history | 2015-09-19
Sandor Kocsis, the Barcelona legend that peacefully rests in Budapest
In 2012, the Hungarian Government took the time to contact the descendants of Sandor Kocsis, buried in Barcelona after his death in 1979, in order to get the right to transfer his remains to The Budapest Basilica, where, at the end of that summer he was placed beside Ferenc Puskas, his teammate, friend and rival on the football world. Obviously, the current government pretends to settle the historic memorial with its great heroes of the communist era, enough difficult for a punished nation, and also to get back the memory of a football generation which made Hungary feel unique, admired, thanks to these magicians that dazzled Europe during the fifties. What a generation it was with Grosics, Boszik, Hidegkuti, Lorant, Puskas, Czibor and Kocsis himself: unforgettable.
It is hard to deny that Sandor Kocsis is the best head-striker ever. Shortly after, Spain had with Carlos Alonso Santallina a remarkable student, but no one was worth comparing to the one nicknamed the ‘Golden Head’ by L’Equipe. Kocsis improved the technique, able to jump at the exact moment required and, in spite of the lack of videography at that time, the memory of his impressive level is watchable on YouTube. An action that may prove his status of master; his first goal during the Benfica-Barcelona final in 1961, that of the square posts in Bern. Watching again the craziness of that head smash justifies how appropriate his nickname was: the immortal Sandor.
His biography, like the one of many other Hungarian football players from those times, would deserve to be re-edited for those who didn’t know about his greatness, always shrouded by contemporaries with even more charisma, Kubala or Puskas himself. Zoltan Czibor, this sensational left-footed winger with a strange personality -he is nicknamed the “Crazy Bird”- he had difficulties considering his position; when he made a cross from the left with Honved or Hungary, he had to choose between a ground pass for Puskas or a high ball for Kocsis. As Ferenc was commander in chief and Sandor a bit taciturn by nature, guess by which option this so special assist was gifted…
Kocsis began to bag goals at Ferencvaros, but the communist authorities of the country decided to change Honved, the team of the Chief, into the representative club of the country. We won’t insist here on the exploits about of the club. In 1956, the Soviet troops irrupted in Budapest in order to repress the opening policy of the Hungarian government, they discovered Honved was away from its home, playing a decisive game in the European Cup against Athletic Club which they eventually lost for understandable reasons. The stars of this team hesitated between coming back to the occupied land or convert into expatriate football players to the highest bidder. As we know, Puskas, Czibor and Kocsis decided to go abroad and our hero landed, after a lost year which would later have some consequences, at Young Fellows in Switzerland, where he played during one season. Then, Laszlo Kubala, always ready to be helpful towards appreciated people, recommended him to the Blaugrana board, which transferred him along Czibor.
From this transfer, about to turn 30 and without reclaiming his great performances, Kocsis still played during eight seasons for Futbol Club Barcelona. In spite of the adversity, he played 235 games with his new shirt, in which he scored 151 goals. Not bad, right? Among his numerous exploits, one can notice that Sandor Kocsis, even today, is part of the historic players if we take into account the ratio of goals in international games; he has a ratio of 1.10, thanks to his 75 goals in 68 games for Hungary. The historians of football allocate him more than 400 goals reached thanks to his incredible head-game domination, scored for its majority during his time at Honved and the Magic Magyars.
After the 13 goals from Just Fontaine in the World Cup of 1958 with France that seems unreachable, Kocsis appears as the great striker of the final phases of a World Cup, scoring 11 goals in the 1954 tournament, which against all odds was won by Germany of Fritz Walter despite that Hungary reached the final as the main favorite. At the Wankdorf Stadium, seven years later, he would lose the 1961 European Cup final with Barça, not without previously warning his friend Czibor that he wasn’t feeling it, because they were going to change in the same locker room as in the previous defeat. Even if they were already old for football standards when they arrived Les Corts, they managed to score historic goals, like the one scored during the key semifinal clash facing Hamburg which led to Barça's first European final or the four scored on the pitch of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Foreigners and natives agreed during decades that it was the best European performance by the Blaugrana side (until Messi and others emerged).
Gifted to shoot with both feet, great movement and with an excellent vision of the game, coached by Helenio Herrera: Kubala, Luisito Suárez, Evaristo, Villaverde, Eulogio Martinez, Czibor, Tejada, Ribelles and Coll. Moreover, his behavior on the pitch was always exemplary, which converted him into a respected man. Despite joining the club at almost 30, he was the last to leave, which gave him a feeling of a special tribute.
After his retirement at an old age for a striker (37), Kocsis tried his luck as a coach in Hercules, but he preferred to move away from the football world to live in Barcelona, where he established himself with his family. But the luck didn’t want to go with him. First, the amputation of a foot, then leukemia and finally cancer of the stomach destroyed his existence from his retirement to his death, on the 22nd of July in 1979. He decided when he wanted to die by throwing himself out of the window when all hope had faded. The fans were really touched by these news, they saw him as a hero. His ex-teammates, Kubala, Ramallets, Gensana, Rodri and Rifé were present to say the last goodbye.
This incredible and intelligent striker, with a great jump, never had the recognition he deserved. Puskas and Kubala were better, but at least somebody immortalized him calling him Cabeza de Oro (Golden Head). Alive, Kocsis wanted to come back to his native Budapest, but the political circumstances forced him to stay in Barcelona and enjoy his adoptive nationality. On Friday, 21st of September of 2012, 83 years after his birth, Hungarian authorities had a funeral to honor his memory. It was the occasion to celebrate a tremendous player whom the fans would have to know better. As much, at least, as the ones who enjoyed the great strikes of the Great Sandro.
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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published at the Perarnau Magazine by Frederic Porta.
TRANSLATED BY: Jérémy Veron
Jéremy is a die hard Barcelona fan and currently studies business in France.