Ferenc Puskas


Born: 2 April, 1927, in Budapest. Died: 17 November, 2006, in Budapest, aged 79.

FERENC Puskas, Hungary's heroic "Galloping Major", is rarely overlooked when experts gather to name the best five or six footballers to have played the game.

Puskas, who died from pneumonia in Budapest on Friday aged 79, was the outstanding talent of a golden generation of Hungarian players who set the standard for Europe and the world in the 1950s and 1960s.

The inside-left only played a handful of times in Great Britain, but in few countries does he command such enduring respect, so inspirational were his feats in London, Glasgow and elsewhere. He will be remembered in this country as the architect of England's first defeat at Wembley and the first - and so far only - man to score four goals in a European Cup final, when Real Madrid defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden Park in 1960.

Puskas was a prolific goal-scorer who benefited from a low centre of gravity and strong legs and whose attention to practice helped him develop impeccable ball control with his favoured left foot. He had several technical faults and was clearly overweight during his prime, but he created a methodology so reliable it enabled him to play to his strengths and mask any weaknesses.

Born in Budapest in 1927, young Ferenc took up football with the provincial club where his father worked as a coach, Kispest AC. His talent bloomed quickly and he made the first team at the age of 16. Within a further two years, the teenage Puskas was playing for his country.

In 1949, Kispest was taken over by the Hungarian army, which renamed the team Honved and made its players officers, with nominal ranks. Puskas attained the nickname "Galloping Major" after the status accorded by the military.

In the days before satellite television transmitted the feats of foreign footballers to every British living room, Puskas was just another big name with a big reputation forged on the continent.

All of that changed in 1953 when Hungary arrived in London to play England at Wembley. Legend has it one of the English players smirked when he saw the captain's rather portly physique and predicted a landslide victory for his team. Indeed, until that day, England had never lost at home. However, Hungary won 6-3, introducing the inventors of football to a hitherto unseen degree of ball control and tactical astuteness. On the way to one of his two goals, Puskas humiliated Billy Wright by famously dragging the ball back with his studs as the England defender slid in to tackle.

When Hungary returned the compliment and invited England to Budapest the following May, they thrashed them 7-1. Puskas's left foot was so deadly that he maintained a scoring rate of almost a goal a game for both club and country. In 85 matches for Hungary, he would score 84 goals, including one in the 1954 World Cup final when the "Magical Magyars", as they became known, suffered a shock 3-2 defeat to West Germany.

The inspirational captain had been injured in a game against the Germans earlier in the tournament, which the rampant Hungarians won 8-3. He did not play again until the final, and was clearly short of fitness. At 3-2 down, Puskas found the net once again but was ruled to have strayed offside by Mervyn Griffiths, the Welsh linesman. Four years later, Brazil travelled to Sweden with a teenage Pele in their ranks, and Hungary's chance to conquer the world had gone. They had to be content with an Olympic gold medal won in 1952.

Undeterred, Puskas forged a hugely successful club career after serving a two-year ban for his refusal to return to Hungary after the 1956 revolution. He spent his exile in Milan before joining Real Madrid in Spain, where the lifestyle suited him well.

Puskas, who even represented his adopted national side at the 1962 World Cup, won his first European Cup with Real in 1959, then immortalised himself a year later in one of the finest club matches ever played; the demolition of Frankfurt at Hampden. Puskas scored four while Alfredo di Stefano, the great Argentinian, contributed the other three, and 135,000 appreciative Glaswegians demanded that the Spanish side return to the pitch three times to receive their applause.

Puskas retired from playing at the age of 40, with three European titles and five Spanish league victories to his name and 512 goals from 528 appearances for Real. He took up various coaching roles around the world and was most successful in Greece, where he led the unheralded Panathinaikos to the 1971 European Cup final.

In 1993, Hungary's prodigal son was pardoned by the government and returned home to take temporary charge of the national team. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000, and admitted to intensive care in a Budapest hospital on September 13 this year, and died two months later.

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