Hungary | Ferenc Puskás dies, aged 79

Nemzeti sport offers a tribute section target=Football Legend Puskas Dies,” Financial Times, 17 Nov 06). “Improvisation, not formalized coaching, was their strength,” said Sandor Barcs, former head of the Hungarian soccer association (Rob Hughes, “Puskas, Soccer Star of the 1950s and ’60s, Dies,” International Herald Tribune, 17 Nov 06).
Inside that Wembley dressing room, Sebes had lectured the players for one hour, but when the old man went to the toilet, Puskas said two or three sentences about what to do, and that was it.
Puskás began that game imperiously, in the view of John Goodbody, writing in the Times (London) (“Puskás, the Man with the Left Foot of Legend,” 18 Nov 06): “[Y]ou can observe his attitude by the way he juggles the ball on his left instep before kick-off as if to introduce himself to a new audience.” Famously, Puskás scored after a drag-back in the penalty area, bewitching onrushing defender Billy Wright. It might be one of the most replayed goals in history (the goal occurs at the front of a video segment on the Marca website). Later, at Real Madrid, Puskás would sometimes hear the cry Hat harom (“six-three”) from expatriate Hungarians (“Puskas on Life and Football,” The Observer, 19 Nov 06). The loss to Germany in Berne, Switzerland, in the 1954 World Cup final still stings. Leading 2–0 early in the match, Hungary allowed Germany to escape 2–3 in driving rain, with a late Puskás equalizer controversially overturned. Violent street protests occurred in Budapest after the match. In a post-game tableau reconstructed by historian David Goldblatt (The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football [Viking, 2006], 352), based on the collection Puskás on Puskás: The Life and Times of a Footballing Legend (Robson, 1997), Puskás downs sausages while Sebes searches for an explanation:
Puskás: (Still eating sausage) It wasn’t long before we were two goals up and we had at least half a dozen other clear chances to score which we missed. Then we sat back and tried to keep the ball in midfield. Sebes: At half-time everyone was complaining about the ref … Isn’t it odd we always seem to get British referees? Puskás pushes his plate away and directly addresses Sebes. Puskás: We gave two silly goals away. We should have pressed on then looking for the third to kill the game off. I got an equalizer right at the death but that Welsh linesman [Mervyn] Griffiths … disallowed it for offside. Even the English ref Billy Ling had given it. Sebes: If Hungary had won there would have been no counter-revolution but a powerful thrust in the building of socialism in the country … Puskás snorts and slurps down a small beer.
In 1956, as tanks suppressed an anti-Soviet rebellion in Budapest—these events were commemorated just weeks ago in 50th-anniversary celebrations—Puskás found himself with Kispest in Bilbao, Spain, for a European Cup match. Friendlies were arranged as gestures of sympathy for Hungarians in their struggle. Puskás participated in the fund-raising exhibitions, ensuring that he would face an 18-month ban on a return to Budapest. He defected and, ever in fear of retribution, would not go back home until 1981, following terms as manager at, among other locales, the Vancouver Royals of the North American Soccer League, Panathinaikos, Colo Colo of Chile, AEK Athens, and al-Masry of Egypt.
Puskás cradles Szöllósi’s biography on its publication in 2005. “The reason why we came out with this book,” said Szöllósi, “is to give the country back a real hero that was torn away by the political storms.” A documentary, Puskás: The Legend of the Magical Magyar, is scheduled for release in 2007. (www.ma.hu)

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