Laszlo Kubala: The shyboy from Hungary
On his 15th death anniversary, it’s worth looking back at the player who is considered as one of the best players of his generation. László Kubala – The man whose towering bronze statue stands still in the grounds of Camp Nou.
The Hungarian Striker spent a decade at the Camp Nou, winning 4 La Liga title and 5 Spanish Cups before joining the backroom staff in 1961.
Kubala started his career in Ganz TE before switching to Ferencváros. He had short spells in various clubs such as Slovan Bratislava, Vasas and Pro Patria before settling in Barcelona. He also played for RCD Espanyol, Zürich and Toronto Falcons after his time at the Camp Nou. A Hungarian national by birth, he also held Czechoslovakian and Spanish citizenship and played for the national teams of all three countries.
Kubala was noted for his quick and skilful dribbling, composed and powerful finishing. He was a tremendously quick dribbler. Powerful and accurate shooting, terrific timing were some of his weapons that helped him to keep the opponents in his pocket.
Kubala came from a humble Hungarian upbringing, and his childhood had nothing to show for it apart from the scars of Communism. He was forced to fake his date of birth to get himself registered in the local football team. His anger against Communism – which provoked him to indulge himself in a spat with Communism saw him being separated from his family. He wandered around Europe in search of a home. As mentioned earlier, he had short spells with various clubs such as Ferencváros (1945-1946), Slovan Bratislava (1946-48), Vasas (1948-1949) and Pro Patria (1949-1950) before settling in Barcelona. He joined the Catalan giants in 1951 with an impending FIFA ban. He cut all his ties with his home nation and moved to Barcelona. The people of Barcelona fed him with love and trust and he didn’t disappoint them. He helped them in bagging their 5th La Liga crown and then went on to win 3 more for them.
Original plans to build the Camp Nou stadium were provided with a huge impetus by the signing of Kubala – the club’s most expensive player who attracted capacity crowds every other weekend. The crowd loved to see him play. The initial years of the 50s marked the beginning of some serious tactical change in football. At that time, the 2-3-5 formation dominated and all the teams (more or less) played with this formation. But a new formation started evolving during the initial years of the 50s:- 4-2-4. In Brazil, Nilton and Djalma Santos, particularly Nilton Santon were busy in redesigning the role of a fullback into a more attacking one. Similarly, Kubala was ahead of his time too. He was the one who first emphasised the importance of getting pre-match opposition scouting reports done, preparing a tactical plan and utilising the set-pieces to its core.
He was the one who first taught the world that set-pieces weren’t just a routine stoppage of play but a goal-scoring opportunity. He never missed a penalty and even if he did, he made sure that he made amendments by scoring or teeing up the play.
With 14 major team honours to his name including four league triumphs, five domestic cup wins and three European trophies, he can be labelled as one of the most successful players of all time. In his second season at the club, he won every honour that was up for grabs. That was the most successful season in the club’s history and is remembered as the Cinc Copes (the 5 Cups – League, domestic cup, Copa Duarte, Copa Martini and Rossi and Duward Cup) of Barcelona. They also added Copa Latina – played between the best clubs in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – in the same season to make it six trophies for the season.
Kubala was forced to retire from the game after he was admitted with TB in October 1952. But he came back stronger by training in higher altitudes and helped the Blaugranas to pick up a domestic double.
His legend goes on and those who have witnessed him play live will always label him as the best player ever to don a Barcelona jersey. There are many legendary players who have stepped on the Camp Nou turf – Cruyff, Maradona, Rivaldo, Messi, Ronaldinho, Josep Seguer and many more.
But the person who first struck fear in the opponents’ heart wearing the Blaugarana shirt was the shy boy from Hungary. Players will come and go but the legacy of László Kubala will remain. As long as there will be FC Barcelona, there will be László Kubala.