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Born: Saturday 28 November 1925, Kispest, Hungary
Died: Wednesday 31 May 1978, Budapest, Hungary (aged 52)
One of the finest half-backs in the history of the game, Hungary's József Bozsik was a vital member of his country's great 'Magical Magyars' team of the 1950s. Although sometimes overshadowed by the incredibly gifted forward players in the team, he was an extremely intelligent player who controlled games with ease, playing for Honvéd for almost 20 years and representing his country more than 100 times.
Born in Kispest, now a part of Budapest, on 28 November 1925, Bozsik grew up in a large working class family and was a childhood friend of future team-mate Ferenc Puskás. Both boys played football together on local pitches and later in the youth set-up of local side Kispest, the future Honvéd, who at the time were coached by Puskás' father. Bozsik joined Kispest in 1936, making his first team debut seven years later for a side who at the time struggled to finish above half-way in the league.
Puskás himself also broke into the first team around the same time and while he would regularly receive the headlines, it was Bozsik's tactical brain that was the real heart of the team. He was never the fastest of players, but playing from the deeper position of right-half he was able to utilise his other abilities expertly. A strong tackler with an excellent positional sense and the ability to hit accurate passes over a range of distances, Bozsik was able both to break up opposition threats and to help his team to launch quick counter-attacks.
With Bozsik firmly established in the side, Kispest gradually became one of Hungary's leading clubs, finishing in second place in the league in 1947. He made his international debut during that summer, in a 9-0 win over Bulgaria, and would remain a regular member of the team for more than a decade. In 1949 Hungary became a Communist state and several of the leading clubs were renamed. Kispest became Honvéd, the official army club, with players being given nominal military ranks, Bozsik being made a major. It was under the Honvéd name that Bozsik won his first major honour, with the club claiming the 1949-50 league title by four points ahead of ÉDOSZ, formerly Ferencváros.
The title was retained later in 1950 as a short format was used to switch from winter to summer seasons, with a third championship win in four seasons coming in 1952. That season had also brought Bozsik's first major tournament as he travelled with Hungary to the Olympic Games in Helsinki. Wins over Romania and Italy took them into the quarter-finals, where Bozsik got himself on the scoresheet in a 7-1 thrashing of Turkey. Hungary were clearly the dominant team in the tournament, beating Sweden 6-0 and Yugoslavia 2-0 to claim the gold medals.
That success set Hungary on a long unbeaten run, capped by the famous 6-3 and 7-1 victories over England and victory in the Central European International Cup. The team went into the 1954 World Cup as clear favourites and stormed through the group stage by scoring 17 goals in their two games. The quarter-final against Brazil degenerated into something of a battle, with Bozsik at the heart of some very tough tackles. Eventually he was sent off for fighting with Nílton Santos, but Hungary won through to reach the last four where they inflicted a first ever World Cup defeat on holders Uruguay. Expected to beat West Germany easily in the final, they led 2-0 early on but the Germans hit back to end Hungary's unbeaten run in incredible fashion with a 3-2 win.
Honvéd won another league title in 1954 and retained it a year later, but when they were well on their way to a hat-trick of titles in 1956 there was an uprising in Hungary. Honvéd were away playing in the European Cup at the time and many players declined to return, instead seeking to further their careers abroad. Bozsik was one of the few who did return, but having lost many of their best players Honvéd struggled in the short spring championship of 1957, finishing next to bottom. They would have been relegated had the federation not taken the decision to expand the league, but did rebound to finish second in 1957-58, missing out by just a point to great rivals MTK as the league returned to a winter format.
In the summer of 1958 Bozsik travelled to Sweden for the World Cup as part of a much changed Hungarian side. Those who had defected were no longer part of the team and Hungary were a shadow of the side of 1954. Bozsik played three games, scoring the opening goal in a 1-1 draw with Wales and captaining the team in a defeat to the host nation. Having finished level on points with Wales at the end of the group stage, Hungary crashed out when the Welsh came from behind to win a play-off 2-1 and reach the last eight.
Although they finished second again in 1958-59, Honvéd went into decline in the later years of Bozsik's career and he was destined to win no more domestic trophies. The club did win the international Mitropa Cup competition in 1959, but that tournament had lost much of its status as a result of the advent of official European club competitions. In the early 1960s Honvéd were once again little more than a mid-table team, just as they had been when Bozsik had joined the club. He chose to retire at the end of the 1961-62 season, having played 477 league games for Honvéd.
The exact number of international appearances that Bozsik made is debated, due to the ambiguous status of some of the matches in which he appeared. The Hungarian federation credit him with 101 caps, but FIFA have since declared some of those game unofficial. Nevertheless, he was posthumously given a special award to mark the fact that he had reached a centenary of international games. Whatever the final total, Bozsik has certainly played more games for Hungary than any other player.
In retirement, Bozsik tried his hand at a variety of jobs. He was briefly a member of parliament and also ran a fashion shop in Budapest with his wife, as well as writing a newspaper column. He became a club director at Honvéd and early in 1966 was named as team manager, a post which he held until the following September before returning to his position on the board. In 1974 he became national team manager, but was only able to take charge of one game, a friendly defeat to Austria in Vienna. Poor health forced Bozsik to step down and four years later in 1978 he died of a heart attack, aged just 52.
References (all accessed 14 March 2012):
- Published on Wednesday, 14 March 2012 17:11