luck like many geniuses. And he was born into a country whose highest achievements in football coincided with his. Puskas's career was marred by conditions similar to those of Stefano's, mentioned in the write up by theboy.
Puskas was the captain of the Golden Team of Hungary in the 1950s which included József Bozsik, Nándor Hidegkuti and Sándor Kocsis . Magical Magyars as they were called, had one of longest undefeated runs in footballing history spread across 4 years. Puskas scored 616 goals in 620 club appearences and 84 goals in 89 matches for the national team(Hungary and Spain). To give you a reference, Pele scored 620 goals in 660 club appearences and 77 goals in 92 matches for Brazil and for Stefano, the corresponding numbers are 526 in 660 club appearences and 29 in 34 matches for the national football team. With this statistic, I am tempted to pass a judgement on who the greatest footballer is, but I won't.
Initial days In Hungary
Born in 1927 to Ferenc Sr., a player and coach with Kispest AC which was later taken over by the Hungarian Government and renamed Budapest Honved. Kispest AC and later Budapest Honved was to become Puskas's club till 1956, before he left his country following the Hungarian revolution. By then, the Galloping Major as he was known had scored 374 goals in 358 matches for the club. Puskas was single footed, much like 'A God in Argentina'. While at Kispest AC, fans built a small step over the training ground fence near his home so Puskás did not have to walk around to the main gate; he was 13 then. During this period, he led the Magical Magyars to victory at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, Central European Championship in 1953 and the world cup finals in 1954. After the Olympics, Magyars were invited to play England at Wembley - the best team in the world against the originators of football. Hungary won 6-3. In the return match at Budapest, England lost 1-7, England's heaviest loss in international football. Puskas scored twice on both the occasions. After the match at Wembley, he received thousands of telegrams and letters from all across Europe, one of which had only had an image of a football on the envelope and addressed to "Puskas, Hungary".
"I believe that if a good player has the ball, he should have the vision to spot at least three options, Puskas always saw at least five" said a fellow player, Jenö Buzánszky. Puskas and his team were one of the earliest proponents of "Total Football" before Ajax perfected it under Rinus Michels and Johan Cruijff.
The Miracle of Bern
In the world cup, the Hungarians were the overwhelming favourites having been undefeated for 32 matches before the world cup. The final between Hungary and West Germany later called 'The Miracle of Bern' was their second meeting in the tournament. The Germans were recovering from the aftermath of the world war and the country was in tatters, both spiritually and economically. In the league stages, the scoreline read 8-3 in favor of the Hungarians. In that match, Puskas suffered a hairline fracture due to a foul by a German defender which kept him out of the remaining matches before the final. Puskas despite not having recovered fully from the injury, played in the final and found the net twice - one in the 6th minute and the other in the 87th minute which was controversially disallowed and which would have been an equalizer. West Germany won the match 3-2, making it one of the most dramatic upsets in world cup football history. To add a cinematic backdrop, the match was played in heavy rain, in which the German captain was known to excel. Atleast a few believe that the defeat was the spark which led to the Hungarian revolution.
It was when his team travelled to Vienna to play the first round of the European cup, the Hungarian revolution broke out. He came back to his home country only in 1981 which means about 25 years of exile. "Puskás would speak about his homeland almost with tears in his eyes, so it was very hard for the public to understand why he only came back in 1981," Szöllősi, a familiar journalist says. "Puskás was afraid of the life sentence that was the 'reward' for deserting soldiers." He also refrained from making public statement against the regime in Hungary because of his concern for his relatives living in Hungary. To quote Aeschylus “I know how men in exile feed on dreams.” Puskas's waking life and dreams, both were driven by his passion for football.
Puskas said towards the end of 1957 - "Many things have changed in past 5 months. The people respected us and the government rewarded. I was celebrated, cheered and cherished. Now I am living in Vienna with my family as a foreigner, an unemployed newcomer. My future is uncertain". Puskas was banned from playing football for two years by FIFA, one year upon request by the Hungarian Government for playing in South America and the second, because one had to sit out if he had played amateur football. Back in Hungary, he was declared a traitor for supporting the revolution and the secret police opened a file called 'wanderer'.
While in exile, he played for Real Madrid from 1958-1966. Having joined Madrid at the age of 31, he found it difficult to adjust to a new country. Despite this, and being overweight with a beer-belly, he scored 21 goals in 24 La Liga matches in his first season. His partnership with Alfredo Di Stefano at Real Madrid is considered to be one of the most dreaded strike-force, in football history. He was the Spanish League top scorer for four seasons- 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, at a time when Di Stefano was also playing. Di Stefano once said of Puskas, "He deserved ten out of ten as a player, and a man". He played his last European Cup in 1966, where he scored 5 goals in 3 matches which included a quartet against Feyenoord.
After retiring as a player, Puskas coached Panathinaikos and helped them win two domestic league championships. They also reached the European Cup final in 1971 when they lost to Ajax under Rinus Michels led by Johan Cruijff. This is the only time a Greek club has reached a European Cup final, to date. When Panathinaikos went to Madrid to play a friendly match, the 100,000 strong crowd at the grandstand is reported to have cheered for Pancho, which was his nickname at Real Madrid. For his Greek fans, he represented two legendary characters - Ulysses and Alexis Zorba. Ulysses because he travelled across the world, won many hearts and went back to his home country when he grew old and Alexis Zorba because he was full of life.
Puskas was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000 and he passed away in 2006. He was accorded a state funeral in Hungary.
I don't know if Puskas is the greatest football player of the 20th century, but certainly he was a warm leader, a player of exceptional quality, a compassionate man and a champion of the human spirit.
- Restoring the Puskás legend by Márton Dinnyés: http://www.uefa.com/news/newsid=357946.html
- 'Puskas, Hungary', a documentary released in 2009