ANGE POSTECOGLOU arrived at Celtic to kick off a remarkable transformation in June last year.
The Greek-Australian gaffer may be surprised to hear that his football idol Ferenc Puskas almost beat him to it over SIXTY years earlier.
It’s a little-known fact that back in 1957 the Parkhead hierarchy were extremely interested in the player nicknamed ‘The Galloping Major’ who won three European Cups with Real Madrid.
The Hungarian international team and Budapest-born Puskas, who captained Honved and his country at the time, came to the world’s attention when they thumped England 6-3 at Wembley in a friendly on November 25 1953.
PUSKAS AND POSTECOGLOU…a dynamic double-act Down Under.
The future superstar scored two goals as the visitors went in 4-2 ahead at half-time in the supposedly impregnable national stadium of their stunned hosts.
Nandor Hidgegkuti had opened the scoring in the first minute and he went on to claim a famous hat-trick. Any chance of an English comeback after the turnaround was snuffed out when Jozef Bozsik thumped in the fifth in the 50th minute and Hidgekuti collected No.6 shortly afterwards.
Three years later, in the wake of the Hungarian Revolution, many players of the national team were scattered throughout the world. The majority of the team played alongside Puskas at Honved who were in the middle of their two legs against Athletic Bilbao in the 1956–57 European Cup.
STARTING OUT…a young Ferenc Puskas at his hometown club Honved.
Around the time of the Uprising, the Budapest side lost 3-2 in the first leg away from home on November 22 1956. Puskas, along with many of his team-mates, did not return to Hungary. The second leg of the tie was played in the Heysel Stadium in Brussels and ended in a 3-3 draw with Puskas scoring one of the goals as his side were eliminated 6-5 on aggregate.
The Hungarian players were left in limbo and it was then Celtic thought seriously about making a move for the nation’s captain and best-loved player.
The ambitious Robert Kelly was chairman of the club with goalscoring legend Jimmy McGrory as manager. Contact was made when it became clear Puskas and team-mates such as Zoltan Czibor and Sandor Kocsis would be seeking new clubs in Western Europe.
PICK IT OUT…Ferenc Puskas clips the ball into the Eintracht Frankfurt net to make it 3-1 for Real Madrid in the memorable 1960 European Cup Final at Hampden.
After refusing to return to Hungary, Puskas initially played a few unofficial games for RCD Espanyol. As well as Celtic, Italian teams AC Milan and Juventus attempted to sign him.
However, interest was dropped when the player received a two-year ban from FIFA, the world governing football organisation, following his refusal to return to Budapest.
After his suspension, Puskas, at the age of 31, joined Real Madrid in 1958 and played for eight seasons, he scored 156 goals in 180 La Liga games. He helped the team win five successive titles between 1961 and 1965.
Postecoglou’s former manager at South Melbourne also took centre stage in the European Cup and netted 35 goals in 39 outings.
SPOT ON…Ferenc Puskas slots away a penalty-kick as he sends Eintracht Frankfurt keeper Egon Loy the wrong way to make it 4-1 for the Spaniards.
Puskas memorably fired in four goals – with Alfredo di Stefano collecting the other three – in Real’s unforgettable 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt, who had scored 12 goals in beating Rangers home and away in the semi-final, at Hampden in the silverware showdown on May 18 1960 in front of a crowd of 127,000.
He had also won Europe’s elite competition the previous year when Real beat Rheims 2-0 in Stuttgart and again in 1966 when they overcame Partizan Belgrade 2-1 in Brussels.
Jock Stein’s Celtic side, of course, conquered Europe the following year in Lisbon.
Puskas at Celtic? We can always dream.
*DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Real Madrid this evening – only in your champion CQN.