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Kubala, the path to glory of Barcelona's most loved legend: A story of overcoming, adventures, crazy nights, majestic matches and of a good man who made everybody around him happy.
We could add a season of adventures due to his incredible escape from communist Hungary. His journey through Italy with a football team, the Hungaria, of stateless people in which in addition to Hungarians also played Croats, Albanians, Romanians and Serbs who were looking for a life as good as they could get. One could also add to this the facet of the social phenomenon that dazzled a country during the dark years of Franco's regime by becoming a pop star, and end up with another season about the legends, real, invented or simply exaggerated, of his adventures in Barcelona's nightclubs.
Everything about Kubala is like a movie.
"I remember that when I escaped from Hungary I was just a kid. The traffickers left us in the middle of a mountain to do the last stretch on foot. We were a large group. The adults gathered the children and gave us palinka. A liquor similar to brandy to get us drunk and fall asleep. A child's cry could alert the border guards patrolling the mountain. And they had orders to shoot to kill. The group split in two. My group was lucky and we were able to win the Austrian border. Once we were safe, we learned that the other group that had travelled with us and took another road was discovered and killed." The chilling story is that of Zoltan Czibor, the son of the former Barça player who tells how he had to flee Hungary with his family to join his father in Italy. The odyssey of Kubala, six years earlier, was mirrored.
The traffickers disguised Kubala as a Russian soldier and put him in a truck that would leave the escapees at an undetermined point in the mountains so that they could cross the border into Austria on their own. Kubala remembered that this journey scared him to death because unlike his comrades, he was a national celebrity and any soldier who checked the military truck would recognize him. He was endangering his life and the lives of those who accompanied him.
When they were left in the mountain on January 27, 1949, Kubala walked, and crossing a river helped by a tire that carried him, managed to reach Innsbuck, Austria, without any documentation. He was a stateless man starting from scratch.
In Austria he managed to sign with Pro Patria, a team from Milan, but he could only play friendly matches. His escape provoked the anger of the Hungarian regime, which denounced him and blocked his registration. Kubala had married Anna Daucik two years earlier, sister of Fernando Daucik, a veteran player of the era who would later become a famous coach. When Kubala fled, he left behind his family, whom he was unable to reunite with until six months later, when Anna was able to cross the border and meet Ladislao in Udine. He arrived with one more member of the family. A baby, her firstborn, whom Kubala did not yet know.
While he is irregularly enrolled in the Pro Patria, he gets the chance to sign with Torino, Italy's dominant team at the time. He is offered a trial match. Nothing better than a friendly match that Il Grande Torino had in Lisbon as a tribute to Xico Ferreira. However, when the Turin team's plane is about to take off, the president of Torino prevents Kubala from boarding because he fears a federal sanction. On the return flight, on 4 May 1949, the Fiat G 212 of Avio Linee Italiana crashed into the retaining wall of the Basilica of Superga due to the wind, poor visibility and an error in the altimeter of the aircraft. At 180 kilometres per hour and with a visibility of 40 metres, the pilot saw the stone wall of the basilica too late when he thought the plane was at 2,000 metres and was actually at 690 metres above sea level. The 31 people who were travelling in that aircraft died. Kubala had saved his life again.
The team was called Hungaria, was managed by his brother-in-law Fernando Daucik and was mainly made up of Hungarians, although there were also players of other nationalities. It was made up of: Kis, Marik, Torok, Mogoy, Lami, Rákosi, Hrotko, Majteny, Nagy, Kubala, Otto, Licker, Turbeky, Monsider (Croatian), De Lorenzi (Albanian), Szegedi (Romanian) and Arangelovic (Serbian).
They played their first match against Italy's B team, but again pressure from the PCI forced them to play outside Italy. And that is how they arrived in Spain, hired by Santiago Bernabéu. On June 5, 1950, they faced Real Madrid in Chamartin, losing 4-2, but with a stellar performance by Kubala, who scored both of his team's goals. Three days later, they beat the Spanish team that was preparing for the World Cup in Brazil, where they came in fourth, 1-2 again with a great performance by Kubala, who received an offer from Real Madrid to be signed.
Kubala requires that to join the team, Madrid must also hire Daucik as a coach, something that Bernabéu does not agree to. The Madrid coach at that time was the Briton Keeping, a great connoisseur of WM tactics. Daucik is offered to train the Plus Ultra, a Madrid branch that plays in the third division. That negative and the federative problems that drags Kubala cause that Madrid becomes disinterested in his transfer, that was already agreed lacking of some fringes that turned out to be determinant.
The Hungaria moves two days later to Barcelona, where on June 10 plays against Espanyol losing 6-4 in a match with Pepe Samitier, the technical secretary of Barça, in the stands. It is necessary to emphasize that Hungaria had been playing three matches in five days with a very short team and without being able to make substitutions. Even so, Kubala amazes and Samitier does not mess around. Six days after that match, on 16 June 1950, at half past six in the evening, Kubala signed his three-year contract with Barça at the Pasaje Méndez Vigo. Obviously, with Fernando Daucik as coach. President Montal, Sr., signed him as an "amateur player" in order to avoid any trouble for the federation.
Real Madrid rages and is shocked. Pablo Hernández, general secretary of the white entity and Santiago Bernabéu's right hand, assures that Barça had broken a non-aggression pact between both teams and had hired a player with whom they were in talks. Samitier, who was unbeatable in the media, declares that he had been following Kubala for months and that the pact had not been broken because it referred only to players who played in Spanish teams. And Hungaria was not Spanish. In fact, it wasn't from anywhere.
But Kubala's problems didn't end there. He still didn't have a registration card or an international certificate. Vasas in Budapest and the Hungarian Federation had reported him to FIFA. Barça used the weak argument that since professionalism had been abolished in Hungary, any amateur player could choose his destiny. But the fight was not going to be so easy.
Barça, it is fair to say, had the total support of the regime and the Federation to carry out the transfer. At the level of anti-communist propaganda, Kubala was perfect. A young and extraordinary sportsman who fled from the red hell to take refuge in Franco's Spain was a candy too sweet to let go. Muñoz Calero, president of the Federation, rowed in favor of Barça as did Ricardo Cabot, secretary of the organization, who, in addition to his affection for the regime, was a well-known Barcelona supporter.
But the procedures were very slow and Kubala could only play friendly matches. He made his debut against Osasuna on 12 October, scoring two goals on the day the Barça fans knew instantly that they had just signed a star. Then he played against Zaragoza, Frankfurt twice, Girona and the Badalona. In six friendlies he scored 11 goals. The fans and the player himself were eager to meet in an official match. For all this, the Federation to play the role with FIFA fined Barça every time he lined up Kubala with the symbolic figure of 50 pesetas.
It is at this time that Kubala is about to leave everything and go away from Barça. He needed the money and wanted to play at the highest level and in Colombia he was offered the chance to do so. The South American country had organised the so-called Pirate League outside FIFA and many of the world's biggest stars joined, including Alfredo Di Stefano who went to Millonarios in Bogota. Kubala had a tempting offer from Atletico Bucaramanga. With the option of Kubala leaving, events accelerated. To begin with, Barça fixed his financial situation by means of a peculiar amateur contract in which they paid him 1,200 pesetas for "compensation" and 3,800 for "encouragement and overfeeding".
On April 2, 1951, he was granted the status of political refugee as a stateless person, which was a step towards granting him Spanish nationality. But for this step, Kubala first had to be converted to Catholicism through the sacrament of baptism. Every Spaniard had to be a Catholic. Kubala was baptized in Aguilas, Murcia, the birthplace of Muñoz Calero, president of the Federation. It is then when Barça, to avoid problems, settles its differences economically with Vasas, which despite being against capitalism accepts a payment of 300,000 pesetas to provide the transfer, while the Pro Patria, which also complained, is satisfied with 12 million lire.
The Kubala era could now really commence.
The Cup, by that time was played once the regular season was over and in those circumstances the official debut of Kubala took place. On April 29th in Nervion, Barça arrived to play against Sevilla in the middle of a difficult atmosphere. The Andalusians had lost the league in a dramatic outcome when they drew at home in the last match against Atletico Madrid with a refereeing performance that the locals judged scandalous. For further concern, the Federation allowed Kubala to line up with Barça in the first round of the Cup, which in Sevilla was taken as a surprise.
With the stadium full to the flag, Barcelona defeated Sevilla in an exhibition of Kubala. He wasn't just the best of the match but he showed Spain a way of playing football unthinkable until that time: chest controls, shots with curve, millimetric changes of play of 40 meters, protection of the ball with his back, use of the body in the shot and touches with the heel.
Domenech, Sevilla's attacker who was the direct protagonist of that match, explained years later how he remembered that day.
"It was something never seen before. Ramallets kicked it and he would receive her with his chest, or with either of his legs. If you tackled him he would dribble you in a brick. He'd put the ball where he wanted her. Besides, from time to time he changed with César, he'd be a center forward and César would be a midfielder. They drove us crazy. The anger of the people became clamours. We were witnessing something extraordinary. It was like going from black and white cinema to colour," explained the former Sevilla player. The Sevilla crowd, who had welcomed Barça and its new superstar with anger, ended up giving Kubala a standing ovation for every action as if they were watching a glorious bullfighting performance.
Kubala's actions on the field change football forever. Since there was no television, his exploits are reported orally. There is no other way to see it than to go to the field of Les Corts, which is packed for every game Barça plays as a local. It is a very common argument to say that Kubala forced Barça to build the Camp Nou because the old Les Corts was not enough to accommodate all the people who wanted to admire him. Maybe he had an influence, but as the journalist Frederic Porta, author of an interesting biography of Kubala (Kubala, l'heroi que va canviar la història del Barça. Ed. Saldonar) explains, "the truth is that Barça had already bought the land to build the Camp Nou two years before and the idea of making a bigger field already existed, but Kubala advanced everything and justified the change".
Blessed with brutal technique, a sensational strike of the ball and an unusual physical strength, Kubala changed football. He would throw free-kicks over the wall with curve or by making the ball bounce in front of the goalkeeper, he would take penalties (he was practically infallible) with what was later called paradinha and was credited with the Brazilians although he was the first in Europe to do so. Physically he was a bull. In his youth he had practiced boxing and if he didn't become a recognized fighter with a great career it was because he had short arms. His lower body was sensational. He had a butt and legs that allowed him to protect the ball like no one else. Frederic Porta says that "in his time of splendour they measured his thighs and each one had a circumference of 69 centimetres, which would be the waist of one of his companions". He was also capable of running the 100 metres in less than 11 seconds. A total athlete with a very refined technique.
However, that physical strength and the confidence he had in her, for he never avoided a collision, were his downfall. Kubala became the target of a hunt by rival defenders. He never went into hiding and that's why in eleven years at Barcelona he suffered up to eleven injuries of some seriousness. With matches without television, the harshness that bordered on violence was the order of the day. He was being kicked to death.
But Barça was living its most golden period to date. Moreover, the club revolved around Kubala. Frederic Porta compares it with the present time: "Now they say that Messi commands the club and surely he commands, but nothing to do with the influence that Kubala had. Kubala was the boss and even the one who decided the transfers. And no one was surprised. That Barça adopted the socks with the horizontal stripes blaugrana is his imposition. He saw them on the rugby team, liked them and incorporated them into the football team by decree. In fact, it is he who insists on signing Luis Suarez when he impresses him in a match against Deportivo. Kubala was Suarez's first fan, but what happened in the stands, which was divided between Suaristas and Kubalistas, is another matter.
Suarez was eight years younger than Kubala. He arrived at Barcelona at the age of 19, Kubala was 27 and his physique was very punished by his injuries and the life he was living, as he did not deprive himself of anything. If he held out, it was because of privileged genetics.
Therefore, there never was a real competition between them, but there was a lot of influence here from the figure of Helenio Herrera, the Barça manager, who saw Kubala as older and slower and was looking forward to a quick change by the young Galician as the leader of the team. The debate reached the stands and the media. It was an absurd debate, because they didn't play in the same position, with whom Kubala really had a certain rivalry with Eulogio Martínez, who was the one with whom he alternated the position.
Kubala's physical problems were not only due to injuries. He had the whole of Spain in suspense when he suffered a tuberculosis that could have cost him his life. There are apocryphal versions that explain that this tuberculosis was actually a stab wound he suffered in a fight in a cheap pub in the fifth district (Barcelona's Chinatown) and he has to retire to Montseny to recover. Nobody is betting on his return to the pitch if he survives a "hole in the lung the size of a silver bullet" according to the chronicles of the time. But once again, Kubala's ability to survive prevails. He returns to the pitches, but already heavily punished and slowed down.
It is against this backdrop that the 1961 European Cup final arrives, with Kubala arriving at the age of 34 with a herniated disc that barely allows him to walk, but he wants to play. He knows that the club is going through a critical situation despite having reached the final of the maximum trophy for the first time: the club is bankrupt because of the construction of the Camp Nou, the fights in the board of directors are chaotic, Luis Suarez has signed for Inter (the one in Bern will be his last game with Barça), which was where Helenio Herrera had left the team in the hands of Enrique Orizaola.
Kubala tells Orizaola to line him up, that like all the Portuguese will go for him and he can barely move because of the back pain and will play with painkillers, it will give more opportunities to his teammates. But the match is a pile of misfortunes for Barcelona. Ramallets scores an own goal, Barça shoots three times to the damn square posts of the goals (from then on they would change their shape) even Kubala kicked a ball that hit a post, went through the goal line until it hit the other post and came out repelled. Barça lost and Kubala's time at Barcelona came to an end.
"He was literally the most famous person in the city, people really venerated him, and even Messi's influence cannot be compared to that of Kubala in those years," explains Porta.
His life off the field was notorious. An unrepentant night owl, it was common to see him in Barcelona's fashionable coffee shops and nightclubs. He was a man who stood out. Alfredo Relaño defines him in some of his articles as "a demigod. Tall, strong, blond with blue eyes and an overflowing personality. He aroused the admiration of men and women alike. An idol". Frederic Porta sums it up with the argument that "he would be the sum of Messi and Beckham and on top of that, he would go out every night".
Faced with Kubala's disorganised life, the Barcelona management decided to set up a private detective agency to follow him at night. The reports of the detectives are still in the Centre de Documentació del FC Barcelona and Frederic Porta published them in the history magazine 'Sàpiens'. In them, he gives a detailed account of the nocturnal wanderings of "Mr. K.", the code name of the Blaugrana star in an exercise in absurd discretion. There is also a letter from a Sabadell businessman in the club's archives, expressing concern that Kubala and Czibor had been "found in a Sabadell establishment after 2.30 in the morning accompanied by some of those ladies who were once gentlemen, I don't know if you understand". What the businessman doesn't explain in the letter is what he was doing in the same place.
Kubala's fondness for drinking was no secret. Helenio Herrera explains in a television interview that "one day at an airport in customs they asked Kubala if he had anything to declare and he said two bottles of whisky. The official asked him to show them to him and he, laughing, touched his belly and said: 'X-ray, I have them inside'. On another occasion, in the same situation, but carrying the bottle in the bag, he was told to leave it at the airport because no alcoholic drinks were allowed to be taken on board. Neither shy nor lazy, he drank it in front of the astonished official.
The legends about the occasions when the night was made longer and he did not arrive at training sessions or matches were recurrent. In that case, he called on the services of Angel Mur Sr., the team masseur who knew where to find him. He would start a pilgrimage through the usual places or floors until he found him, took him to the changing room, gave him a cold shower, a coffee with salt, a massage and played. The fans forgave him everything and were aware that their star was a man of joyful life. But he never failed on the field. Among the crowd at the time there were comments about the Kubala ritual in those games that followed a busy night. "He started off badly, and vaguely, but the signal was when, ten minutes into the game, he rolled up his sleeves as if to say 'I'm here, let's start, I've already cleared off', and the machine started to work.
You can't find anyone in the world who speaks ill of Kubala. Absolutely no one. Everyone highlights his huge heart and that despite being by far the highest paid player of the time (he earned six times more than his teammates) he didn't have a no for anyone. His detachment from money was legendary.
As proof, the anecdote explained by his biographer Porta: "one day he arrived at the dressing room and commented that his car had been stolen and that in the glove compartment he was carrying an envelope with 200,000 pesetas, which was a fortune for the time (a good apartment could cost 130,000 pesetas). When his colleagues tried to encourage him, he simply said: someone who needs it more than I do must have taken it".
It was also usual for him to take off his coat and give it to a poor man who begged in Barcelona's winter, or to take in any Hungarian who came to Barcelona asking for help in his house in Carrer Duquesa d'Orleans. Kubala, remembering his times as a stateless refugee without papers, asked nothing. He would take them home and pay them a boat ticket to America. The motto among the refugees fleeing the Iron Curtain was that "if you get to Barcelona, look for Kubala, he will help you". He never failed.
Later, now retired, he set up a bar next to Czibor in Capitan Arenas Street, the mythical Kep Duna (blue Danube in Hungarian) that became an unofficial refugee reception centre that was monitored by the secret services of the United States, the USSR and the Spanish police. Something like the Rick's Café in the film Casablanca, but in the upper area of Barcelona.
He was the great character of Barcelona loved by all, but there was a moment when this was almost broken, strange as it may seem. It coincided with the defeat in Bern, when a part of the press came to write that "Barça must be de-Kubalized as the Soviet Union must be de-Stalinized" and, especially, when he signed for Espanyol. The earthquake was a huge one.
Meanwhile, Barcelona is directed by Lluís Miró who faces a team in disarray. Suarez has been transferred to Inter in the worst decision in the club's history and myths such as Ramallets, Tejada and Czibor were in the decline of their careers. The season starts badly and after losing at Mestalla to Valencia by a humiliating 6-2 that forces the resignation of Miro. It was time for Kubala, who was promoted to the first team in front of the joy of the fans. And the project results from the beginning. The Barça of the second part of season 61-62 recovers in La Liga and finishes second (the distance with the white ones when Kubala arrived was almost insurmountable) and avenges the 6-2 of Mestalla beating Valencia in the Camp Nou 4-0.
Facing the next season, the 62-63, Kubala can make his team by giving painful drops of some of his former teammates as it is the case of Eulogio Martinez or Evaristo. One of Llaudet's reluctances to give Kubala the job of coach was that he would have to manage some of his former teammates.
The positive expectations about Kubala's first full project were frustrated at first when the Blaugrana team had to play the final of the Copa de Ferias against Valencia, the team that caused the fall of Miró and the promotion of Kubala. And the history, by rare that it seems, repeats: Valencia returns to him to put 6-2 to the Barça. The fans explode against the team. In the return match, obviously, there is nothing to do, but Llaudet's ability to self-flagellation has no limits. As Alfredo Relaño writes, the Blaugrana president calls a dinner with the press the day before the game and makes this statement that if it happened today would open all the news.
Llaudet, in front of the press and accompanied by the coach Kubala and Gràcia as captain, asks the fans to forgive him and announces changes in the protocol of the start of the second leg. "Valencia will go out first to receive the applause, then Barcelona, to receive the whistles. Then Kubala will come out, so he can get the thunders. And finally me, so that all the whistles fall on my person, because I am the barcelonist who loves the club the most and who is destined to die on the pitch, if necessary...". He ends his speech crying. As we can see, Gaspart didn't invent anything.
The match ended in a draw and Kubala's project as Barça's coach was doomed. The manager is fired in the middle of the season and then a bomb explodes in Barcelona. Kubala accepts the offer to return to the pitch, but not as a coach, will be as a player and nothing more and nothing less than in Espanyol, Barça's eternal rival.
On 3 September 1963 Espanyol, then Español, announced that Kubala would be hired as a player. At 36 years of age, he was capable of being competitive.
His decision divides the public opinion. On the one hand, Federico Gallo and Juan José Castillo support his decision, on the other hand, Carlos Pardo or Ibáñez Escofet shoot at him. They call him a "Jew who sells himself for a plate of beans", a "traitor" and they see political interests in his decision.
Kubala explains that he wanted to continue playing and that he saw himself capable of doing so, although he accepted that he was not at Barcelona's level. He had received offers from important clubs, including River Plate and Juventus, but he doesn't want to leave Barcelona, where he feels like another Barcelonian. The Espanyol meets his expectations.
His start of the season is not bad, on the contrary, he scores in his first two games, but the team doesn't work out. The coexistence between the veteran newcomer Kubala and the team's symbol, Argilés, is not easy. Scopelli is dismissed as coach and de facto command of the team is given to the two team leaders despite their differences. The crisis erupts when the Spaniard visits the Camp Nou. The periquitos lose by 5-0 in a match in which the Barcelona crowd booed Kubala who they are eager to humiliate with his new team. Even so, at the end of the match, Kubala has a gesture to his former team that shows that he does not hold any grudge against what he has heard from the stands. At the end of the match, he organizes his teammates to make the corridor to Barça applauding the rival in recognition of the exhibition made. That gesture feels bad among the Espanyol fans and among some of his teammates. Argilés does not make the corridor and goes straight to the changing rooms.
The following year, Kubala becomes a manager-player and among the departures that he causes, there is the one of Argilés, but by contrast, Di Stéfano arrives, also hurt by his bad exit from Madrid fighting against Bernabéu.
Di Stefano and Kubala are like brothers. Even though they haven't officially played together, they have a special chemistry. A friendship that is forged when the Argentinian is about to sign for Barcelona.
When Di Stéfano arrives in Barcelona to sign for Español, he stays first at the Avenida Palace Hotel, but after a month he is living in Kubala's house as one of the family. The children of both always maintained a relationship as if they were brothers.
One of the players under Kubala's command was Jose Maria Rodilla, one of the players who would soon form the famous 'Dolphins' forward line. At 80 years of age, Rodilla remembers Kubala.
"I have a wonderful memory of Kubala, I always had a special affection for him. Not in vain, he was the one who signed me for Espanyol", he remembers when answering the call of this newspaper to which he confesses that* "normally I do not make declarations, but to speak about Kubala I do whatever is needed"*.
Rodilla, former teammate at Espanyol, has clear that "he was the best player in the world in terms of technique. Di Stéfano was the best footballer, but he didn't have his technique. Alfredo was more intense and more player of the whole field, but he could not do things that Kubala did"
Those who had the privilege of playing with both of them remember that "for example, Di Stefano wouldn't leave you alone for a minute, he was all over you and the fights were intense, but he always set an example, he never asked you for anything that he didn't do. Kubala was more paternalistic and tolerant. For example, he would ask us to do as he did in training, and while sitting down he would be able to make 3,000 touches on the ball without dropping it. Only he could do that."
Rodilla adds a story that explains Kubala's quality as a player-coach at the age of 38: "We went to play a friendly at Amposta and they called a foul on the edge of the box. Kubala takes the ball and whacks it into the corner. The referee made him repeat it because someone had moved or I don't know what. Kubala takes the ball and wham, back to the square. And the referee tells him that he has to repeat. That day Kubala got angry and left the field."
Rodilla recalls that Kubala's move from Barça to Espanyol created controversy in the city, but that he was oblivious to it. "He was still a magnificent person, I never heard him say a bad word against anyone. He never got into an argument, he was goodness personified, he was unlucky in his time as a coach, but as a coach he is one of the best I've ever had, with a great love for young players and always trying to help you improve."
In 1968 he returned to Spain and trained the Córdoba team for a short period of time until he was called up to the national team. Kubala will manage the Spanish team until 1980, when he signs for Barcelona again as a coach.
Kubala's debut with Spain was, once again, a propaganda match for the regime. It was played in the Estadio de la Línea de la Concepción against Finland and Spain beat their rivals 6-0 in a match that was no longer useful. Spain had missed out on qualifying for the Mexico '70 World Cup, but the idea of that game was to showcase a great field that could be seen from Gibraltar as if to give jealousy to those in the Rock for the sports culture of Spain. Dictatorship things.
It's true that at that time Spain was struggling more than anything else on the international scene. It did not qualify for the 1974 World Cup because of Katalinski's goal in the play-off match in Frankfurt, and in both the 1978 World Cup and the 1980 European Championship the team fell in the first round, but there is still no one from that era who will make a judgement against Kubala.
"Kubala, one ahead of his time. No doubt he had a lot to do with his past as a footballer. And not just like any other player, like the best! I remember him always saying to me: 'Ruben, you have to get out of the way on the other side of the ball. Look for the space, not the ball. The goal I scored in Yugoslavia has to do with everything he taught me," he told Fermin de la Calle in an interview with AS Ruben Cano, the hero of the famous 'Battle of Belgrade' in the match that took Spain to the World Cup in Argentina. Yes, the one with the goal by Cardeñosa that could have changed Kubala's record with the national team.
He did a lot to improve Spanish football and his idea regarding the incorporation of foreigners to improve the level of Spanish football was key in the future development of the Spanish competitive level.
His players remember him as a didactic person, tactically bold and very close. At a time when fury was the hallmark of the game, Kubala never forgot that he was the heir to the Magyar tradition of the Honved and the Hungary who, by moving the ball, shocked the world the day they destroyed England at Wembley 3-6.
For the average football fan, Kubala may have been a half-hearted coach who embodied an era of the national team in which nothing was won, as has been the case most of the time, and he became popular for his expressions that would now be meme material on social networks. The national team was known as the 'Kubala boys' and the coach's catchphrase before the matches saying "boys well, optimal morale" was the fashionable phrase in the coffee shops of the 70s in Spain.
But among his colleagues, Kubala still deserved reverential respect. "The first goal was authentically Latin, cunningly scored and perfectly studied. I can only congratulate Kubala on his previous tactical work," said German boss Helmut Schön after facing and losing to Spain in a friendly in which the recent world semi-finalist and next world champion fell to the Kubala boys at the Sanchez Pizjuan with two strategic goals from Arieta. Yes, Arieta against Müller. Seeler, Beckembauer, Maier, Netzer and company.
He left the national team in 1980 to join Barça as the coach of Núñez's second project in an operation that was the prelude to what would happen in the World Cup in Russia with Lopetegui. Kubala committed to Barça while he was coach and tried to alternate functions, but Porta refused. Finally, on 8 June 1980, four days before the start of the European Championship, Kubala signed for the Blaugrana team, which he would join after the European Championship.
His second spell at the head of Barça did not go well either and he was dismissed mid-season. He continued his adventure on the bench as coach of Saudi Arabia (in that he was also a pioneer), training Malaga and the Paraguayan national team before retiring from football on the bench of Elche.
He spent his final years in Barcelona as active as ever. Playing with Barça veterans, helping his teammates, not having a no for anyone and playing tennis every day or going for a run or cycling routes exhibiting an enviable physical condition.
Until the light of genius and the glory faded away 18 years ago. A degenerative brain disease put an end to the adventure, but not to the legend of a world football myth. An icon that changed the lives of so many people that they wouldn't fit even in a stadium.
The coffin with the mortal remains of Kubala was carried on shoulders, amidst the applause of the fans who gathered at the doors of the church of Santa Tecla, by Alfredo Di Stéfano, Gustau Biosca, Eduardo Manchón, Estanislao Basora, Joan Segarra, Josep Bartomeu, Luis Suárez, Antoni Ramallets and Gonzalvo III.
He rests in the cemetery of Les Corts, next to the Camp Nou because that is what he left written in his will, while Serrat sang to him about how...
...Pelé was Pelé and Maradona was the one and that's it. Di Stéfano was a pit of mischief. Honour and glory to those who made the sun shine on our football. Everyone has his merits; to each his own, but for me none is like Kubala. Respectable silence is requested, for those who haven't enjoyed him, I'll say four things: he stops it with his head, he drops it on with his chest, he sleeps it off with his left, crosses the pitch with the ball attached to the boot, leaves the midfield and enters the box showing the ball, hides it with his body, pushes with his ass and gets in with his heels. He pisses on the centerback with a dedicated piece. and touches her gently to put her on the path to glory.