From Messi, Suarez and Neymar to Stoichkov Romario and Laudrup, Barcelona have always had breathtaking trinities, Kubala, Kocsis and Czibor were the first.
The Nou Camp roars on matchdays. The cacophony of noise is infectious. Almost one hundred thousand cules chant in harmony as they cram themselves into the ancient ground. It is the epitome of football mania. The ground towers above into the heavens like a footballing cathedral. And on the turf miracles happen. A plethora of footballing deity has graced the field, from Cruyff to Maradona and Messi.
But it all begun with Laszlo Kubala sitting on a train.
His memory was somewhat hazy from an inebriated night in La Coruna. Beside him his new drinking companion Josep Samitier had snoozed off. Kubala gazed out into the rapidly changing landscape as houses and fields drifted into one. He thought he was heading to Madrid. Little did he know that his new companion had played a cunning move.
The train was in fact heading just over 600 kilometres away from Madrid towards the East. Samitier was about to pull off one of the biggest coups in Barcelona’s history and one that would shape the club forever, snatching Laszlo Kubala away from the grasp of Real Madrid.
Four years later, Kubala was on the lips of every Catalonian. Tens of thousands flocked to the club’s 60,000 capacity Camp de Les Corts stadium to watch the dashing blonde Hungarian bamboozle La Liga defences. His strength, rapid feints and venomous shot was revered in Catalonia. There were poems and films written about him. Young kids dreamt of becoming Kubala. They all pretend to be Barcelona’s Hungarian star kicking makeshift balls on the streets.
On matchdays, it was a struggle to get in. Sometimes people waited for hours prior to kick off. Kubala’s name was bigger than Lionel Messi’s today. He was a sensation. A magician who made the fans awe. An icon who stood in defiance against the Franco regime’s persecution of Catalonia.
Kubala was more than just a footballer. Barcelona’s official website describes him as the “most charismatic Barca players of all time.” He was a leader. A symbol of Catalonia’s greatness.
The Barcelona board struggled to accommodate the frenzy. They sanctioned to build a state of the art stadium for their new superstar capable of hosting over 100,000 people.
When the Nou Camp opened three years later, Barcelona were on the brink of establishing one of the most potent striking forces in the club’s history. It was made up of three refugees from Hungary, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis and Laszlo Kubala.
Remarkably the three of them had all begun their professional careers 2000 kilometres away from Barcelona in Budapest. More specifically Ferencvaros. For a brief period Czibor, Kocsis and Kubala all represented the green and white stripes of Hungary’s most successful side.
Yet political tensions would all force them to escape their homeland.
Kubala would be the first to flee from the fledgling Communist party’s throes all the way back in 1949.
By 1950, Kubala had already assembled a team of refugees called Hungaria and traversed Europe, primarily Spain, playing friendlies against the best clubs in La Liga at the time.
He was spotted by Samitier here, and lured to Barcelona.
During’s Kubala’s most successful years in Catalonia, his homeland enjoyed their best spell in football.
From Olympics winners to the famous 6-3 victory against England at Wembley and the disappointment of losing the World Cup final in Bern. Hungary were one of the best sides in the world.
Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor were two of the best players in that star studded Mighty Magyar line-up.
However, when civil war broke out in Budapest, neither Czibor or Kocsis wanted to remain in their homeland. The terror of the communist party had made them into puppets of the political regime.
Czibor and Kocsis were abroad in Austria during the civil war and they wowed to never return to Hungary.
Instead, they made for Italy and upon the request of Barcelona’s new dashing star they joined the Catalans in 1958.
The three years which would ensue would go down as one of the best periods in Barcelona’s early history.
From 1958, the trio of Kubala, Kocsis and Czibor would finally manage to topple the long-standing Real Madrid hegemony in Spain, lifting two consecutive league titles and the Inter-Cities Fair Cup (A predecessor to the Europa League). The mighty Magyar reunion would terrorise La Liga defences.
Silvio Elias Marimon Barcelona’s strategical director recalled the years under the Hungarian trinity in a documentary called Magyarok a Barcaert as a sheer ‘spectacle’ and emphasised how the trio made the sport into ‘something never seen before.’
Kocsis’ powerful neck, Czibor’s scintillating skills and Kubala’s exquisite technique laid the concoction for a perfect partnership.
Having come from similar backgrounds, the three of them had an innate understanding on the pitch. They could also communicate in their native tongue to befuddle their opponents.
In 1961, Barcelona’s Hungarian trio would meet Benfica in the final of the European Cup.
The Portuguese giants, were led by a familiar foe.
During the 1940s Bela Guttman managed Ujpest, the arch rivals of Ferencvaros, on two separate stints. Kocsis, Kubala and Czibor therefore would have encountered him in the opposition dugout several times prior in their homeland.
Now at Benfica, Guttman had developed a mighty reputation. His stern and rigid approach had become renowned worldwide and had already helped him secure three consecutive titles.
On the ultimate stage, the battle of the Hungarians would throw up a fierce clash and an iconic match in the history of the European Cup.
Sandor Kocsis would net first. Rising in the air to knock down a cleverly floated Luis Suarez cross into the bottom corner of Benfica’s net. Suarez incidentally had Hungarian connections too having been bought by Barcelona’s Hungarian coach, Ferenc Plattko, to Catalonia in 1955.
Guttman’s Benfica responded swiftly, scoring twice in the space of a minute to overturn the deficit just past the half hour mark.
Ten minutes into the second half, despite Kubala having struck the post twice, Benfica doubled their advantage.
With fifteen minutes to go Zoltan Czibor would score a stunning first-time volley thumping past Benfica’s Costa Pereira from thirty yards out. The goal was equal to that of Zinedine Zidane’s iconic half volley against Bayer Leverkusen from 2002, if not better, yet only a pixelated blurry black and white version of it remain which is unable to give it the justice that it deserves.
Ultimately, Czibor’s strike would be a mere consolation. Guttman had beaten Barcelona’s Mighty Magyars.
It would be Kubala’s and Czibor’s last game in Barcelona colours. Both would depart for pastures new. Kocsis would stay a little longer eventually hanging up his boots in 1965. It would be a bitter end to an era which promised so much more.
From Kubala’s stardom, to the ultimate domination heralded by Czibor and Kocsis, Barcelona’s magical Magyars left a fleeting yet an indelible mark in the club’s history.
They were the first remarkable trinity in Catalonia which has now hosted a pantheon of great trios from Ronaldino, Eto’o and Messi to Stoickhov, Laudrop and Romario and the more recent Neymar, Suarez and Messi.
Outside the Nou Camp, there is now a statue of Kubala with his bulging thighs stretched taut and his muscles rippling to remind the fans of the famous Hungarian who the giant cathedral of football was built for.
Ultimately, like much of Hungary’s footballing history, Kubala, Kocsis and Czibor’s legacy is enshrouded by the myth of what could have been.
Czibor once said that if they would have lifted the European Cup they would have been “remembered forever.”
Now, despite their abundance of success in a short space of time, they are often neglected from the chapters of Barcelona’s history. But to neglect them is to give them disservice. The trinity formed by the three Magyars was equal to that of Neymar, Suarez and Messi and just as revered at the time.
Kubala netted 281 goals in 357 games for Barcelona, Kocsis 164 in 240, and Czibor 47 in 104 games.
They were world-class footballers wrought by misfortune, forced to become refugees and the crucial catalysts in establishing Barcelona into the giant of European football that it is today. Without them, the club would not be the same.