Since the great Kocsis, Hidegkuti, Puskas team of the nineteen-fifties broke up; Hungarian football fans have been looking to young stars to re-establish Budapest among the Continent's football centres.
Like all team building based on finding new young stars, the Hungarians' progress has not been spectacular, though there have been times when even their critics have been forced to admit they need only a spark to push them to the pinnacle of greatness. No one can say with certainty when, if ever, this extra quality will come, but it seems clear that if the Hungarians' present plans bear fruit it is from centre-forward Florian Albert that the touch of real class will come.
Albert, still only twenty-one, is already an international veteran of four years' standing, blooded in the Rome Olympic Soccer Tournament, and last year in Chile acquitting himself with distinction in the toughest school of all, the World Cup. His class is clear for all to see, while his goal-scoring record compares favourably with other European players, his style of play defies description. Slightly built and less than five foot ten, he is no bustling leader, and lacking the extra yard of pace to make him outstanding in this direction. He relies for his goals on clever footwork, intelligent anticipation and his accurate rather than fierce shooting.
As an eighteen-year-old, Albert was given "rave" notices by a host of European journalists, and drew from F.A. President Sandor Bares the remark that he was better than Puskas at the same age! At that time Albert had just helped in the 8-0 humiliation of Switzerland, and contributed three goals that sunk Hungary's keenest rivals Yugoslavia 4-2. Since then, however, there has been a noticeable pause in his development that has more than once been attributed to the lack of support he receives from his colleagues in the Ferencvaros attack. For in the national side he seems to find a zest for the game, unseen in league matches. With Ferencvaros, Albert is the star, the key man whom all opponents seek to muzzle, often by double-marking him, in the hope that the entire attack which depends very largely on him, will be blunted.
Even more experienced players have found this to be too heavy a burden, but there are two other factors that could have contributed to the temporary halt in Albert's development. The first is a deficiency that Ferencvaros have found impossible to overcome. The lack of a first class inside-forward on whom Albert can lean-forcing him to find his own way to the top. This can be likened to studying advanced physics without the guidance of a teacher-from text books alone, but the second problem that has faced Albert and Ferencvaros is how he should play. With his ability, he should be withdrawn into midfield, and freed to play an all-round game, that could ultimately lead him to the Hidegkuti-Kopa class, but his club look to him for goals, and without another player capable of getting goals regularly he remains the spearhead. Ferencvaros fans would be aghast at the thought, but the ideal move for Albert personally would be a switch to nearby Honved, where he could be linked with the bustling Lajos Tichy who has vied with him for the Hungarian goal-scoring crown for the last three years.
Albert's skill is obvious, and his potential unlimited, but in the interests of Hungarian football generally they should "free" him, either to play a roving role for the club, or release him to join another team where his abilities could be more easily developed.
When Albert was born on September 15, 1941, Hungary was already firmly established as a leading football nation, though none of their proud traditions have even yet seeped into Hercegszanto, a tiny town near the Yugoslav frontier. It was there that Florian and his two brothers played football at school with little encouragement from any quarter. No one from Hercegszimto had ever reached the heights of Hungary's First Division let alone the international arena. At that time, Albert's inclination was towards athletics, in fact at sixteen he reached 18 ft. 6 in. for the long jump, but by that time he had moved to Budapest and was well on the way to stardom with Ferencvaros.
Eleven years old, an orphan brought up by his grandmother, Albert moved to Budapest when she died in 1952 and the following year began playing in the Ferencvaros junior sides. Five years later, he made his debut in the league team scoring twice in a 3-1 win over Diosgyor and in less than four months winning a place in Hungary's Youth team bound for Sofia and the UEF A Tournament. Hungary took third place in that series, and Albert showing up so well that he was given his first full cap three weeks later, was one of the three top scorers in the series who each grabbed six goals.
Albert's way to the national team was made easy by the selectors' fruitless search for a successor to Hidegkuti who though past his best had been forced to play in the 1958 World Cup a year earlier: Machos, Tichy, Monostori and Czordas had all been tried to no avail, and Lajos Baroti in any case a firm believer in blooding players young, gave him his chance. He failed to score in his first two outings, but in the autumn a hat-trick against Yugoslavia clinched his claim to a place and though out of form for a long spell a little more than a year ago, he has been a more or less regular choice ever since.
In 1960 he was inevitably chosen for the Olympic Games in which 1958 World Cup players were barred. Albert, the key man in attack, led his line superbly, helping Hungary gain the bronze medal behind two outstanding teams from Yugoslavia and Denmark, and last year in the World Cup, he proved himself in the highest class of all. After prodding in a goal that sunk England in the qualifying rounds, Hungary reached the quarter-finals. Overall, the Hungarians had one of the youngest teams in' Chile for most of the players will still be under thirty for the 1970 series, and Albert now twenty-one will have added many more caps to his present thirty. Hungary could play a big part in the next World Cup, due to be staged in England, and Florian Albert, craftsman and scorer, will surely play a vital role.
This article first appeared in the April 1963 edition of World Soccer magazine. Despite mention of a transfer, and the benefits it held, Albert spent his career with Ferencvaros and scored over 250 goals for them. He also won the Ballon d'Or in 1967. Following a heart by-pass operation Albert died in a Budapest hospital aged 70 in October 2011.