The player voted Barcelona’s greatest, who defied tuberculosis

Ethan Tait

Football fans of today are enamoured with the present and watching the spectacular of the modern age on YouTube. Highlights of Lionel Messi are watched and adored by millions of fans worldwide, as they gawk at his ability to make even make some of the world’s best defenders look like Sunday leaguers; we’re looking at you here, Jerome Boateng.

The Barcelona man has countless records to his name, the board of directors at FC Barcelona wrapped around his finger, and claims for him to be the best of all-time. Unfortunately for Messi, he isn’t even the greatest Barcelona player of all-time. 

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Barcelona fans identify with the club with legends like Johan Cryuff, Ronaldinho, and of course, Messi, but often forget the importance of the players from the earliest years. In all honesty, Laszlo Kubala is often overshadowed in the history books as well playing in the era of the all-powerful and corrupt Real Madrid with their talisman, Alfredo di Stefano. Real Madrid weren’t the only club using government connections to get players that would forever change their identity.

Lionel Messi might have a museum in Barcelona and a statue in Buenos Aires, but Laszlo Kubala has the Camp Nou. The cathedral of European football was made for Kubala. Barcelona owes everything to the man who was voted the best player in 1999 to ever wear the colours of the Blaugrana. With that vote, he beat out legends like Cryuff, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, and countless others to take the top spot. Messi doesn’t deserve to shine the heavy, leather boots of Laszlo Kubala.

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The road to Barcelona was unconventional at best for Kubala and wasn’t a situation where he grew up and had the chance to develop at La Masia. The Hungarian grew up in a war-torn, communist country and had to escape using guile to chase a dream to be a footballer and save his life. Kubala was crossing borders and taking names. No big deal, right?

Kubala would stop at nothing to be able to ball out. Once in Spain, he faced the Franco’s team, Real Madrid, and the Franco regime and didn’t care. He actually embraced it as Spain was his new found home and starred in Francoist propaganda (because national socialism is that much better than communism).

He was Cristiano Ronaldo before Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kubala also was told he wasn’t going to be able to play the game – that he loved and that saved his life -because of tuberculosis. He didn’t want to hear it. He didn’t want to retire, so Kubala gave a middle finger to the haters and made a full recovery. Nowadays, some players won’t want to play with the flu. Without Kubala’s willingness to fight, Barcelona wouldn’t be on a pedestal that it is today.

The 1950s were dominated by the five consecutive and questionable European titles of Real Madrid and the overarching presence of Francisco Franco in footballing affairs. Still, Kubala dominated whenever he was put on the pitch.  The adopted Spaniard saw things that no one else saw and analysed the game before there were true scouts and football pundits. He was a talent and a footballing mind we didn’t appreciate and football fans don’t truly recognise as Barcelona’s GOAT.

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Messi might be magesterial and all, but Kubala was a conductor of the footballing symphony and the Camp Nou was built to cater to the needs of the Hungarian footballing god – or whatever nation he claimed to be his own. However, he did have the loyalty of Zlatan when it came to national teams.

Laszlo Kubala didn’t score as many goals as Messi. He will be largely overshadowed because of his lack of trophies. He never won (or played) in a World Cup, but neither did Messi. But the man who came to Barcelona as an orphan of sorts didn’t only shake up Spanish football, but world football.

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