FORMER Aberdeen player Zoltan Varga has died at the age of 65 after collapsing while playing football in Budapest.
Hungarian news agency MTI reported that Varga, who starred at Pittodrie between 1972 and 1973, fell ill while playing a senior game last night and could not be saved by medical staff.
Varga, a Hungarian international, was signed by Dons manager Jim Bonthrone in 1972, moving from Hertha Berlin in a 40,000 deal. The forward had been caught up in a bribery scandal in Berlin and, after being banned from German football for two years, opted to move to the north east of Scotland.
Though he was around for less than a year, the hugely talented Varga achieved legendary status at Pittodrie and is still considered by many to be the most skilful player Aberdeen fans have ever seen. When describing Varga in his centenary history of Aberdeen FC, author Jack Webster wrote "If football were a wine, then here was the vintage champagne".
He made 31 appearances and scored 15 goals. He played his last game for Aberdeen in a 2-1 victory away to Greenock Morton in April 1973 – a match that also marked the debut of a young Willie Miller – and was then signed by Ajax Amsterdam as a direct replacement for Johan Cruyff.
Varga had been a member of Hungary's Olympic team that won gold at the 1964 Games in Tokyo and also was part of the side that finished third at the European Championships that year. Between 1961 and 1968 he played for Ferencvaros, scoring 53 goals in 135 league matches, and won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965 when they beat Juventus 1-0 in Turin.
From Ajax, Varga moved back to Germany with Borussia Dortmund and finished his career at Gent. Later he returned to Hungary and took up management, coaching top-flight teams including Ferencvaros, Kispest Honved, Diosgyor and Gyor.
The Scotsman last caught up with Varga in October 2002 when two of his former teams – Aberdeen and Hertha Berlin – were drawn together in the Uefa Cup. He said at the time he still looked for the Dons' result in the paper each week. "Playing in Scotland was such a very nice time for me and I will never forget the year that I spent in Aberdeen," he added. "But for my family it was better that my career took me on to Holland, Germany, and then Belgium. There was not much to be earned playing for Aberdeen."