The Producer: 

Managerial Legend Gustáv Sebes and the Birth of 'Modern Football'


Hungary manager Gusztáv Sebes, one of the 20th Century's winningest managers with 49 wins, 11 draws and 6 defeats and brainchild behind the team. Sebes also chaired the committee overseeing the creation of UEFA in 1954, becoming Vice President of UEFA from 1954 to 1960.

     Of persons arrived at high places, the team for managers began with Gusztáv Sebes, a beloved and cultivated person who had been a trade union organizer in Budapest and pre-war Paris at Renault car factories and was accorded a political clean bill of health to run affairs as the Deputy Sports Minister.  Patronage by the communists and coming on with good connections, he knead his socialist credentials to a new formulaic style; and seeking a powerful ensemble through it, caused world football to witness ‘socialist football' in its prime.  His was a team game that would brush aside an assortment of individuals for six years to set milestones not set before or since.
     In fact, Sebes was a system-maker who made his mark as a brilliant pioneer and macro-manager who along the way must have shared the belief in the finite or infinite (depending on your point of view) perfectibility of the game.  
Sebes wished, however, to do more than understand the game, he wished to change it, and drew insight from the past that tell of a time some years before his own.  The views Sebes held were rooted in the phenomenal success of other great teams two decades before, namely Vittorio Pozzo, who won famous victories for Italy and Hugo Meisl of Austria.  While receptive to past currents he went many steps further as a management herald of a new age.  Sebes himself originated an observation that only in fusing a flexible base and adopting a positive, complex passing plan could football more completely realize itself and bring tactics to a besetting position and this permeated his work root and branch.  Moreover, Sebes' efforts were possessed by the quest to mirror and emulate the same as Pozzo and Meisl, principally to conscript into two core clubs the best players that country and history had bequeathed him and be the principal source of transmission for his national eleven that made possible several levels of reform simultaneously and helped achieve that union of passion, technique and imagistic precision.

     But above it all, the theme of all Sebes' goals were human relationships who learned to see his experiments making flourish a rejuvenated football culture as though football was a body of truths he needed to unearth.  It is there a story that has the re-birth of football everywhere in view which would admit the whole triumphant answer for the sport, make Hungarian football delightfully enhanced and be the sport's measure of all things.

     His main object was to command the best talents of the day as seen through a single team and to make them believe as he did: to present an example of socialism in action.  Sebes hoped his style and content would inspire his countrymen, renew their sense of common destiny and seal his team's determination to rule the world, his team idealized by the nation's own admiration.  He also probably intended to show that Hungary during its glorious football reign had produced men as great as the greatest as the now dominant Germans, Italians and Brazilians.  Fortunately for him and for the footballing world, among those who lent themselves to his purposes were several players of many-sided genius.  As their fame steadily grew around them for a remarkable lineage of seven years, the team known variously abroad as the 'Mighty', 'Magical' or "Magnificent Magyars" or simply and affectionately as the 'Golden Team' in Hungary, was thrust upon audiences with a major box-office appeal.

      Sebes composed his new movement governed by the idea that a communal solving of players equally sharing in the ball's forward propagation then dovetailing all players into defense when needed for a mutual advantage would stand as an advance for football.  He played freely around with experiments, forcing his mind through channels of deductions that drove him to work and rework the game's dialogue for rhythmical perfection.  Logically with a dose of reform motive, football, according to Sebes, can probably best be discovered through its activity form where attack and defense were mutually intelligible in one unifying operation. Sebes fathered the theory that it would be this fusion of tactics suggested by the mutual reinforcing dependence of attack and defense that were all of a piece were worked out sometime between 1948 and 1950 by the "father of modern football", Gustáv Sebes, during a doctrinaire and the most extravagant and cavalier age of football.

     If we compare Gusztáv Sebes' careful creation to then prevailing standard what first strikes us as new is the craft and team-centered quality of his work that looked forward to a splendid recognition from football posterity.  For his men football was their stage and the collective portrait was conceived as a locus of liberty among men in the most reasonable and enjoyable of worlds. 

     Proud of their abilities, Sebes in these years favored the extension of power to more of his players than had any in the past.  He was wise enough to encourage his players to abandon strict positional roles that he identified as a bottleneck to give rise to a no-limit ambiance with the team larger than the sum of its parts in a sort of catalytic alchemy.  Under his leadership, the team was one of the first to communicate a new triangle-based passing offense among an arsenal of other maneuvers with players taking pride to unselfishly sail into teams and was able to express football in ways with a deeper elemental fellowship than ever before; they were a lordly and honorable society and Sebes brings together an environment that worked for a good understanding and cohesion between players, giving first place to the values of friendship to emancipate his team from the attitudes of the majority.

     Most of all, Sebes needed the right available players to make it work.  To help start and favor that growth and best articulate that quest, he required the right local and national political permissions to lure into two club centers (Honvéd and MTK) to anchor the very best Hungarian football had to offer as a testing place, thereby binding them firmly to his cause by gathering them together in a group of unparalleled amplitude and forming them into a poised ensemble.  These liaisons and rich connections from Honvéd and MTK made the nucleus of the national team which was a finishing school for all graces of body and mind.  Here knowledge is mastery of technique and craft, talents and the limits of physical capacities were harmonized in actual creative activities and freed a gallery of distinct, worldly, vivid individuals who became the worthiest players in the world.  Clearly such a galaxy of talent, working at a level just short of supreme, has held the stage ever since.

The incorruptible admiral on a white horse, Hungary's national conservative regent Admiral Miklos Horthy (1869-1957) from 1919-1944 in Royal Hungary. Admiral Horthy achieved worldwide fame in May of 1917 at the head of the Austro-Hungarian navy from his outgunned flagship SMS Novara in the Adriatic: with only eight ships and difficult circumstances and under the threat of twelve main enemy ships and forty-seven drifters, he brilliantly outmaneuvers and miraculous defeats a vastly larger fleet. With a lifelong admiration for England, he traveled the world and won international military tournaments in fencing and tennis as a young man, and was a very good bridge player. No less a man than James Joyce, the great Irish writer, was his English teacher. Horthy was the source of the various Hungarian obscenities in Joyce's novel Ulysses, one of the 20th century's foremost novels. It was during the Horthy era that most members of the Magical Magyars began their careers.

     This team were garlanded in patriotic odes and music honoring the wisdom and just design of the socialist system and were shown in cinema theaters playing in faraway places or at home that ennobled the ideal persons.  Whether the communist authorities admitted it or not, the team was authentically a Hungarian one.  Most all of the players grew up and took up their careers playing in a free Royal Hungary during the powerful regency of Admiral Miklos Horthy (whom the people acquired as a strong and eloquent champion in 1919) or during the brief budding of democracy right after the war, but it was thoroughly socialist in formulation after 1949 that says much about the measure of Sebes' strength of inheritance.

     For a start, the attack that was enlivened with the players swinging in free-flowing style toward opponents' goal did not liken to a ' line formation ' but laid down a more fluid checkered pattern where space was created to play the ball into by changing lane assignments to find perfect pieces of land and to fabricate confusion that was simply about twenty years ahead of its time: for example if Kocsis drifted wide Bozsik moved into the center, if the right-winger Budai moved inside then defending right-back Buzanszky overlapped Budai's original position, if Hidegkuti advanced upfield, Puskas dropped back and so on, and in this way with its striking degree of overlap prefaced the first edition of "Total Football".
     Entirely prolific, the tactical shape was pursued mainly through and received its rhythm from four players: inside-left Puskas, inside-right Kocsis, well seconded by the withdrawn center-forward Hidegkuti, and attacking wing-half Bozsik poised in the middle were the players that carried on the tide in the inner life of the offense that heralded a realm of unreachable attacking football which proclaimed the team most boldly.  They were linked to Czibor on the left wing with his gleaming runs and the rightly used Laszlo Budai at wide right.

     This winsome approach was truly appreciated and became internationally famous and visually studied and appraised by European experts who came to see the new tactics at work.  Judged by the standards of the game in its time, it was found it to be quite revolutionary that looked so natural to the prevalent eye but were seldom seen before.  Thus tactics were now more in a modern hand with the way that players could overlap into areas to impart a new fluid mannerism to the sport that proved so daring in their day that this vividly sketched the foreword, in effect, to "Total Football" where individual roles in zonal positions should not be strictly predefined.
     For Sebes, midcentury modernism saw him as one of the inaugural managers at the vanguard of modern techniques to strengthen his players with what he considered up-to-date professional standards in training so that no team might hope obstruct the superior progress of his creation round the globe.  He created amid the many blessings of his natural talents a physical engine that had a clean supercharged quality, a speed and pace fused to the spiritual bedrock of camaraderie that was conductive to outsprint, outpass, and outplay competitors in an air of solid confidence.  The team he presided over was a verdant sanctuary, an athletic republic of free public spirits living a charmed cocooned life and training as professionals in its continuing drive for sporting excellence.
     With them combined, Sebes sorted his team through a clutch of big matches and left scores of masterpieces.  Most teams, therefore, could not rise above their predicament of seeing and confronting the prodigy of famous men of the people doubtless getting near their goal and scoring more often than they themselves with goals that could not be got back, nor resolving the paradoxes of a team also that did not lack a conclusive defense.  National teams seemed to founder to the tang of aptly turned passes, specialties and a prim defense that a sixty-game series hallowed their cause.  They made newsworthy football look easy until one tries to play like the Hungarians and discovers how much care has gone into the choice of handling, placements of emphasis and array of thought.  Thus, from scene to scene, for six years the team played with an irresistible appeal with other sides unable to muster those qualities to oppose the pace of events just as games became superb demonstrations of new geometry and new laws of motion raised to the level of great, imaginative art.