On the 10th Death Anniversary of Ferenc Puskas, we look back at those days when a team from Central Europe became a force to reckon with.

Few teams have revolutionized the game of football like the Hungarian team of the 1950’s. The Mighty Magyars were the first exponents of the famous “Total Football” that would go on to rule the world of football in the 70’s and then again in the late 2000’s.

The team was built around the unique talents of the greatest Hungarian footballer of all-time and one of football’s all-time best strikers, Ferenc Puskas. Known as the Galloping Major for his association with the army and his unique style of play, Puskas ended his career as the leading goal scorer in International Football. His Hungarian team was one of the finest of all-time and won the Olympic Gold and also reached the final of 1954 World Cup. At Real Madrid, he won 3 European Cups and is regarded as one of their all-time greats and formed a deadly partnership with another great Alfredo Di Stefano.

 He was a clinical striker capable of scoring goals for fun and possessed one of the sports most deadly left foot. His greatest achievement however has to be with the National Team. Along with other greats like Kocsis, Bozsik, Hidegkuti and Czibor, Puskas transformed an ordinary Hungary team into the World’s best. They are still regarded as one of the greatest teams of all-time and it was a miracle they did not win the World Cup of 1954. Under the guidance of coach Gusztav Sebes, Hungary employed a free and versatile system which used Puskas in a withdrawn role as striker. He played in a position today known as the ‘False-nine’.
The basic philosophy behind the tactic was to play the forward in a deep midfield role to draw the opposition center backs out of their position, which was then exploited by the wing players to cut into the free space. When it was first used, the effect was devastating as Hungary outclassed their more illustrious counterparts like England, Uruguay, Russia on more than one occasion. They did not just beat these established super powers, they destroyed them. This team still holds the record for most goals, most goals/game and highest goal difference in a single world cup. They were favorites to land the title but came up against the German machine in the final. It was a system that used a 4-2-4 formation, with the forwards playing interchangeably. All players could play in any position and this was perhaps the birth of Total Football. The team would attack as a single unit and defend as single unit, always making sure that they did not leave their positions and left any player without support.

The team shone brightly for 4-5 years in the early 1950’s before the conflict in the Soviet Union ripped them apart. Most of the players including Puskas fled the country and never played for them again. A few returned after the war was over, but the team would never be the same again. Most players lost 3 years of their prime due to the political tensions, and most of them never quite reached the same heights again. Puskas himself was rejected by most clubs for being too old and overweight, until he was signed by Real Madrid in 1958, whom he then helped to 5 consecutive La Liga titles in addition to the 3 European Cups.

If not for the war, this team might have gone down as the Greatest of All-Time and achieved many more accolades than they did. Puskas himself would have created many more records which would never have been broken. They caught the imagination of the entire world and their influence continues to show on the football pitch. They were a beacon of hope for an entire nation suffering from the communist regime of the Soviet, and football was often the only way any form of Patriotism could be expressed. The team was comprised mostly from a single club, a club taken over by the National Army which gave Puskas his rank as Major.  Hungary was still reeling under the effects of their loss in WW-II, but for a short while they could rejoice in literally having “The world at their feet”.

 

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