On September 2, 1983, the Hungarian Ferenc Platko was buried in a modest tomb with his wife in the General Cemetery of Santiago de Chile. Without a penny in his pocket, Platko had sent letters to the Barça offices asking for financial help until the last days of his life. Letters that broke his heart, in which he passed a list of his illnesses and miseries. That excellent goalkeeper who had been one of the most famous Barcelonans in the 1920s, died very poor in Chile, where five years ago the management of Colo-Colo, a club where he was also loved, prevented his remains they ended up in an anonymous ossuary making way for the mausoleum that the club has in the cemetery to remember the names that have made this entity great.
Ferenc Platko (Budapest, 1898 – Santiago, 1983) was the first Hungarian to defend the Barça shirt. That “ blond Platko from Hungary”, As Rafael Alberti wrote in a poem, was the first man to unite the destiny of Hungarian football with that of Barça. To talk about Hungary, at the Camp Nou, is to talk about the past, about old black and white photos. But without this past, Barça would not be what it is now. “Hungarian football influenced all the great football teams in history, including Barça,” said British journalist Jonathan Wilson, author of a book analyzing the influence of Hungarian football around the world.
Barça grew up thanks to Kubala, Kocsis, Czibor and Platko. But instead, Hungarian football has been getting smaller since these footballers emigrated. Although Ferencváros was able to win a Fairs Cup in 1965 and reach the Recopa final in 1975, Hungarian football was dying out. It no longer scares anyone. He is no longer admired. “The history of his football is the history of the country. Of the Holocaust, which ended many coaches and players. Of Soviet repression. If Hungary influenced everyone it was because people were fleeing. Already in the 1920s, when the new independent Hungary is experiencing civil strife and poverty, a first batch of coaches and players left. The second, in the 1950s, left the footballers of the future without teachers, “says Wilson. The first batch was that of Platko. The second, that of Kubala and Kocsis.
Now that Barça will host the country’s most popular club, Ferencváros, in an official match for the first time, a team with more foreign players than Hungarians arrives. In the match in which they qualified for the Champions League final, only two players from the starting line-up were Hungarians. The coach, too, as he is the Ukrainian Serhí Rebrov, Shevchenko’s teammate when Dinamo Kiev won 0-4 at the Camp Nou in 1997. Ferencváros is a club that has been modernized thanks to the money from its owner, politician Gábor Kubatov, who uses the club to consolidate his image. A historic club far removed from its tradition, as it was key, along with its eternal rival, MTK Budapest, in the reformulation of modern football in the 1920s, when it played four friendlies in Barcelona in 1923. and in 1928. He lost them all but one.
“For the Hungarians this match is very special. Now we are very sorry that the figure of Kubala is not as well known as that of Puskás, as Kubala left Hungary before and was not in the 1954 world runner-up selection. “, explains Barnabás Kovács, the consul of Hungary in Barcelona. Although Barça have had more Hungarians than Madrid, in Budapest there is more talk of the milestones of Ferenc Puskás, three-time European champion with Madrid. A hero so respected that he was buried in the pantheon of national heroes in the capital. Kubala, on the other hand, is still fairly unknown in Hungary and it was Kovács who recently managed to get a park with his name. “In Barcelona, on the other hand, every time I say I’m Hungarian, they tell me about Kubala. In Budapest they tell me about Messi,” he jokes. Kubala’s legacy is so precious that he is one of only two players with a statue at the Camp Nou. The other, of course, is Cruyff. “He was like a rock star. Everyone knew him, but he was so kind that he had seen him give clothes to people begging in the streets. Kubala changed the history of the club, yes. He and the other Hungarians, Czibor and Kocsis “They wore a more dynamic, more technical style,” explains photographer Horacio Seguí, who was well acquainted with the batch of footballers of the 1950s and 1960s.
He was like a rock star. Everyone knew him, but he was so kind that he had seen him give clothes to people begging in the streets. Kubala changed the history of the club, yes.
In total, seven Hungarians have played for Barça. The first was Platko, Barça from 1922 to 1932. With him, Barça won the first League in history and three Cups. The goalkeeper arrived at Barça in 1923, from MTK in Budapest, to replace Ricardo Zamora, who was returning to Espanyol. Strong, authoritarian and brave, he was the son of a football school, the Hungarian, then more developed. “Hungary, with the influence of English coaches and struggling to beat the Austrians, was developing an idea of modern football in which a lot of importance was given to technique,” Wilson explains. Quickly, the fans of the Cortes fell in love with Platko, who in the 1928 Cup final, against the Royal Society, ended up in hospital after receiving a hoax. It was an epic match, as Platko had to be helped off the pitch as an injury meant he was unable to finish the game. Platko were given a chance to change things around. In the end, Platko was key to tie the game and Barça would win the Cup after two draws. At the hospital, the goalkeeper was visited by Carlos Gardel, the tango singer. And he was immortalized by the poem by Rafael Alberti. Then came the former Ferencváros player Elemér Berkessy, born in Romania but Hungarian, who was a Barça player from 1934 to 1936, and the Jew György Silberstein Szeder, who played a single match and died at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War. World Cup.
The sticks of Bern
But the relationship between the Hungarians and Barça was united forever in the 1950s, first with the arrival of Kubala (Barça player in the years 1950-61), and then with Sándor Kocsis (1958-66) and Zoltán Czibor ( 1958-61). Kubala had fled Hungary as early as 1948, while Kocsis and Cizbor would do so in 1956, after the Soviet invasion of the country. The two of them were part of the so-called golden team, Aranycsapat, the team that played the best football in the 1950s led by Gusztáv Sebes, a former communist mechanic who brought political ideas to the field: team football and help the opponent. With the support of the authorities, who allowed him to have many comforts, he revolutionized football with a golden generation. “Hungary then had the best football in the world. They almost won the 1954 World Cup and were the first to defeat the English at Wembley, by 3 to 6,” says Kovács. With them, Barça almost won their first European Cup, but clashed with Bern’s clubs: they lost to Benfica 3-2 despite goals from Czibor and Kocsis. “Kocsis was a fantastic man, a pure shooter, who fit very well into a team where all the players knew how to play well with their feet. We always talk about the Kocsis shooter, but with his feet he was equally fantastic,” recalls his teammate. team and great friend Luis Suárez from Milan. Czibor, baptized as Pájaro Loco, was a more anarchic genius. “But when I wanted to play, I was the best,” says the Galician.
“All the world champion teams from 1934 onwards have, in some way, had Hungarian influence. Hungarians are an emigrant people, partly because of wars or invasions. And both in the 1920s and 1930s, and especially after in World War II, coaches and players from Hungary spread around the world, ”Wilson argues. The Hungarian school was the antechamber of Dutch total football. And the style of Barça, a club where the beauty of the game was already taken care of in the 1920s, draws from these two sources.
Barça have also been coached by three Hungarians: Jesza Poszony (1923 and 1924), Franz Platko (1934-35 and 1955-56) and Ladislau Kubala (1962-63 and 1980). Poszony, who came from MTK, a club that had revolutionized the concept of passing the ball, opting for the short pass, helped change the way Barça’s youth football was worked out in the 1920s.
But that legacy had no continuity. Laszlo Kaszner and Tibor Szalay tried unsuccessfully in the 1960s, but little by little, the Hungarian star faded away. And the Dutch accent took the place the Hungarian had taken at the Camp Nou. To talk about Hungary, at Barça, is to talk about our grandparents’ idols. Of foreigners who brought new ideas, of a football that was great and now, instead, already celebrates as a success to be able to get to the Camp Nou, the stadium that, according to legend, was built because Kubala had left small the Cortes. An exaggeration turned into a beautiful fable to pay tribute to the Hungarians who helped make Barça great.