The Golden Team.
The Golden Team was a product of an unbelievable collection of generational talents that came together at the right time, mixed with revolutionary coaching and tactics that were 2 decades before it’s time. The long-lasting impact this team and its successes can be felt today in modern football.
The team was built around a core of six key players: Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, Nándor Hidegkuti, Zoltán Czibor, József Bozsik and the pioneer of the ‘sweeper keeper’, Gyula Grosics. The historical significance of the team lay in four key areas: The introduction of new tactics, the concept of using a core set of well trained players used to playing as a team, the idea that each player could play in any position if necessary and the introduction of the sweeper keeper.
A 5-2 thumping away to Czechoslovakia in April 1949 was a watershed moment for Hungarian football. Recently appointed coach Gusztáv Sebes did away with the established stars and in came youthful, fresh faces like Sándor Kocsis and Zoltán Czibor.
Within a year an impressive team had been put together and benefiting from Sebess’ tactical innovations, the Golden Team were born. A 6-0 victory over holders Sweden in the 1952 Olympic semi-finals was an almighty statement, yet perhaps the defining moment was the 'Match of the Century' at Wembley in 1953, when Hungary triumphed 6-3 to become the first team from outside the British Isles to beat England on home soil. Sir Tom Finney said: "It was race horses against cart horses [in 1953]. They were the greatest side I played against, a wonderful team to watch with tactics we'd never seen before.”
Put simply the Golden Team redefined the footballing landscape and in a managerial and tactical sense without Hungary there would have been no Totaalvoetbal, no Rinus Michels, without Michels there would have been no Johann Cruyff and without Cruyff there would be no Pep Guardiola.
Manager Gusztáv Sebes pioneered a radical variation of the WM formation, featuring a withdrawn centre-forward (a false 9 perhaps?) and wingers who could slot into midfield when required to create a flexible 2-3-3-2 lineup. Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskás said: "When we attacked, everyone attacked, and in defence it was the same. We were the prototype for 'Total Football’."
Sebes, a former trade union organiser in Budapest and Paris, was undoubtedly the leader but at various times his back-room staff included Gyula Mándi, Márton Bukovi and perhaps most notably Béla Guttmann, who went on to lift two European Cups with Benfica.
Tactical discussions were regular, lengthy and usually included input from captain Puskás and the other world-class players at the coaches' disposal. Puskás was 16 when he made his top-flight debut and proceeded to plunder over 500 league goals for Honvéd and Real Madrid. His tally of 84 strikes in 85 internationals remained a World record until it was broken by Ali Daei of Iran in 2003. Puskás had a glorious habit of finding the net when it mattered, as did Kocsis who scored a remarkable 75 goals in 68 internationals.
Communist sporting policy meant most players in the national squad not already playing for one of the top two sides – Budapest Honvéd FC and MTK Budapest – were duly transferred there, so national team-mates became club-mates. Hungary also played an enormous number of unofficial fixtures against teams from the countryside to hone their skills.
The defeat in the 1954 World Cup final by West Germany was their solitary loss in 50 games – the dramatic, somewhat controversial defeat is referred to as ‘The Miracle of Bern’. Although it was a huge shock at the time, Hungary went on to score in a world-record 73 successive matches stretching from April 1949 to July 1957.
After losing in 1954 Hungary continued to dominate international football, between July 1954 and February 1956, they played a further 19 games, winning 16, drawing 3 and losing none, despite this, manager Sebes was sacked in June 1956.
The majority of the team played for Budapest Honvéd, who entered the 1956–57 European Cup and were drawn against Athletic Bilbao in the first round. Honvéd lost the away leg 3–2, but before the home leg could be played, the Hungarian Revolution erupted in Budapest.
The players decided against going back to Hungary and arranged for the return with Athletic to be played at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, Belgium. Honvéd were eliminated 6–5 on aggregate, and the Hungarian players were left in limbo.
They summoned their families from Budapest, and despite opposition from FIFA and the Hungarian football authorities, they organised a fundraising tour of Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil and after returning to Europe, the players parted ways, bringing to an end a truly golden generation of talent.