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FC Barcelona Blast From The Past: Laszlo Kubala

What makes FC Barcelona different from any club in world football is their history. Politics, patriotism and sport mixed into one symbol of Catalan nationalism, a symbol of the people who were repressed. To fully understand how highly regarded FC Barcelona is, you have to understand it's history.

This series is a only a little part of that history, the players who have made the Blaugrana the club they are now. And since this is my first official article, I'll start with the greatest Cule of them all: Laszlo Kubala.

Now now, before you take your torches over to me, that's not my opinion (although it could be). That is according to a poll conducted in the club's centenary year (1999). I'm actually a little surprised that Kubala came out on top, given that Johan Cruyff is easily the most recognizable name in FC Barcelona's history and countinues to be one of the symbols of the club. But a closer look justifies Kubala's status as the greatest Cule ever.

Laszlo Kubala was born in Budapest, Hungary to parents of Slovak descent. He started at Hungarian club Ganz TE, playing with and against players three to five years his senior. He was then signed by Hungarian giants Ferencvaros when he was 18 where he met future Barcelona teammate and Hungary great Sandor Kocsis.

In 1946, SK Bratislava signed him to lucrative deal only for Kubala to go back to Hungary in 1948 Vasas. In 1949, the Soviets came to power in Hungary and Kubala fled the country to Allied-occupied Austria and moved on to Italy. The Hungarian Football Federation accused him of leaving the country without permission and failing to do military service and gets FIFA to ban him for a year.

Kubala then formed a team called Hungaria, a team full of Eastern European refugees. While playing a Spanish selection team, he was spotted by former Barcelona great Pepe Samitier and persuaded him to sign for FC Barcelona, complete with a long contract and a brand new passport.

He made his Barca debut during the 1951 season and helped the club with the Copa del Generalisimo (now known the Copa Del Rey). In his first La Liga season, he scored 27 goals and helped the club win five trophies in two years, including the Copa Latina, a forerunner to the European Cup, now the Champions League.

Never the most physical imposing of players, he excelled by dribbling around defenders, being two-footed, having an extraordinary technique paired with his otherworldly endurance, a trait he apparently passed on to future Blaugrana strikers Samuel Eto'o and David Villa.

Eventually, Hungarian greats Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor joined him at the club and along with a young Luis Suarez and Evaristo, kicked off the most successful era in FC Barcelona's history (before the 1990's and the current era of course).

For a decade, he was the man in Barcelona and basically the reason the Nou Camp was built. In a decade with the club, he scored 196 goals in competitive matches. With him, FC Barcelona accumulated a multitude of honors, among them the La Liga/Copa double in 1959 and the La Liga/Fairs Cup (Europa League) double in 1960. He temporarily retired in 1961 to become the coach of the senior team until he was ousted in 1963. Kubala then moved on to RCD Espanyol as a player/manager until 1966, until he moved to FC Zurich to complete his nomadic playing career.

His international career is very much in line with his club career, nomadic. He played for the Czechoslovakia national team for 6 games in 1946-47, and 3 games for the Magyars of Hungary in 1948. After moving to Barcelona, he adopted a Spanish nationality and in 19 games scored 11 goals. Despite his talent, he never played in a major tournament for Spain.

Johan Cruyff is the name recognized most by casual Barcelona fans, and he is the godfather of modern Barcelona football. As a player though, Kubala was better, the best to wear the garnet and blue jersey, the highest tribute to a man who played in a club with a history as rich as FC Barcelona.

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