UK The forgotten story of how a Real Madrid legend nearly joined Manchester United last minute news
PremierLeague-News.Com- "In his day he was a special player, without question"
PremierLeague-News.Com - Breaking Sport Transfer News ! The Maradona pirouette, the Cruyff turn, the Muller-ed shot. Football’s greatest icons live on through how we talk about the game and Ferenc Puskas’ legacy is instilled in what he did best - score goals. Even if fans today have no idea that Hungary were once the best national side in the world, have no notion of the ‘Match of the Century’ or are clueless of his exploits at Honved and Real Madrid, they pay homage to Puskas every year with arguments of who should win the award in his name for the best goal scored within those past 12 months. But he is rarely featured alongside the likes of Pele, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in debates of the best players of all time. Would that be any different, however, if he had played at Old Trafford? Ferenc Puskas leads out the Hungary team ahead of their historic victory over England in 1953 (Image: Allsport Hulton/Archive) A forgotten story in his tale is that, in circumstances born out of tragedy, he once nearly played for Manchester United. Puskas began his career as a teenager at his hometown club of Kipest, a small side on the outskirts of Budapest. When he left the club, the name of which was changed to Budapest Honved, in 1956 he did so with 358 goals in 350 appearances and his reputation as his country’s best ever player firmly set in stone. Although his departure was highly controversial. As Hungary's football teams were nationalised by the communist regime, Kipest was chosen to house the country’s increasingly talented national side, becoming the army team and having its name changed to reflect that. As a result the club were able to recruit the land's best players through army consription. From provincial minnows, Honved would soon be dominating the league - along with rivals MTK, who represented the AVH, the country's secret police - for years to come. With most of the national side at one club, the blossoming Golden Squad were able to play matches every week outside of the Budapest limelight to hone and develop an almost telepathic understanding. The meticulous preparation soon translated to results on the national stage. Hungary were unbeaten since May 1950 and had won gold at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 when they travelled to London to face England in Novemeber 1953, a side who had never lost on home soil to opposition not from the British Isles in 90 years of internationals. Read More Related Articles The Roy Keane interview that no one is allowed to see and had to be 'destroyed' Read More Related Articles Two very different generations of Man City fans on being a blue in 2021 The revolutionary tactics of coach Gustav Sebes - a precursor of the 'Total Football' which would be made famous by the Dutch - saw the first implementation of what we know today as a ‘False 9’ and it ran England ragged, as the Hungarians destroyed all illusions of grandeur with an unthinkable 6-3 victory. Withdrawn forward Nandor Hidjikuti was the star of the show with a hat-trick, but Puskas was still able to bag a brace and the pick of the bunch, the third goal of the game, which saw him drag the ball back to send England captain Billy Wright flailing before firing home. The ‘Mighty Magyars’ returned to Hungary as heroes and repeated the trick on home soil six months later, when they defeated the Three Lions 7-1 in Budapest. Hungary would remain undefeated all the way until the 1954 World Cup final, a match they seemed destined to win and which would have forever signified that Hungary were once the best team in world football. But they lost to West Germany, a team they had smashed eight goals past in the opening round, on a rain sodden day in Berne. The players who had received a hero’s welcome when returning from Wembley just a few months earlier were seen as pariahs for the shocking defeat and, though another lengthy undefeated run followed, the magic was lost and the wheels slowly started to come off the Golden Squad. West German captain Fritz Walter receives congratulations from Hungarian captain Ferenc Puskas after winning the World Cup (Image: Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images) But they weren’t the only aspect of the country that had begun to unravel. 1956 saw the Hungarian uprising in which the people rose up to dispose of the Soviet regime. There were bullets and bloodshed on the streets of Budapest when Honved travelled to Spain for a European cup tie against Athletic Bilbao. With Russian tanks crossing into Hungary to snuff out the revolution, Honved’s stars, after enjoying a tour of South America, wrestled with whether to return home or not. Some, like Puskas’ childhood friend, Josef Bozsik, did. Puskas, along with Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor, decided to defect. Puskas would never play for Honved or Hungary again and didn't return to his country for 37-years. Dreams of joining a top European club and reaping the rewards were quickly dashed as the Hungarian FA moved to ban the trio from football and in Puskas' case for 18-months. It was then that the prospect of Puskas moving to Old Trafford became a possibility, as United had just suffered the tragedy of the Munich air disaster. 23 people lost their lives in the crash. Eight of those were United players, with Duncan Edwards passing away in hospital five weeks later, and three were members of staff. With several more hospital bound for weeks due to their injuries, United were left threadbare. Read More Related Articles The forgotten man of Manchester United's finest hour Read More Related Articles The Treble winner who tarnished his Manchester United legacy in a single moment “During the ban which affected Czibor, Kocsis and myself, Manchester United applied to FIFA to ‘borrow’ all three of until the ban had expired,” Puskas said in his biography ‘Puskas on Puskas.' “They were desperately short of players after the terrible accident at Munich. The club proposed to pay us a basic wage and so on, but neither FIFA nor the English FA would allow it, although it took them about six weeks of arguing to decide, In the end, it was some legal reason that prevented it.” That legal reason being England’s wage limit at the time, which was capped at around £20-per-week. Comparatively, for an initial four-year contract when Puskas eventually signed for Real Madrid he was paid $100,000 in Spanish currency, plus wages and bonuses. As well as the club chairman Santiago Bernabeu handing him $5,000 on the spot. Cliff Butler, United’s club historian, told The Manchester Evening News: “Ultimately, United dropped the idea of trying to secure his services because they wouldn’t have been allowed – a maximum wage was in place at the time - to afford to pay the going rate. “He later signed for Real Madrid adding to their glittering array of world-class players where he would have been earning between £600-£700 a week whilst in England the ceiling was nearer £20.” However, it may not just have been the money limitations United were under that prevented the signings from happening.
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Jimmy Murphy with Sir Matt Busby in 1967
(Image: Manchester Evening News Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
He believed that bringing in the world class trio would go against what the club stood for under Busby, in finding and nurturing the best young talent in the country and creating a fantastic team from scratch. “One of the ideas I seriously toyed with was the signing of Ferenc Puskas, who had left his native Hungary, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised it would be wrong to bring this great player to Old Trafford,” he wrote. “At first of course he would have been a big drawing card, but those were the days of maximum wages of £20 a week. “Some ways or means would need to be found to find him a job outside football to make it worthwhile his becoming a naturalised Briton. Puskas was an internationally known celebrity used to VIP treatment. Even if everything else was right, it seemed to me to be a negation of all Matt had tried to build. “His aim was a team of dedicated youngsters who looked upon Manchester United as their club, something they had grown up with, and therefore, for that reason, almost a part of the bricks and mortar. This was the ideal we set out to achieve and just as it was coming to fruition came the Munich tragedy to wreck it. “So, I turned my back on the idea of Puskas and decided it had to be British players and British guts, which would see us through.” That’s exactly what United did. Just 13 days after the disaster the club were back on the field, in an FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday. Though only two survivors from Munich - Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg - were on the field, United comfortably won 3-0 and remarkably made it all the way to the final. There, however, a comeback tail of Hollywood proportions was brought to an end by Nat Lofthouse’s Bolton Wanderers. Yet that wouldn’t be the end of United’s awe inspiring journey, as 10 years on from the disaster United would finally reach the summit as Busby accomplished his dream of leading his team to the European Cup, when they defeated Benfica in the Wembley final.
Matt Busby holding with European trophy with Pat Crerand, left and George Best
(Image: Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images))
But it’s hard not to think of what could have happened if one of the best players of all time, along with two of his esteemed international teammates, had turned out in the red of United. How different the story which is so deeply ingrained in the club’s DNA, would have been. “Around that time, transfers in the opposite direction had started to become more commonplace with top players such as John Charles, Denis Law, Joe Baker, Gerry Hitchens and Jimmy Greaves all moving to clubs in Italy,” Butler said. “These days it’s virtually a continual flow in both directions, back then it was a mere trickle, and it is possible that continental players could have persuaded to move to Britain if United had signed Ferenc Puskas, along with two other Hungarian greats – Zoltan Czibor and Sándor Kocsis – after they had telephoned Old Trafford with an offer to join and help rebuild after the Munich air disaster. “In truth, we will never know what the ramifications may have been but had the triple signing materialised it would have caused major ripples in the game and would not only have made a big splash in the sports pages but also the front page of most newspapers.”
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While Kocsis and Czibor joined Barcelona, Puskas instead joined their bitter rivals Real Madrid and, despite concerns about his age and weight, became the dual focal point, alongside Alfredo di Steffano, of the third legendary team of his career - winning five La Liga title, three European Cups and the Intercontinental Cup. When he brought his career to an end in 1966, he had scored 242 goals in 262 games in the Spanish capital - despite only joining the club at the age of 31. It was at Madrid where Puskas made a fan out of another legendary United boss in Sir Alex Ferguson, who had been in attendance at Hampden Park when he scored four times in the 1960 European Cup final victory against Eintracht Frankfurt, which was won 7-1. "I have many memories of him," Ferguson said upon Puskas’ death in 2006. "I was at the European Cup final in 1960, but I also saw him score the only goal against Rangers at Ibrox, before he got a hat-trick against them when Real scored six in the second leg. In his day he was a special player without question, part of that great period for Hungarian football. How they did not win the World Cup in 1954 is beyond me. "It is sad news. But when a great player like that passes, you can at least reflect on what a great player he was and the great games he played in."
Real Madrid in action against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1959
(Image: Ernest Chapman/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Puskas did eventually play at Old Trafford, though, as Los Blancos arrived in Manchester in 1959 for the first in a series of five friendlies - the last of which saw United become the first English team to win at the Bernabeu, in 1962. Back in 1959, though, the Spanish giants played for less than their normal fee, to help United recover financially from the crash and allow their new team to test themselves against the world’s best side. Madrid, understandably, won 6-1, with Puskas scoring the first two goals, but the result wasn’t the point. Butler recalls: “Fortunately, I did have the chance to see him play at least once when in the years after the tragedy in Munich a series of friendlies took place between United and Real Madrid. “In 1959 the Spanish giants came to Old Trafford and proceeded to inflict on Reds a devastating 6-1 defeat that was made possible by a style and quality of football that was from another planet.
The programme from Manchester United vs Real Madrid in 1959
(Image: Courtesy of Cliff Butler)
“Real’s side was packed with some of the greatest players ever to grace a football field including Santamaria, Canario, Didi, Di Stefano, Gento and, of course Puskas. “He may have been a trifle portly, but that was of no detriment to his silky skills and wonderful control of the ball. It was little surprise that with players of his calibre at their disposal that Real Madrid were Champions of Europe for five consecutive years during the 1950s. "Those games were very special because United hadn’t really got up to speed after Munich and qualifying for European competition again was still some way off. "So, to be able to see what was one of the greatest ever club sides in history was indeed a rare treat. As I said, the memory fades to some degree but I do remember that these occasions and atmosphere were just like the big European nights, played under floodlights, at Old Trafford."
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