The champion of two worlds: the prodigious human and sporting story of Puskás told by Claudio Minoliti from Messina


By John

Sport first and foremost and football in particular, but also History and Politics: this is all of Claudio Minoliti’s book «Ferenc Puskás. The champion of two worlds” (Minerva editions), which traces the human and sporting story of one of the greatest footballers of all time, with a rich photographic appendix. Minoliti, journalist from Messina, son of art (his father Licio, active at the Tribuna del Mezzogiorno before moving to the North, is one of the historical fathers of sports journalism in the city of the Strait), boasts a long career in Milan, which began at the newspaper “La Notte” and then continued (with assignments top management) and concluded in various Mediaset newspapers.

He has written a pleasantly readable book that not only tells of the adventurous life of a champion, but also reminds us of the Europe of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain, with the Soviet tanks that invaded Hungary in 1956 (also putting the PCI, loyal to the USSR), also enters Franco’s Spain and highlights the intricate development between international politics and sports federations.

In this global intrigue, Puskás remains the protagonist, capable of living two lives as a champion in a dramatic before and after the tanks. He, a colonel of the Hungarian army for sporting merits, had a sweet and very powerful left foot, which had made him a protagonist in Honved Budapest, with five championships, and in the national team of his country, winner of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and capable of beating the masters of England at Wembley by 6-3. In the Hungarian championship he scored 357 goals in 354 games, with the national team 84 goals in 85 appearances. After 1956, he left Hungary (thanks to football, Honved was away for the Champions Cup), managed to get his wife and daughter to join him and tried to survive, together with his Honved teammates, with wages for friendly matches.

But soon came the international disqualification, wanted by Hungary, where he had been declared a deserter. He remained stationary for two years, mostly spent in Italy, in Bordighera. He tried to train, but at 31 he was an almost elderly gentleman, who had gained twenty kilos, indicated by a conspicuous belly. The Italian teams contacted him but were perplexed. In 1958, however, Real Madrid signed him thanks to the visionary owner Santiago Bernabéu, who also imposed him on the coach who did not want to field such a fat player.

There, however, Puskás’s second life began, alongside another champion, Alfredo Di Stefano: with great sacrifices he returned to form. Result? With him Real Madrid won six championships and three European Cups; Puskás scored 242 goals in 262 games and set the unequaled record of 4 goals scored in a European Cup final. At the end of his career he became a coach (in 1978 also in Saudi Arabia, ahead of our times). After the fall of the Berlin Wall he returned to Budapest a hero. Upon his death in 2006, he was buried in the Basilica of Santo Stefano which houses the tombs of saints and sovereigns and the stadium, the famous Puskás Arena, was named after him.

Minoliti tells using flashbacks, which allow him to escape from the narrow news to intersect moods and personal and sporting events with historical ones. And then he does another precious thing: with modern language he takes us back to the times when, without TV, the matches were reported on the radio or by great journalists. An example? Here it is: «The captain stops the ball, while he quickly finds Wright in a desperate attempt to stop him. Instead, he caresses the ball with the studs of his left “slipper”, while the Englishman continues his run in the opposite direction. The ball rolled slightly backwards, still glued to the boot (…) A magic: the ball first disappears, then reappears at the bottom of the bag». Precisely for this goal, scored at Wembley, the World Football Federation named the award for the best goal of the year after Puskás. And, if you squinted your eyes, you saw it too.