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Born: Monday 5 August 1912, Budapest, Austria-Hungary (now Hungary)
Died: Sunday 20 June 1993, Genoa, Italy (aged 80)
Undoubtedly the star of Hungary's 1938 World Cup final team, György Sárosi was perhaps one of the most versatile players of the pre-Second World War era. Most frequently playing as a striker, he was also an accomplished attacking centre-half and even played a number of games in the full-back line. A one-club man with Ferencváros in his playing days, he also had a long coaching career in Italy after the war.
Born as György Stefanicsics on 5 August 1912, Sárosi was the son of a Budapest tailor who later changed the family surname to one which looked more Hungarian. Both György and his younger brother Béla were keen footballers, growing playing in local parks and on the streets of Budapest. At the age of 15 the older sibling was spotted by a talent scout from Ferencváros where Béla would join him several years later. Initially he was not keen on the idea of football as a career, seeing it as a hobby to pursue while training to become a lawyer, but he did eventually agree to turn professional.
Breaking into the first team in the 1930-31 season, Sárosi was initially used as a centre-half but as his skill on the ball became apparent, he was moved into ever more advanced roles either at inside-forward or centre-forward. In 1931-32, he was one of the stars for Ferencváros as they claimed the Hungarian title by winning all 22 league games. He then helped them to add cup success the following year with an incredible 11-1 final victory over that year's league champions Újpest, scoring three of the goals himself.
Having earned his first call-up to the national team in May 1931, Sárosi surprisingly took 15 games to register his first international goal, but after finally getting off the mark against Sweden in July 1933 he transferred his domestic scoring rate to the national team as well. Joining the Hungarian squad for the 1934 World Cup in Italy, he did not play in their first round win over Egypt but was in the team for the quarter-final against Austria. With his team trailing 2-0, Sárosi scored a penalty to bring them back into contention but ultimately his goal was to no avail as Hungary went out. They also fell short of success in the 1933-35 Central European International Cup, finishing third, but Sárosi finished that tournament as joint leading scorer with seven goals.
Domestically, Sárosi had won a second league title with Ferencváros in 1934 and a second cup in 1935, before finishing as the league's leading scorer in 1935-36 with 36 goals, a ratio of more than 1.5 league goals per game. That was to prove to be his highest single season total but formed part of a run of eight consecutive seasons where he scored at least 22 league goals, during which he would finish as leading scorer twice more. In 1937 Sárosi also led Ferencváros to international success when they won the Mitropa Cup, the first international club competition of its kind. Facing Lazio in the final, Sárosi scored a hat-trick in dreadful weather in the second leg to seal a 5-4 win and a 9-6 aggregate triumph.
Perhaps the most remarkable match of his career came on 19 September 1937, in a Central European International Cup match against Czechoslovakia. Against the team who had reached the World Cup final in 1934 and who had one of the finest goalkeepers of the era in František Plánička, Sárosi scored seven goals in an 8-3 victory which put Hungary in a fine position to win that tournament. Sadly for them, the worsening political situation in Europe led to the competition being abandoned and they had to be content with preparing for the World Cup in France in 1938. Sárosi was nevertheless once again the leading scorer in the unfinished tournament.
In the World Cup, Sárosi was now Hungary's captain and the team were fancied to do much better than they had four years earlier. He scored one of six goals in a comfortable opening win over the Dutch East Indies and headed the crucial opening goal in a much tighter quarter-final against Switzerland which Hungary clinched 2-0 with a late second goal. In the semi-final they faced Sweden and after falling behind in the first minute scored five without reply, with Sárosi getting the fourth as his team cruised into a final meeting with reigning champions Italy. At half-time they trailed 3-1 but Sárosi pulled a goal back with 20 minutes left, making him one of the few players to have scored in every match at a World Cup. Hungary's dreams were dashed late on however as a late goal clinched a 4-2 win for Italy.
1938 had also brought a third league title and further success was to follow in both 1940 and 1941. With Europe now in the grip of the Second World War, football often had to take a back seat but Sárosi continued to appear for Ferencváros and indeed helped the club to win three consecutive cup competitions from 1942 to 1944. He remained an important member of their team all the way through to 1948, when he finally retired from playing at the age of 36. In 18 seasons with the club he scored a total of 351 league goals in 383 games.
During his playing days Sárosi had continued to study law, eventually completing a doctorate, but on his retirement left his now communist homeland and moved to Italy to begin a coaching career. His first club was Bari, where he stayed for two years and indeed signed his brother Béla to play for the club in 1949-50. After spending the 1950-51 season at Lucchese, he moved to Juventus, where he would enjoy his greatest success as a coach. Juve won the Serie A title in his first season in Turin, finishing seven points clear of Milan. Sárosi spent two years at the club in which time they won nearly 60% of their games.
Sárosi's next stop was Genoa, where he spent a lot of time working with the club's youth players and earned a reputation as one of the best in the game for finding and developing good young players. He later coached at Roma, Bologna and Brescia before finishing his managerial career in Switzerland with Lugano and returning spend his retirement in Italy. He spent his later years living back in Genoa, and it was there that he died in June 1993 at the age of 80. During the communist era he was largely a forgotten figure in Hungary having left for western Europe, but today is remembered fondly as one of the country's greatest ever footballers.
References (all accessed 13 February 2012 except *):
http://www.fifa.com/classicfootball/players/player=44605/index.html (* accessed 7 December 2012)
- Published on Monday, 13 February 2012 14:17