Hungary ace Florian Albert warrants a place among football's all-time greats. He may have travelled no further in the FIFA World Cup™ than to the last eight but this should be by no means the sole measure of the talents of a wonderfully elegant forward who, aged 20, helped Hungary reach the quarter-finals in Chile in 1962, when his four strikes placed him as the tournament's joint top-scorer.
A blacksmith's son, Albert grew up in Hercegezante, a town near the border with the former Yugoslavia, where he played football with his two brothers. After the family moved to Budapest, he signed up for Hungary's best-loved club, Ferencvaros, where he would remain for his entire career, from schoolboy teams to retirement.
He climbed the ranks quickly and in 1957 made his first-team debut for Ferencvaros at 16, while still a youth player. Just two league outings later, he crowned a meteoric rise with his selection for the national squad. Hungarian officials were nostalgic for the 'Magic Magyar' days of Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor and they hoped Albert would play his part in building another strong team, replacing those stars now living and playing in Spain.
A true artist with the ball at his feet, the wiry youngster (1.85 m, 75 kg) responded to the call with panache, proving himself just as capable of netting crucial goals as spreading long passes around with pinpoint accuracy. And in a side still shackled by the tactics employed at Switzerland 1954, Albert exploded a large number of received ideas, cleverly alternating between short passes and the long-ball game, proving able to switch the tempo of a match virtually singlehandedly with his remarkable technique.
Shared Golden Shoe
His first taste of the FIFA World Cup came in 1962. He scored the winning goal as Hungary opened with a 2-1 victory over England in Rancagua, then hit a spectacular hat-trick in a 6-1 rout of Bulgaria. Those goals would earn him a share of the Golden Shoe along with Brazil's Garrincha and Vava, the Soviet Union's Valentin Ivanov, Drazen Jerkovic of Yugoslavia and Chile's Leonel Sanchez, yet not even Albert's best efforts could prevent a 1-0 defeat in the quarter-finals against eventual finalists Czechoslovakia.
Albert returned to the world stage in England in 1966, and though he did not find the net this time, he left his mark in arguably greater fashion. Hungary's No9 was in inspired form in his side's victory over Brazil at Goodison Park – a match widely considered as one of the outstanding contests in the competition's history as Hungary bounced back from an opening loss to Portugal to inflict a first FIFA World Cup defeat on the South American holders since 1954.
Albert orchestrated attacks from all over the pitch, running past opponents and helping to set up all three of his side's goals. Most memorable of all was Janos Farkas's expert volley that made it 2-1, arguably the most sublime piece of skill of the entire tournament which followed Albert's clever run and pass to Ferenc Bene, who delivered the cross . Hungary's campaign would end in disappointment at the quarter-final stage once again, however, as a certain Lev Yashin barred their route in a narrow defeat by the Soviet Union.
Nicknamed 'The Emperor', Albert received recognition of his outstanding attributes when voted European Footballer of the Year in 1967. He had already enjoyed some memorable continental campaigns with Ferencvaros, helping them beat Juventus in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final of 1965, and then featured in another final in 1968 only to lose to Leeds United. In 1969, however, he was struck down by a serious fracture to his right leg, a problem aggravated by multiple complications. He carried on playing for the next five years but never reached the same heights of old.
Albert scored 31 goals for his country and collected 75 caps, the last against Yugoslavia on 29 May 1974. Not surprisingly he has not been forgotten by Hungarian football followers – and not just for the efforts of his son, Florian Albert Jr, who won six caps in the 1990s. In 2007 Ferenvaros paid tribute to his contribution to the club for whom he scored over 300 goals by renaming their home ground the Albert Stadium.