You know it’s been a decent career when FIFA name their Goal of the Year award after you. Still, Ferenc Puskas had one big gripe about football’s governing body.
It was the last few minutes of the 1954 World Cup Final. Puskas had battled back from a hairline fracture of the ankle, scored the Hungarian opener, then saw unfancied West Germany lead 3-2. This deviated alarmingly from the script, so the Galloping Major latched onto a through-ball and thumped in an equaliser – then was flagged offside. He never forgot, nor forgave, that contentious decision.
Puskas won medals galore elsewhere, mind you. This was a sort of footballing Babe Ruth – barrel-chested then also pot-bellied after a two-year suspension for defecting to the West after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Real Madrid team-mate Alfredo Di Stefano nicknamed him ‘fatso’, but he mixed power with bewildering panache.
The Magical Magyars were largely drafted from Honved’s finely honed army team. Having won gold at the 1952 Olympics, their proto-total football changed the game once the sceptics actually saw it. England never recovered its imperious swagger after two thrashings in 1953 and 1954, particularly when Puskas’ Wembley drag-back flummoxed the once-flawless Billy Wright “like a fire engine going to the wrong fire”, according to The Times.
A few months later, Puskas scored three as Hungary began the 1954 World Cup with extraordinary wins over South Korea (9-0) and West Germany (8-3), but he was then injured until that final.
It was the Mighty Magyars’ first defeat for years, but their last hurrah, as stars defected. He nearly joined Manchester United, but the maximum wage was unappealing so Puskas plumped for Madrid, which produced five Liga titles and three European Cups.
Having taken citizenship he turned out for Spain at the 1962 World Cup (they did worse than Hungary, ironically). So, if United had worked out, could Puskas have played for England? He did quite like Wembley, after all…
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