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Remembering Ferenc Puskas

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Today marks 10 years since the Real Madrid legend’s passing

Jose Mari Vidal received the ball about 45 yards away from goal, earning the first touch - an elegant back heel flick - of a build-up to a timeless goal. From there, Real Madrid’s possession became more and more pragmatic with each touch. Eventually Alfredo Di Stefano and Jose Maria Zarraga got involved, and it wasn’t long before the tricky feet of the ingenious Gento received the ball on the left flank. He was causing Frankfurt problems all night long, so it was only fitting he would be the architect of yet another goal. A quick 1-2 with Ferenc Puskas opened space, and Gento’s cross eventually found the darting Hungarian, whose turn and left-footed strike was shelved into the top corner of Egon Loy’s goal.

It was Puskas’ fourth goal of the night, and Real Madrid’s sixth. Two minutes later, his partner in crime, alpha-male Don Alfredo, would score Real Madrid’s seventh. Seven goals to encapsulate a dynasty that ruled over Europe. What Puskas and Di Stefano achieved together remains unparalleled 56 years on. Di Stefano started a run of five consecutive European Cups, while Puskas joined half way through and helped Real Madrid win three of them.

And to think, he joined Real Madrid at the age of 31. He was not young then, and he wouldn’t be considered young now. 31 is when players start their decline in modern football. For Puskas, it was just the beginning.

31.

What an age to be signed by Real Madrid. What an age to go on to win three European Cups, five La Liga titles, and one Spanish Cup. What an age to go on to score 240 goals in 260 matches - including seven hat-tricks. By the time it was done, Puskas scored two hat-tricks against Barcelona - one at the Bernabeu and the other at Camp Nou - and won four Pichichi titles. He was a cold-blooded assassin - a poacher who could do more than just poach. He often drifted into deeper pockets of space and was comfortable playing anywhere in attack.

As his Hungarian teammate Jeno Buzansky put it, "If a good player has the ball, he should have the vision to spot three options... Puskas always saw at least five."

Raymond Kopa once remarked that goalkeepers were terrified of Puskas, even if the Hungarian striker was 35 meters away from goal. His shot was stinging and precise.

So easily history could’ve swayed too, but it didn’t. Before Real Madrid snatched him up, Puskas served a two-year football ban from UEFA for refusing to return to Hungary whilst playing for Budapest Honved amid travelling for the European Cup. While Honved were in Spain to play the first leg of a first-round clash against Athletic Bilbao, the Hungarian Revolution broke out, and the team decided not to go back - arranging for the return leg to be played in Brussels instead.

As you can imagine, at the age of 31 - fresh off a two-year hiatus - it wasn’t easy for Puskas to find a home. He searched for a role in Serie A, but no Italian manager wanted to take a gamble on an ageing star who had shown up slightly overweight after a chasm in his career. Only Real Madrid had the vision to bring Puskas in.

Real Madrid’s gamble paid off. Not only did Puskas go on a lights-out six-year tear after signing with the club, but he also worked diligently to lose 18kg before the start of his first season in Madrid to round back into match form. Italian football wept.

And it’s not as if before joining Real Madrid, Puskas was some unknown in search of a proper playing career. He was elite well before joining Real - it’s just that winning trophies and scoring buckets of goals in the Spanish capital really helped cement his place in history.

For one, he was an absolute marksman for the Hungarian national team - netting 83 goals in 84 matches. He won five league titles in Hungary with Budapest Honved and was the league’s highest scorer four times. He was prolific since the beginning, and in 1948, no player across the continent in all major leagues scored as many goals as him. Puskas netted 50 goals that season in just 32 matches - somehow rendering his numbers of the following season - 46 in 30 - less impressive.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Ferenc Puskas’ passing, and he should be remembered, not only for what he achieved on the pitch, but what he did for the club as a whole. He left a mark, and when he passed, the ripples were felt across Europe. Millions showed up in the streets of Budapest to mourn this iconic figure.

As the Madrid derby draws nigh this Saturday, we honour Ferenc Puskas, a man that deserves to be remembered at all times.

The man was a supertalent. I have lost a friend and quality player. That's how Puskás was as a person and a football player. He was one of the greatest players of all time but life, my friend, when you least expect it comes to an end.

- Alfredo Di Stéfano

Gracias, Ferenc.