Ferenc Puskás

Football's Pioneers: Ferenc Puskás

Roy Thomson recalls World Cup Icon Ferenc Puskás, who helped revolutionise football tactics in the 1950s and 1960s.
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Puskás scored 83 goals in 84 appearances for Hungary, leading a golden squad that dominated international football during the 1950s. The Magical Magyars lost only once in six years. Unfortunately, defeat came in the 1954 World Cup Final in Switzerland.

Born in Budapest in 1927, Puskás was an established international when Hungary became a satellite state of the Soviet Union in 1949. He was an influential captain and undisputed star in a team that swept all before them to win Olympic gold in 1952 with Puskás shunning the propaganda, which claimed their success as socialist.

He displayed cunning and independent thought on the football pitch, helping Hungary revolutionise football tactics. They withdrew their centre-forward into midfield, bewildering opponents stuck in the dominant and inflexible 'WM' formation.

Nándor Hidegkuti perfected the deep-lying role, but Puskás was the conductor. With a ferocious left-foot shot and mesmeric ball control, he marshalled the team's fluid interchanging of positions. During the build-up to the 1954 World Cup, Hungary twice humiliated England, with Puskás famously embarrassing captain Billy Wright at Wembley in November 1953.

Hungary cruised the preliminary rounds in Switzerland. However, an ankle injury sustained in an 8-3 win over a purposely understrength West Germany meant Puskás missed hard-fought and exhausting knockout stage victories over Brazil and Uruguay.

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Ferenc Puskás
Ferenc Puskás

The Hungarian would later play for an all-conquering Real Madrid side.

Passed fit for the final in Berne against the now full-strength Germans, Puskás scored as Hungary took a 2-0 lead. However, a heavy pitch hampered Hungary's fluidity and mercilessly challenged a tired team. Losing 3-2, Puskás dramatically equalised in the final minutes, only for the goal to be controversially disallowed for offside.

Defeat for Hungary was a devastating blow for a team and a country, which collapsed two years later when a revolution brought Soviet tanks to the Budapest streets. Their legacy was a pioneering 4-2-4 formation which Brazil perfected to win three of the following four World Cups.

It also unquestionably influenced the total football of the Dutch in the 1970s, with Johan Cruyff playing the Puskás role. Puskás did not return to Hungary after the uprising. Instead, he signed for Real Madrid in 1958.

He won five La Liga titles and three European Cups, finished top scorer in Spain four times, and scored seven goals in European finals. After a globetrotting coaching career, he returned to Budapest in 1992, where he died in 2006.

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