Puskás: life and death of a great footballer

08 Dec 2006
IOC News

The city that witnessed his birth also witnessed his death. The whole of Budapest remembers 2 April 1927 and 17 November 2006. But it remembers above all the 79 years separating these two dates. A lifetime for Ferenc Puskás to become one of Europe’s most talented footballers. His funeral will take place tomorrow, Saturday 9 December 2006. IOC Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch will be present, paying due homage to “one of the greats”.
Helsinki 1952: the mark of one single man
In Helsinki, Hungary became world football champion for the first time. The “Magic Magyars” dominated the whole tournament, notably thanks to the talent of Ferenc Puskás, the veritable leader of this Hungarian team. It all started with the match against Romania, who were the best defenders at the time. The match soon became very challenging, but Hungary nonetheless broke through this fearsome defence, winning 2-1. Short work was made of the following three matches: 3-0 against Italy (Olympic champions in Berlin in 1936); 7-1 against Turkey, and 6-0 against Sweden (Olympic champions in 1948 in London). Hungary was then the favourite for the Olympic title in the final against Yugoslavia. The match took place on 2 August 1952 in Helsinki’s Olympic stadium. Neither team scored in the first half. The teams were equally skilful, and neither bowed to any pressure. This final was a perfect demonstration of the central-European style: imaginative plans of attack and tight passing techniques. Despite this, the start of the second half was exactly the same as the first. The Hungarian deep-lying forward Ferenc Puskás decided to move things along. He threw himself, alone, into the Yugoslav defence, dribbled the ball past all his opponents, and kicked the ball splendidly into the net. Score: 1-0. Victory was not yet guaranteed, but this goal seemed to re-ignite the Hungarians, and from then on the Yugoslavs could not break through their line of defence. Two minutes from the end, Puskás scored a second goal, as if to confirm the domination of the Hungarian team, making the final score 2-0. At the Helsinki Olympic Games, Hungary played five matches, scored 20 goals and let in only two.
A player who was not as gauche as it seemed…
Ferenc Puskás, known as the Galloping Major, had an impressive national and international career: five times Hungarian champion and 357 goals scored in 354 matches with Budapest Honvéd, five times Spanish champion, five times European champion, and 324 goals scored in 372 matches with Real Madrid, 10 times the top goal-scorers (in various competitions), 84 goals scored in 85 selections with the Hungarian team, and Olympic champion in 1952 in Helsinki.  
Ferenc Puskás was remarkable not only because of his achievements. Small, heavy, inefficient in airplay and exclusively left-footed, nothing made him destined to be a great footballer, but his leadership and attacking qualities were undisputable. He was the master player of the Hungarian team, and was the originator of every attacking move. His power and shooting precision concluded almost every attacking action: the whole team was built around him.
Now in football’s Hall of Fame
In the last ten years of his life, Ferenc Puskás received honours from the sporting world, confirming his status as an exceptional footballer. In 1997, at the age of 70, he received the Olympic Order from the then-IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch. In 1999, French sports daily L’Equipe named him European Footballer of the Century. In 2002, Budapest’s grand stadium, which had been the host of his many feats, was re-named in his honour.
On 17 November, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, this legendary Hungarian died at Budapest’s Kutvolgyi Hospital, from the after-effects of pneumonia. His funeral will take place tomorrow, 9 December 2006, which has been declared a day of national mourning by the Hungarian government.
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