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Born: Saturday 21 September 1929, Budapest, Hungary
Died: Sunday 22 July 1979, Barcelona, Spain (aged 49)
Position: Inside Forward
Renowned as one of the game's gentlemen, multi-talented inside-right Sándor Kocsis boasts one of the most prolific scoring records in the history of international football. His goalscoring rate in the 'Magical Magyars' run to the 1954 World Cup final remains unmatched in the competition to this day, and given the nature of the modern game is unlikely ever to be beaten. He is remembered as one of the finest headers of a ball ever to play the game.
The son of an innkeeper, Sándor Kocsis was born in Budapest on 22 July 1979 and like many players of his era began to develop his skills playing football in the streets of his home city. After playing for youth side Kobanyai TC, he was spotted by Ferencváros and quickly earned a place in the first team, making his senior debut during the 1945-46 season. Still just a teenager, Kocsis found his opportunities limited at first but by 1947-48 he was a regular in the forward line.
Ferencváros finished third that season but Kocsis' performances were enough to earn him a first international call-up for the match against Romania in June 1948. That game brought an overwhelming 9-0 victory for Hungary, with Kocsis contributing two goals. Over the following twelve months Kocsis cemented his reputation as one of the finest goalscorers in Europe, grabbing 33 goals in 30 games as Ferencváros won the league title with considerable ease.
Usually playing at inside-right, Kocsis was a fine two-footed player who possessed considerable skill with the ball at his feet, but it was his aerial ability for which he was most famous. Many of his most memorable goals were scored in the air, earning him the nickname 'Golden Head'. Kocsis remained with Ferencváros until the summer of 1950, by which time the club had been renamed ÉDOSZ following the establishment of Communist rule in Hungary and the club's takeover by a trade union.
Like many of Hungary's leading players, Kocsis was drafted into the army and transferred to Honvéd, who had become the army club. It was there that he first formed his formidable partnership with inside-left Ferenc Puskás, a link regularly repeated at international level. His first season with the club brought a league title in a shortened 'autumn' season. Although they lost their title in 1951, Kocsis finished as the league's top scorer with 30 goals.
In 1952 Kocsis was the leading goalscorer in all of Europe with 36 goals as Honvéd reclaimed the championship. He also proved to be one of the stars of the Hungarian national team as they stormed to Olympic gold in Helsinki. Kocsis scored six goals in his first four matches, including two in both the quarter-final against Turkey and the semi-final against Sweden. The only match in which he did not score was the final against Yugoslavia, which Hungary won 2-0.
With Kocsis as one of their stars Hungary embarked on a long unbeaten run, winning the 'Dr. Gerö Cup' in 1953 and recording two big wins over England, with Kocsis scoring twice in a 7-1 win in 1954. Hungary were strong favourites to win that year's World Cup in Switzerland, and Kocsis was expected to be one of the stars of the tournament. They cruised through their first round group, Kocsis scoring three in a 9-0 win over South Korea and four more in the 8-3 thrashing of West Germany, making him the first player to score two World Cup hat-tricks.
In a violent quarter-final against Brazil, Hungary led inside four minutes and Kocsis headed home a second goal moments later, but Brazil fought back well. Hungary were hanging on to a 3-2 lead when another Kocsis header sealed the win two minutes from time. In the semi-final against holders Uruguay, Hungary again took a 2-0 lead but were pegged back and forced into extra-time. Again, Kocsis' ability in the air came to their rescue as two more headed goals took them into the final.
Against a much changed West Germany in the final, Hungary again took an early 2-0 lead but again let their advantage slip. This time their opponents who finished stronger, with a late goal ending Hungary's unbeaten run and hopes of a first World Cup win. Just as in the Olympics two years earlier, Kocsis failed to score only in the final, finishing with a then-record 11 goals in the tournament. That total has been beaten only once, and his average of 2.2 goals per game in a World Cup has never been matched.
Back with Honvéd, World Cup disappointment was partially eased by another title success later in 1954, Kocsis again finishing as the Europe's top scorer. Another championship followed in 1955 and Honvéd were well placed to complete a hat-trick in 1956 when life in Hungary was turned upside-down. Honvéd were away playing Atlético Bilbao in a European Cup tie which they ultimately lost, when a revolution in Budapest led the players to decide against returning. Many, including Kocsis, found new clubs in the west.
His international career was ended by his decision to stay away, finishing with a remarkable 75 goals in 68 matches for Hungary. After a year playing in Switzerland, Kocsis and former team-mate Zoltán Czibor were persuaded to sign for Barcelona. Kocsis would remain at the club for the rest of his career. In his first season he helped Barcelona win the league title and scored twice in the 4-1 cup final win over Granada which completed a domestic double.
Another league title was won in 1960 along with the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, although Kocsis missed the decisive second leg of the final against Birmingham City. In 1961, Barcelona reached the final of the European Cup which was to be played at the scene of Hungary's World Cup heartbreak in the final in Bern. Kocsis gave Barcelona a 1-0 lead against Benfica, but the Portuguese side hit back with three unanswered goals. Czibor's late strike was small consolation and again Kocsis was on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat in a major final in Bern.
In 1962 Barcelona reached another Fairs Cup final, where Kocsis twice gave his team the lead in the first leg against Valencia. However, from 2-1 ahead Barcelona amazingly lost 6-2 and although Kocsis also opened the scoring in the second leg, Barcelona had too much to do ultimately lost 7-3 on aggregate. Kocsis would again score in a cup final twelve months later, in the final of the Copa del Generalísimo against Real Zaragoza. This time he finished on the winning side, giving his team a 3-0 lead which they just held on to, winning 3-2.
For the remainder of his playing career, Kocsis saw Barcelona overshadowed by a great Real Madrid team and fall short in the chase for further honours. He retired in 1966, opening a restaurant in Barcelona and working with the team as an assistant coach. From 1972 he spent two years as manager of Hércules CF but his health began to fail. He was diagnosed first with leukaemia and later with stomach cancer.
In July 1979, aged just 49, he fell to his death from a fourth floor window of the hospital where he was being treated. It was never conclusively established whether his death was an accident or suicide. Having been cremated in Barcelona, the ashes of Sándor Kocsis were returned home to Hungary in September 2012 and interred in St Stephen's Basilica in Budapest, on what would have been his 83rd birthday.
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- Published on Sunday, 07 October 2012 20:32