From Budapest to Liverpool

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Written by Simon Furnivall of Kop Source

When asked to turn your mind to Hungarian football, Béla Guttman, Nándor Hidegkuti, Ferenc Puskás and the Mighty Magyars is almost certainly where your mind wanders. Their 6-3 victory over England at Wembley in 1953 remains abiding memory of their nation’s game on these shores.

The names András Simon, Krisztián Németh, Zsolt Poloskei, Adám Hajdú, Krisztián Adorján and Péter Gulácsi are likely to be considerably further down the list. They, however, are the players to have benefited from the partnership between MTK Hungaria’s Sándor Károly acedemy and Liverpool FC. And it may not be too much longer before that partnership bears first team fruit for the Merseyside club.

Set up in the summer of 2007, the partnership gives Liverpool the chance to cherry pick the cream of the talent coming through the Budapest club’s academy. Simon and Németh were the first to be taken and were soon joined by Gulácsi, initially on a loan deal.

The three had starred in the Hungarian U-17 side that reached the European Championships in Luxembourg in 2006 – Németh in particular hit the headlines with a hat-trick against Sweden in that tournament – and there were high hopes that a new production line of talent had been found, both for Liverpool and for Hungarian football.

Németh was the one upon whom hopes were initially placed. A striker with an unnerving eye for goal, he soon set about impressing in the Liverpool reserve side, scoring twice on his debut against Manchester City. Another brace followed in the ‘mini derby’ against Everton as hopes quickly grew and he formed a good understanding with another youngster new to the club, Dani Pacheco, as they secured the Premier Reserve League North title in the 2007-08 season.

Having been top scorer and named Reserve Player of the Year for that season, Németh rejected the chance to go out on loan, preferring to instead try to break into Liverpool’s first team after some impressive cameos in pre-season. He was unable to do so and was eventually loaned out to Blackpool in January 2009. Within sixty seconds of his debut, however, he’d suffered a fractured cheekbone and was sent back to Anfield.

A further loan move to AEK Athens for the 2009-10 season started brightly, but an ankle injury saw him struggle to hold down a place after Christmas. In August 2010, Németh’s Liverpool career finally came to an end with a £1M move to Olympiacos, though he made only three appearances for them before being shipped out on loan.

If Németh’s story is one of talent hindered by injury, Simon’s is somewhat different. Simon never made any waves in the reserve set up at Anfield, barely featuring on the minds of even those who spend their time watching second string football. He spent the 2009-10 season on loan in Spain with Córdoba, playing nine games but failing to get on the score sheet, before in December 2010 his contract with Liverpool was terminated. He’s since joined Gyor, after a 6 month stint with Dutch club Excelisor.

The third of that trio, goalkeeper Gulácsi, might just be the first to break through. Liverpool took up the option to make his loan deal permanent in the summer of 2008, and later that season Gulácsi got his first taste of first team action as he joined League One side Hereford United on loan. The boy from Budapest impressed, though he was unable to save the team from relegation.

Two loan spells at Tranmere Rovers followed over the next two seasons, but it was in the early part of this year that he made his breakthrough into the consciousness of many Liverpool fans. He had been on the bench, behind Diego Cavalieri, for a few early season Europa League ties under Roy Hodgson, but when Cavalieri’s replacement, Brad Jones, went to the Asian Cup with Australia, Gulácsi siezed his chance.

After Jones returned and Kenny Dalglish took over as the club’s manager, Gulácsi impressed enough on the training ground to retain his place as Pepe Reina’s understudy. He may not have got his chance to step onto the pitch in anger, but Gulácsi had certainly made a big impression. A loan spell – most likely at Championship side Hull – looks to be his next step, and whilst his road to the Liverpool first team is blocked by a sizeable Spanish frame, there are certainly whispers around the club that Gulácsi could indeed be ‘the real deal’.

There is also hope surrounding another of his countrymen, Krisztián Adorján. A languid, classy midfielder, Adorján has impressed greatly for the club’s U-18 team this season, playing ‘in the hole’ behind the prolific Adam Morgan. Adorján has gained many a fan – myself amongst them – with his creativity and a big season awaits him as he steps up to the reserve team and potentially a place in the squad for the Next Gen Series, an U-19 tournament sixteen clubs from around Europe.

There is little doubting that the partnership has provided Liverpool with talented players – Poloskei looked to be a very creative playmaker before knee injuries destroyed his time at the club whilst Hajdú was highly thought of before suffering a broken leg in training. Whether it is good for MTK is a separate question.

The club, twenty-three times Hungarian champions, and for whom such players as Guttman and Hidegkuti plyed their trade, were relegated from the top flight in the season just passed. Had names such as Németh, Gulácsi and Adorján still been on their books, their fate may not have been so grim.

From a Liverpool point of view, however, that talented youngsters keep arriving is the most important factor. If two or three players from every six who make the thousand mile trip west have first team potential, then perhaps a few more Hungarian names will become household on British shores.

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