Florian Albert dazzled opposition defences all around Europe and the World. His genius is rarely remembered today.
Herceszanto is a small village on the outskirts of Hungary. It is on the border with Serbia where two cultures, the Slavs and the Magyars, mix into one.
Back in the early 1950s the farming village was the home of merely two thousand people. The village’s inhabitants all knew one another. The farmers greeted each other on their pastures. The women washed their clothes in the same well and the kids all played on the same undulating field.
Some old enough still remember a young boy playing on the field day and night and waltzing with the ball as if it was glued to his feet.
Anica Jelity is one of them. She knew Florian well. She was his cousin.
‘All I can recall of Flori is that he played football with all the young boys in the village,’ she told Nemzeti Sport. ‘That’s all he loved to do.’
Florian Albert’s early tragedy
Small villages on the outskirts of Hungary were hardly thriving in the 1950s. It was the aftermath of World War Two and the new communist regime did nothing to ease the mass poverty and strife which had been incurred as a result.
Florian Albert’s family was harder hit than most.
He was just three years old when his mother passed away. Three of his sisters died young only a few years apart when Florian was still a boy.
All Florian had left was his father. A stern but fair figure.
‘I have him to thank for everything, his demeanour helped me keep my feet on the ground,’ Florian Albert once told Miklos Bocsak.
The only solace for the young boy was football. At the age of 12 his father decided to move to the capital, Budapest, and Florian Albert was quickly snapped up by Ferencvaros after impressing on a trial.
Growing up in awe of the stars
The 1950s, Florian Albert’s formative teenage years were the golden years of Hungarian football. The capital city, Budapest boasted some of the finest footballing talent of the era. Players like, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Czibor.
‘Back in those days we didn’t have discos or televisions. Our entertainment was football,’ Florian recalled in an interview with Miklos Bocsak.
‘I remember all of it, watching from the stands, Bozsik’s passes, Kocsis’ headers and bicyle-kicks, Puskas’ genius and Czibor’s unpredictable skills – it was intoxicating and inspiring at the same time.’Florian Albert, excerpt from Csaszar es Utana a Sotetseg
Florian grew up dreaming of emulating Hungary’s golden team. He was determined to do it. But it would come with challenges.
At the age of 14, his father’s right to reside in Budapest was withheld and the family had to move back to the countryside.
‘I used to wake up at 4:30am in the morning to catch the train, I’d study and train during the day. Sometimes I wouldn’t get back from training until 10pm.’
Making a name for himself
At Ferencvaros people soon started to take notice. Florian was one of a kind. He had an innate sense for the goal and he was prolific.
His determination endeared him to the hearts of his coaches.
Florian Albert was only 17 when Sandor Tatrai, the coach of Ferencvaros’ first team , shouted to him during a youth training match: ‘Flori, you’re playing in the first team tomorrow.’
On the morning of the match there was excitement and frenzy in the Albert household. The family woke him up early. Florian could feel his legs quake a little.
In the ground and in the tunnel of the old Nepstadion he could hear the roar of the crowd. He remembered the players he had watched on the hallowed field. The names he adored.
The nerves got the better of him in the first half. In the dressing room, his teammates encouraged him to be braver.
The look of doubt on his coaches’ faces stayed with him until the end.
But something snapped inside Flori’s head in the second half.
All his hard-work. All his commutes on the train. It was not going to end in vain.
In the 74th minute Fenyvesi aimed a peach of a cross in his direction. Florian struck it first time and the ball thumped into the back of the net. Goal. The crowd went wild.
Fifteen minutes later. In the dying embers of the game, bursting with confidence, Florian decided to go on a marauding run. He left his opponents trailing one by one before unleashing a deft finish into the back of the net.
It was the perfect beginning and a signal of things to come.
Becoming an Icon
The goals kept coming. Soon Florian Albert was making his debut for the national team before he had even turned 18 years old.
Five goals in his first six matches for the national side, including a famous solo-goal against West Germany, established his status as the nation’s new hero.
Hungary were still hurting from the departure of their biggest stars in Puskas, Kocsis and Czibor. However, in Albert they finally had someone to alleviate the pain.
His exploits helped Hungary to finish in third place in the 1960 Olympics and in the 1964 European Championships.
At club level, Florian Albert led Ferencvaros to the Green Eagles’ greatest ever moment lifting the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The tournament was an early equivalent of the Europa League. Ferencvaros beat Matt Busby’s Manchester United and AS Roma on their route to the final before defeating Juventus 1-0.
Undoubtedly, Albert’s greatest moment came at the 1966 World Cup. With his deceptively languid gait, the Hungarian commandeered his side to an impressive 3-1 victory over Brazil.
The Everton ground, shook, rattled and roared as Florian Albert played a vital role in all three Hungarian goals.
In the end, the English crowd roared Albert’s name. “Albert. Albert.” Deep into the Merseyside night.
On Christmas day in 1967, Florian Albert awoke to a strange telephone call. It was from a gentleman from France Football. He told him he had won the Ballon D’or.
Two days later, he was on the front cover of the famous French newspaper.
Florian beat Bobby Charlton for the award after another stellar season.
To this day he remains the only Hungarian recipient of the award.
His award caused a stir in Hungary. He was everywhere. On television, billboards, radio stations and newspapers. Everyone wanted to get a hold of the world’s best player.
Sadly two years later, Florian suffered a cruciate ligament injury which meant he was unable to reach the same heights again.
But he still continued playing for his beloved club and country until 1974 ultimately retiring at 33 years of age.
In total he scored 250 goals in 350 games for Ferencvaros which is a club record.
One of a kind
Florian Albert wasn’t your typical player. He didn’t possess sheer pace or power. Florian was a forward with a sharp wit and the ability to exploit defenders in the right moments.
He was a team player. Despite having a hot temperament on the pitch and being accused of meddling in Ferencvaros’ affairs. Even manipulating the influence of the club’s board when it came to axing managers. On the pitch Florian always put the team first.
He was just as brilliant finding the right pass for his teammates as burying the ball into the back of the net.
Florian was an extremely elegant footballer with extraordinary skill and ball control. These qualities ensured that he was highly respected by his opponents.FIFA President, Sepp Blatter
‘I was never the best physically, I never enjoyed running without the ball, but when I had the ball I loved every situation, the ball always offered me some kind of excitement.’ Florian Albert once described in Miklos Bocsak’s book A Csaszar es Utana a Sotetseg.
In the quote above, Florian Albert encapsulates his genius. The Hungarian forward was a master of the ball. He could weave past players with ease and in his prime he was undoubtedly one of the best players in the world.
His name will be indelible to Ferencvaros, but it should be a name remembered among every football fan.