Puskas's crowning glory was humiliation of arrogant England

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The Independent Online
The curriculum Billy Wright laid down when manager of Arsenal included a weekly film show of football matches chosen to illustrate technical variations and tactical acumen.

Whatever was shown on the screen at Highbury, the players clamoured to see one example above all others. The requests for a goal scored by Ferenc Puskas for Hungary in their 6-3 rout of England at Wembley on 25 November 1953 were an "in" joke at Highbury, because it showed the great inside- forward making a fool out of Wright before he fired the ball past Gil Merrick.

Wright recalled: "The boys loved to see that one. Seeing the boss embarrassed by Puskas was all part of the scene. But even though I cringed every time I saw myself lunging in the wrong direction, it didn't alter my admiration for Puskas's skill."

One of that small band, no more than 10 to my mind, who stand out in history as truly great players, Puskas is today attending a lunch at Wembley to celebrate his 70th birthday and announce the publication of a second autobiography.

It recalls a misty afternoon that left English football in a state of shock. Deficiencies born of arrogant insularity were vividly exposed as a great Hungarian team employing innovative strategy tore England apart, shattering utterly the belief that they were invincible at Wembley.

Puskas, Hungary's captain, scored twice. But it was the first of his goals which remains the most famous, because the manner of its execution captured the full flourish of Hungary's skill and confidence.

That it involved the contemptuous dismissal of Wright was stunningly significant. The Wolver- hampton Wanderers half-back was more than just England's captain. Blond, sturdy, athletic, uncompromising but unswervingly fair, he typified a widespread perception of the English professional footballer. The sight of him confused by Puskas's trickery underlined the extent of England's humiliation.

They were a goal down within a minute, Nandor Hidegkuti's savage strike after a central thrust making nonsense of the popular theory that Continental players could not shoot. Jackie Sewell equalised for England, but by the 28th minute they were trailing 4-1. The third goal announced Puskas's impending greatness.

England were back in strength when Sandor Kocsis switched play to Zoltan Czibor, who went past Bill Eckersley before sending in a low, diagonal centre that reached Puskas wide of the near post and about six yards from the goal-line. Concluding that it would be impossible for Puskas to turn back on goal, Wright pounced. Puskas checked, dragged the ball back with the sole of his left foot and, with no more than a flicker of adjustment, fired a shot over Merrick's left shoulder.

From being comparatively unknown outside his homeland - typically, the warning signs of Hungary's success in the 1952 Olympic tournament had been ignored in England - Puskas had arrived. "That match at Wembley made my reputation," he said one night when we were looking back over his career. "Many things happened afterwards, but from then on I was a famous footballer."

Unfortunately for the game in England, too much attention was given to Puskas's individual brilliance. Young professionals of the day began immediately, the next morning as I recall it, to practice the ball skills they had seen when they should have been receiving an analysis of Hungary's teamwork and tactics.

The former Chelsea and Manchester United manager Dave Sexton was then playing for West Ham. "The Hungarians were a real eyeopener," he said this week. "I remember going home on the Underground, trying to figure things out for myself. The big thing was that they used Hidegkuti, who was a marvellous all-round player, as a deep-lying centre-forward with Puskas and Kocsis as twin strikers. England had Harry Johnston at centre- half and I felt sorry for him because he didn't know whether to follow Hidegkuti or hold his position. It would have helped if one of the wing- halves [Wright and Jimmy Dickinson] had dropped back but they carried on as normal."

Most illuminating for Sexton was the realisation that strategy could be critical. "Of course, Hungary had some tremendous individuals but the most impressive thing was the way their game was put together," he added. "Some progressive thinkers were coming into our football, but to a large extent that Wembley experience passed us by. We should have learned a lot more from it."

After the Budapest uprising ended Hungary's period of dominance, Puskas formed an alliance with the Argentinian virtuoso Alfredo Di Stefano that was central to Real Madrid's domination of the European Cup. But is there a triumph in his mind to compare with Wembley? I doubt it.

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