Zoltan Varga was a Hungarian footballer whose international career peaked at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where a tough and talented Magyar team won the gold medal, beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final. He is best known by British fans for a spell at Aberdeen, where he is still revered as one of the finest ball-players in the club's history.
Varga began his club football with the Ferencvaros, and he won the Fairs Cup with the Budapest side in 1965, when they beat Juventus 1-0 in the final. After playing in domestic Hungarian football for most of the 1960s he took the opportunity to defect to the West after a swansong with the Hungarian national side at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The decision led to an uncertain few years, where Varga toured the continent and chased a living as a professional footballer.
In an era long before player power and greater contractual freedom, Varga was ahead of his time in seeking out the best possible short-term contracts, moving from team to team and country to country in search of better deals. He played for Standard Liège, Hertha Berlin, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Augsburg and Ghent. His short stint at Aberdeen came in the mid-'70s, after he left Germany when his club, Hertha Berlin, were embroiled in a bribery scandal. Along with his team-mates, Varga was banned for two years, but the sanction did not apply in Scotland.
Varga stood out in Scottish football for his virtuosity on the ball and an unusually rigorous attitude to training which was far in advance of his peers. While the rest of the Aberdeen squad pushed off home after morning training, the forward returned in the afternoon and practised his skills alone on the pitch at Pittodrie. His work ethic was all the more creditable considering he felt he had been tricked into the Aberdeen transfer. He had been offered higher wages by clubs in Greece, South Africa and Mexico but Hertha Berlin sold him to Aberdeen because they offered the biggest transfer fee.
In his short stay in Scotland he made a huge impression on Dons fans, even though he played only 31 games. In that period overseas stars were more of an unknown species than today. Aberdeen fans dubbed him "Salt and Vinegar", as they struggled to wrap their vocal cords around his exotic name. He also showed his entrepreneurial spirit by dabbling in the antiques trade from his home in Milltimber.
In later years he managed Ferencvaros and other clubs, and retained an affection for Aberdeen and its people until his death. In his later years he struggled to make a living in the game and muttered darkly about a Hungarian football mafia which kept him out of work. He died after collapsing while playing football with friends in his home city of Budapest. It was an indication of his reputation as one his nation's greatest players that Hungary's Prime Minister, Gordon Bajnai, led the tributes.
Zoltan Varga, footballer: born Val, Hungary 1 January 1945; played for Ferencvaros 1961-68, Standard Liège 1968-69, Hertha Berlin 1969-72, Aberdeen 1972-73, Ajax 1973-74, Borussia Dortmund 1974-76, Augsburg 1976-77; played 12 times for Hungary, 1964-68; died Budapest 9 April 2010.Reuse content