Friday, 17 November 2006

Ferenc Puskas 1927-2006

As Fraser has already noted the legendary footballer Ferenc Puskas died today. On Talk Sport this morning they were humming and hawwing over whether he was one of the greatest players ever. "A great player, one of the greatest?" 83 goals in 84 matches for Hungary, 1 European Cup, 5 Spanish titles, 5 Hungarian titles, 1 World Club Championship, 1 Olympic Gold Medal and 4 times top scorer in the Spanish league. Aye I think fair to say one of the greatest footballers who ever lived.

Fittingly I was at Hampden today to visit the museum and take the stadium tour, so I got the chance to stop for a moment and take in the place where he scored those 4 goals in what is generally acclaimed as the greatest club game of all time.

I also listened to former Aberdeen manager Alex Smith recall the match he went to as a young player with Kilmarnock. He remembered it as the best club match he'd ever seen and recalled the fantastic celebrations of the Real Madrid side as they took the time to acknowldge the entire crowd who applauded non-stop as they did their lap of honour.

Having made his name in pre-revolutionary Hungary playing with Honved, Puskas was 31 when he arrived at Real Madrid in 1958, having defected to the West 2 years earlier. He helped Real reach the European Cup Final in his first season, although he missed the final through injury.

No one else has ever scored 4 goals in a European Cup Final and we may well wait a long time before someone else manages it. Puskas himself had another go, scoring a hat-trick in 1962 as Real Madrid lost the final to Benfica. In all he played 39 European games for Real, scoring 35 goals.

In all competitions for Real Madrid his record was 528 appearances scoring 512 goals.

In addition to his caps for Hungary he played for Spain at the 1962 World Cup Finals, winning 4 caps.

Still at Real Madrird he retired from playing in 1966.

As a coach he went back to the European Cup Final in 1971 with Greek champions Panathinaikos where they lost to Ajax.

In 1993 he returned to Hungary to live for the first time since the uprising, to become Caretaker Manager of the national side. He was in charge for four World Cup qualifiers.

Honved have pensioned off his jersey number for good, in honour of the great player.

The Federation of Football History and Statistics named Puskas the all time best scorer of the 20th century.

On Puskas's 75th birthday in 2002, the Hungarian government renamed the country’s biggest football stadium, The Budapest "Nepstadion" (People's Stadium) to Ferenc Puskas Stadium.

Puskas suffered with Alzheimer’s disease and had been confined to a government-run hospital in Budapest for the last six years.

Football should colllectively hang its head in shame at the way one of the greatest players to ever kick a ball was forced to see out his last days. How so many players can happily trouser obscene amounts of money while one of the guys who made the game what it is, had to look at selling his medals to make his last year more comfortable, is beyond me.

Players like Puskas made the game the thing we all love today and it's terrible that the game, with all its new found wealth, couldn't have shown him the same respect.

The picture above right hangs inside Hampden Park. It shows Puskas celebrating one of his goals in the 1960 European Cup Final.

There's a good round-up of tributes to him on the BBC.

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