Ferenc Puskas and the revolution in football

Submitted by Matthew on 20 November, 2006 - 1:05

The Hungarian footballer Ferenc Puskas who has died aged 79, fifty years after the Russian invasion which drove him from his homeland, was a key member of the Magnificent Magyars, the national team who revolutionised football in the early fifties.

A seminal event occured in November 1953 when they became the first overseas side to beat England at Wembley. Playing a flowing, short passing game, they won 6-3 (they would win the return match in May 1954 7-1). While England stuck rigidly to the 'W-M' or 3-4-3 formation invented by Arsenal in the 1920's, Hungary lined up in a system later known as 4-2-4. It was a tactical lesson that the home side's right back that day, future manager Alf Ramsey, would eventually learn from. Another Hungarian, coach Bela Guttmann, went on to perfect 4-2-4 in Brazil who won the 1958 World Cup with it, a 17 year old Pele pulling on the number 10 shirt worn by Puskas.

By 1958, Puskas himself had lined up alongside Argentinian centre forward Alfredo Di Stefano and skilful left winger Francisco Gento at Real Madrid, the club which won the first five European Cups between 1956-60. In the last of those finals, in front of 135,000 at Glasgow's Hampden Park, Puskas scored four goals in a 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, still regarded as one of the most exciting matches ever played.

It was for his role as the stocky Galloping Major (he had started with the army team Honved) in the national side which lit up football half a century ago however that he will always be remembered. As the film director Jean Luc Godard said, "Everybody played in defence and attack. It was like free jazz."

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