30/05/2024

The Parliament Building in Budapest, where Ferenc Puskás is buried inside. Photo Credit: Ross Papadakis

In Hungarian Football, one name shines brightest, Ferenc Puskás, born in Budapest on April 2, 1927, is widely regarded as one of the greatest football players of all time.

Cherished as one of the finest to ever grace the pitch; His astonishing prowess, innate ability to score goals, and commanding presence made him an icon idolised across continents and eras.

Puskás’ influence on the sport was profound, reshaping the game with his distinctive approach and engaging audiences globally with his mesmerising performances.

Making his professional debut at 16, Puskás ascended through the ranks of Budapest Honvéd FC, where he won five Hungarian championships (1949–50, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955) and was crowned Europe’s top goal scorer in 1948 at just 21 years old.

With swift precision, he showcased extraordinary dribbling, precise passing, and a remarkable talent for finding the back of the net with his devastating left foot, establishing himself as a dominant force in the game.

Puskás’ impact extended far beyond his club career. He also achieved legendary international status, representing the Hungarian national team in numerous tournaments.

Suffering just a single defeat between 1950 and 1956, Puskás led Hungary to unprecedented success, including a gold medal at the 1952 Olympic Games and a remarkable run to the final of the 1954 FIFA World Cup. Despite falling short, Puskás’ performances solidified his reputation as a true footballing icon, finishing the tournament as the top goalscorer.

Facing challenges later in his career, including political turmoil in Hungary, Puskás completed a historic move to Real Madrid, joining the illustrious Spanish club in 1958 and becoming a pivotal figure in their storied history.

Scoring 528 goals in 512 appearances in all competitions for the club, there’s no doubt that his impact on the field was undeniable. Forming a formidable partnership with Alfredo Di Stefano, they led Real Madrid to numerous domestic and international titles, including three European Cups from 1959 to 1965.

Retiring from professional football at the age of 36, Puskás became a coach and managed teams in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

In 1971, he led the Greek side, Panathinaikos to the European Cup final, the first and only time to date that a Greek club has reached such heights in European football.

Their journey to the final was marked by impressive victories, including a quarter-final win over Everton and a semi-final triumph against Red Star Belgrade, becoming the only amateur football team to advance to the Final. However, despite their remarkable run, they ultimately fell short, suffering a 2–0 defeat to Johan Cruyff‘s Ajax.

Puskás also played a pivotal role in the team’s domestic success, securing the Greek Championship in 1972.

Apart from this notable stint at Panathinaikos, Puskás struggled to replicate his success as a player in his coaching career.

Despite managing across various nations, he faced limited triumph, with his only other significant success occurring with the Australian side, South Melbourne Hellas. Here Puskás clinched the National Soccer League (NSL) title in 1991, the 1990 NSL Cup, and two Dockerty Cup titles in 1989 and 1991.

During his tenure at South Melbourne, he managed the likes of Michael Valkanis, Kevin Muscat and the most notable Ange Postecoglou, the former Socceroos and current Tottenham Hotspur manager.

Postecoglou has openly credited Puskás for influencing his coaching style, particularly emphasising his aggressive, all-out attacking approach, synonymous with Ange’s Tottenham today.

In 2000, Puskás was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, admitted to a Budapest hospital in September 2006, and eventually passed away from pneumonia in November of the same year.

Ferenc Puskás’ legacy in Hungary extends beyond his contributions to the sport. He symbolises resilience, determination, and the unwavering spirit of a nation that has faced its share of challenges throughout history.

Puskás emerged during a turbulent era marked by societal transformation and political upheaval. His success on the football field served as a beacon of hope and unity for the people of Hungary during a time of adversity.

Today, Hungary’s national stadium, The Puskás Arena, stands as a testament to his enduring legacy.

Completed in 2019, the state-of-the-art facility honours Puskás’ contributions to Hungarian football, serving as a venue for both domestic and international matches, and hosting thousands of fans who gather to celebrate the beautiful game.

Everywhere you look, his image is immortalised through murals and statues, a constant reminder of his ever-growing legacy.

Visiting Hungary today, you notice the unfading mark Puskás has left on the nation and its football culture. From the bustling streets of Budapest to the smallest villages tucked away in the countryside, the ‘Puskás’ name sparks conversations and stirs emotions among football enthusiasts of all ages and sizes.

In Melbourne, we too have our very own Ferenc Puskás statue at the site of the former Olympic Park Stadium, depicting him preparing to let loose with his lethal left foot, honouring the legacy left on Australian football, although never playing a competitive game here.

The annual Puskás Award, established by FIFA in 2009, honours the year’s best goal, further cementing his place in football history, and ensuring that his memory lives on.

Puskás’ influence can be felt not just in the realm of sports but also in broader aspects of Hungarian society. His dedication, perseverance, and commitment to excellence serve as inspiration for anyone striving to achieve their goals, whether on or off the football pitch.

He personifies passion, hard work, and unity, resonating deeply with all Hungarians far and wide.

Young players growing up aspire to emulate his greatness, study his techniques and learn from his example, all hoping to wear his famous number 10 shirt, actively aiming to instil the same spirit of determination that defined Puskás’ illustrious career.

His legacy is woven into the fabric of the nation’s identity, a source of pride and inspiration for generations to come, a spirit forever ingrained in the hearts of the people and the soul of the nation.

From his early days in Budapest to his iconic moments on the global stage, Puskás left a lasting mark on the sport and the hearts of millions. His representation of excellence, perseverance, and sportsmanship serves as a guiding light for generations to come, reminding us all of the power of passion and determination in achieving greatness.

As Hungary’s beloved son and a global icon, Ferenc Puskás will forever be remembered as his spirit lives on in the hearts of football fans all over the world.

In every match played on Hungarian soil, in every goal scored by a Hungarian player, and in every Hungarian chant echoed from the stands; Ferenc Puskás lives on forever.

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