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Ladislao Kubala

One of the greatest footballers ever to grace this earth, with a personality and history to match was born June 10'th, 1927 in Budapest. That man was Ladislao Kubala and he was born into a football family with his father playing for a Hungarian team called Ferencvaros while also working as a Bricklayer. He was quickly introduced to the game he would soon come to master and success came to him at a young age. He was 15 when he started playing First Division football with Ferencvaros and by the age of 17 he was picked to play for the Hungarian National Team, he was considered a player for the future in a time when Hungary was a football power.

He had little time to relish his dawning days as a footballer in Hungary though. During World War II his family moved to Czechoslovakia, the native country of his mother. While there, he signed to play for Bratislava and won the league and also won the honor of playing for the Czechoslovakian national team 11 times between 1946 and 1947. In April of 1948 he returned to Hungary and signed for Vasas of Budapest but this relationship was not to last long.

On the 25th of January 1949, Laszi, as he was known, fled from the Communism of Hungary to the West. He first fled to US military zone in Austria but then found his way to Italy where he began playing with a small team called Pro-Patria, in the town of Busto Arsizio. His defection caused unrest in Hungary though when Vasas accused him of being a fraud for defecting on his contract with the club. The club was not his only problem though; their accusation of him was backed by the heavily communist influenced Hungarian Football Federation and they managed to secure a formal extradition request because of his alleged financial crimes, fleeing the country without permission and failing to do military service. This was all backed by FIFA and Kubala was given a one year international ban.

Looking back the ban may have been a blessing in disguise for Laszi. When he was given the ban the Italian club ceased to pay him so once again he was on the move. He moved to a refugee camp under American control in January 1950, one year after his defection. It was while he was in this camp that he met up with some of his fellow country men and others fleeing communist regimes in the East and it was with these men that he formed a football team called Hungaria, a traveling band of highly skilled eastern footballers.

It was the summer after the formation of this team that was a defining time for him and perhaps even for F.C. Barcelona. The team traveled to Spain to play the Spanish National Squad in Madrid. At this game was the then Barcelona manager Pepe Samitier and after watching Kubala play he decided he was a man for Barça. When Pepe asked Laszi to join Barça he replied telling Pepe of his international ban but Pepe responded with calmness he was famous for, "Don’t worry, we’ll fix it"

The actual process of signing Kubala was a bit more difficult than Pepe first envisioned, but it was greatly helped by Laszi’s capacity for hard drinking which would soon become just as much of legend as his football. Pepe attempts to praise Laszi away from the paws of Real Madrid, who also actively chased his signature, were conducted in an alcohol filled a gaze where Laszi barely knew if he was coming or going. Following the game in Madrid, Hungaria traveled to Barcelona to play Espanyol and it was after this game he signed for Barça. It was June 1950.

After the signing of the contract Kubala became the highest paid player in Barça history at the time but even with this massive wage packet he spent the next 9 months sitting in the sidelines because of the FIFA ban imposed on him. His ban was lifted on the 2nd of April 1952 and as well as his football release he was declared a Spanish National. He would go on to play for Spain 19 times scoring 11 goals and make it three national teams he played for, the only man ever to do so.

Kubala and Barcelona went on to become an unbeatable team thanks to their magic forward line: Basora, César, Kubala, Moreno and Manchón. Between the years of 1951 and 1953, Barça won every competition that was available to them. Spanish Leagues 1951-52 and 1952-53 and Spanish Cups 1950-51, 1951-52 and 1952-53. In this period of power it is important to highlight the season 1951-52, in which they won the Five Cups: Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Latin Cup Eva Duarte and Martini Rossi trophies. Kubala spent eleven seasons with Barcelona from 1950-1961, playing 329 games and scoring 243 goals. During his time at Barça, Laszi won 4 La Liga titles, 5 Copa Del Reys and 2 UEFA Fairs Cups along with numerous smaller cups.

He went on to play for Espanyol as a player/coach for a year or so soon after he left Barça. His success as a manager did not match that as a player, his best achievement was in the 1992 Olympics when the Spanish Football team he coached won gold. He managed Barça on two separate occasions and both without success and he trained clubs around the world from Malaga to Saudi Arabia and Canada but never achieved any notable success.

The man that was Kubala you would only think could live in a myth. He was one of the main reasons that the Nou Camp went up in the 50’s, it was said that he was so popular with his acrobatic style of play and sheer strength, that the previous stadium could not cope with the number of supporters who wanted to watch him (and not all these Barça fans either). A new stadium was needed and it was built. Some still know it now as "The House Kubala Built."

In the Barça annals, much is made of Kubala the player who helped the club find its sense of self worth and pride, much different from that defiant political horror show that was Real Madrid. He did not associate himself with politics since he was a man that held the love of life close and never let the politics come in the way of it, which in those days divided people between. He had a deep sense of inherent humanity and a personality that defied political typecasting; he was in a sense a person who knew life was more about football but knew it was more about the politics that surrounded it too.

Laszi was first and foremost a fantastic player; he was, as a player, something that is rarely seen. He was as quick with or without the ball, showed amazing control and power when dribbling and was renowned for his vision in games. Picking the perfect pass was something common with a man that was certainly anything but that. He showed devastating accuracy shooting with either foot and became feared for his dead ball abilities. In a lot of Spanish stadiums, Laszi would be subjected to relentless persecution, a catalog of dangerous tackles and play that went unpunished by Franco manipulated officials. His persecution was Barça’s persecution and Catalonia’s as well and it was from this persecution he was drawn close to the hearts of all Catalans.

Kubala died on the 17th May 2002 as a result of a long-term illness that had confined him to bed in a Barcelona hospital since the month of February that year. He will always be remembered as a Barça legend and in some people\\\'s view, be remembered as one of the best footballers of all time.

** Thanks to Amadeus for his work on this piece.