Born on April 2, 1927, in Budapest, Hungary, Ferenc Puskás starred for Honvéd SE and Hungary's powerful national team in the 1950s. After defecting during the Hungarian Revolution, the stocky forward enjoyed more success with Spain's Real Madrid club. Puskás returned to Hungary after 25 years in exile, and saw Budapest's largest sports arena renamed in his honor shortly before his death.
Early Years and Success
Ferenc Puskás was born Ferenc Purczeld Biró on April 2, 1927, in Budapest, Hungary. He joined the youth soccer team of Kispest AC, where his father was a coach, and made his debut for the senior team at the age of 16. Named to the Hungarian national squad as an 18-year-old, he scored in his international debut, against Austria.
Hungary's Field Magician
Puskás emerged as the top player for Kispet, which was renamed Budapest Honvéd SE as the Hungarian Army team in the late 1940s. Short and stocky, he didn't look the part of a soccer star, but he was renowned for his deadly left foot and unparalleled field vision. Nicknamed "The Galloping Major," Puskás led Europe with 50 goals in 1948 and helped Honvéd win five Hungarian League titles over a seven-year span.
During this period, the Hungarian national team established itself as an unbeatable juggernaut against other nations. With Puskás serving as captain, the "Magical Magyars" logged 43 wins and seven ties over 51 matches from 1950 to '56. Their highlights included a gold medal at the 1952 Olympic Games, and back-to-back thrashings of the powerful English team by a combined score of 13-4.
Hungary's lone defeat during this period came in the 1954 World Cup. Injured earlier in the tournament, Puskás returned for the final against West Germany and scored in the opening minutes, but appeared physically compromised. His late goal was disallowed due to an offsides call, and the mighty Hungarians lost, 3-2.
Honvéd was playing in Spain when the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, and Puskás defected along with several teammates.
After unsuccessful attempts to join an Italian team, Puskás signed to play alongside gifted Argentinean striker Alfredo Di Stéfano for Real Madrid in 1958. The pairing of two of the world's greatest talents proved too much for opponents, as illustrated by their combined seven goals in the 1960 UEFA European Cup final victory.
During his nine years in Spain, Puskás led Real Madrid to five consecutive league titles and three European Cup victories, and claimed four scoring titles. He retired from soccer in 1966, having recorded nearly a goal per game in his stints with Honvéd, the Hungarian national team and Real Madrid.
Coaching, Homecoming and Legacy
Puskás managed several teams after retiring, most notably steering the Greek club Panathinaikos FC to a runner-up finish in the 1971 European Cup.
The Galloping Major finally returned to his home country in 1981 to play in an exhibition match, and he coached the Hungarian national team for four games in 1993. In early 2000, he finished No. 6 in a player of the century poll conducted by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.
Puskás was hospitalized with Alzheimer's disease in 2000. He appeared at a ceremony when Budapest's largest sports arena was renamed Ferenc Puskás Stadium in 2002, but rarely resurfaced as his health diminished. He died of cardiovascular and respiratory failure in his native city on November 17, 2006.
In 2009, the Hungarian great was honored with the creation of the annual FIFA Puskás Award, presented to the player judged to have scored the best goal of the year.
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