Saturday, May 26, 2007

LEGEND- Ferenc Puskas

Real Madrid coach Luis Carniglia couldn't hide his astonishment when he met the Club's new signing. Puskas was then 31 years old and had a prominent belly.

Carniglia didn't want the player on his squad. "What am I supposed to do with him?" he asked Bernabéu and Club manager Antonio Calderón, to what they bluntly replied, "Your job: shape him up." Before his debut, Puskas underwent heavy training and managed to lose 12 kilos (26.4 lbs) before his League debut.

The story of "The Galloping Major," as he was known to football fans, is fascinating.
His life changed on 4 November 1956. When in Viena with former team Honved (formerly known as Kispest), Puskas learned that Budapest had been invaded by the USSR. He and other teammates decided to leave the fantastic Honved side in order to never return to Hungary. They missed the European Cup match three days later in Bilbao against Athletic Bilbao, and FIFA suspended Puskas for two years. The Hungarian player had to resort to becoming a professional bowler in order to survive.
"I didn't return to Hungary because I wanted to be able to be Hungarian in my own country," he said in his third week at Madrid. The Hungarian FA made him responsible for his fellow teammates' behaviour and for organising a tour that hadn't been approved by them.

During the two years he was suspended, Ferenc Puskas lived in the Italian Riviera, where he stopped worrying about being in good form. This changed when Santiago Bernabéu brought him to Madrid, following advice from Emil Osterreicher, the Club's Technical Director.

In his first training with the squad, he astonished his teammates with his intelligent game and his precision at long passes. "He controls the ball better with his left foot than I do with my hands!" exclaimed Di Stéfano. In his nine years at the Club (1958-67), Puskas showcased his extraordinary talent as a striker countless times.

His Spanish League debut with Real Madrid was on 21 September 1958. He scored three of the five goals they scored against Sporting Gijón. He scored four goals in the European Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt that earned the Whites their fifth trophy, slightly belittling Di Stéfano's performance, who scored his side's other three goals of the match.

Puskas achieved a level of play very few can master, and he delighted football fans around the world, but particularly in Madrid, throughout the 1960s. Despite the advanced age he had arrived at the Club in, he managed to earn an impressive track record. He played 261 official matches, scoring a total of 236 goals; He was the League's Top-Scorer four times; he won five Leagues, one Spanish Cup, three European Cups and one Intercontinental Cup. In the 84 matches he played with Hungary, he scored 83 goals! He also played four times for Spain after he was nationalised.

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