Puskas – A legend dies

Ferenc Puskas passed away today. It’s always hard to know with players from 40 years ago whether they merited the hype. I had this personal testimony to suggest that it was deserved: my grandfather scored two tickets to the 1960 European Cup Final at Hampden Park and took my mother, who was in her teens at the time. She says she’s never seen anything like the Real Madrid team that beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3, before or since — though she still rates George Best as the best ever.

[UPDATE: Kanu’s comment about the sheer scale of Puskas’ play is right on the money, so I decided to add some more quotes to this post.]

This quote from David Lacey in the Guardian (more below) hints at the madness:

Puskas played on for eight more years, scoring 512 times for Real in 528 matches and appearing for Spain in the 1962 World Cup. The best-remembered performance of his latter playing days came in the 1960 European Cup final at Hampden Park when a Glaswegian crowd of 135,000 bathed in the brilliance of Real Madrid’s 7-3 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt. Puskas scored four times, Alfredo Di Stefano three. Two years later he completed a hat-trick for Real in the final in Amsterdam but finished on the losing side, Benfica winning 5-3.

 

BBC SPORT | Football | Hungary legend Puskas dies at 79

From David Lacey’s article in the Guardian:

On a murky November afternoon in 1953 Ferenc Puskas, who died in Budapest yesterday aged 79, helped to rouse English football from a complacency born of insularity and blinkered thinking. The awakening was rude and embarrassing. In winning 6-3 Puskas’s Hungarians not only became the first foreign team to beat England at Wembley; they changed English football thinking forever.

The most memorable moment of that match has been replayed over and over again. For Hungary’s third goal Puskas had Billy Wright tackling thin air as he dragged the ball back from the England captain’s challenge before turning to beat Gil Merrick with a shot from a left foot which Francisco Gento, a team-mate at Real Madrid, later described as being “like a hand, he could do anything with it”. For Geoffrey Green of the Times Wright had been a fireman going to the wrong fire.

Again from the Guardian, this time Jonathon Wilson:

That is why his nickname, the ‘Galloping Major’, was so appropriate – even if he hardly galloped and, at the time it was bestowed, was only a lieutenant – because he was so good at marshalling his side towards a common goal. “If a good player has the ball, he should have the vision to spot three options,” the full-back Jeno Buzanszky said. “Puskas always saw at least five.”

Team-mates complained about Puskas’s influence over coaches and about his constant hectoring on the pitch, but nobody ever accused him of being selfish. Along with everything else, he was a hugely astute leader. In his first season at Real Madrid, for instance, he and the notoriously difficult Alfredo di Stefano were joint leading scorers going into the final match of the season. Late on, Puskas had a chance to score but opted instead to wait and square it for Di Stefano, recognising the problems it could cause for morale if the Argentinian did not finish as top scorer. He showed similar selflessness after that 1960 European Cup final, handing the match ball to Erwin Stein, who had scored two of Eintracht’s three goals. Puskas had scored four.

There are those who carp that Puskas was very left-footed. He was, but it hardly diminished him. “You can only kick with one foot at a time,” he once said. “Otherwise you fall on your arse.” As an example of how his turned a weakness into a strength, you only have to look at that game against England in 1953.

From David Miller in the Torygraph:

For supremacy, within a team sport, no performer in his prime has matched Puskas in modern times except, perhaps, the cricketer Don Bradman.

Other great players such as Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, Diego Maradona and Johan Cruyff may have exerted more refined tactical influence upon their teams, but statistics show that Puskas was the executioner par excellence. In 84 matches for Hungary, he scored 83 times, the first on his debut aged 18 against renowned neighbours Austria when approaching their peak in 1945. He was also top scorer four times in the Hungarian League between 1947 and 1954, then four times in five Spanish League seasons he was the leading scorer having moved to Real Madrid after the Hungarian uprising of 1956.

With Real, he scored 156 goals in 180 games in La Liga – with another 35 goals in 39 European Cup appearances – before retiring in 1967, aged 40. If his Argentine partner, Di Stefano, anaesthetised the opposition, Puskas then surgically extracted their resistance.

With his squat figure, barely 5ft 7in and crucial low centre of gravity, and with powerful thighs like Maradona’s, he needed little back-lift to produce power in his left foot. Having small feet and striking the ball dead centre, his shooting, seldom flighted, was devastating. He could, uniquely, generate Steven Gerrard-like power even when standing stationary.

Puskas belonged to that special class of striker, including Jimmy Greaves, Gerd Muller, of West Germany, and Maradona who would have the ball in the net at close range before the goalkeeper could blink, such was their anticipation.

 

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3 Responses

  1. 83 goals in 84 games for Hungary, 357 goals in 354 appearance for Budapest Honved, and 512 goals in 528 appearances for Real Madrid is beyond insane.

  2. I’m confused about the Real Madrid goals- I keep seeing 512 goals in 528 games from 56-67 – this doesn’t seem possible. At the same time you I see 156 goals in 180 La Liga games for RM and another 35 goals in 39 European matches – that would imply a Real Madrid total of 191 goals in 219 matches. Even his Wiki article (yes they are known for errors), included both sets of statistics, and I’m seeing both sets quoted in different articles. I’m thinking that the 191-219 has to be accurate. Either way it iis just an insane strike rate.

    More ramblings on Puskas in this wonky post from July about the best players of all time:

    http://dodgyatbest.blogspot.com/2006/07/zidane-where-does-he-rank-solon-soap.html

  3. that all about adds up. the consensus is between 511 to 513 goals in league play (majority in hungary), 84 international and 35 european.

    add to this the general inaccuracy of record keeping overtime (paging mr. pele) and a margin of error that accounts for the Franco propoganda machine.

    either way, the guy was a stud. a lot is to be said that my boys are jokingly refered as the Maryhill Magyars, paying homage to his hungarian team over half a century on.

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