Phillip May Visits Vasas


Phillip May writes about his recent coaching trip in Budapest, and how it compares back home to his beloved Liverpool.

For two months this summer I stayed in Budapest coaching football at the Vasas Akademia international football camp. It was honestly an amazing experience and I would love to share some of it with you all. For those of you who don’t know about Hungarian football (don’t worry, neither did I before this summer) here is a brief introduction to where I was and who I was working for.

Vasas Football Club is one of the most successful clubs in Hungary with six championships. They have the second oldest Football academy in Hungary and were running the first program of its type in the country. Vasas ran throughout the summer an intensive five day per week program, where we have successfully combined football training and coaching with English language lessons in a fun and exciting atmosphere. The age groups range for six to sixteen with groups of up to twenty two players.

I’ll start from the beginning and explain some of the most memorable and interesting moments of the summer.

Upon arrival at Budapest International Airport I got a real eye opener to Hungarian life and football. I was aware that I would be greeted at the airport and taken to my accommodation.  The head of the academy program was stood bold as brass in the airport terminal which I thought was bizarre. I was expecting to meet him later that day or at an Academy meeting but there he was to collect me. The Hungarians are very European in their behaviour and as I stuck my hand out to greet him, I was thrust into a big bear hug. You can say what you like about other European countries but, the one thing you can’t accuse them of is not being friendly. So, hugging out of the way, we drove through the City to my accommodation. My first impressions of Budapest were that it was an incredibly beautiful place. The buildings, the high streets, maybe I had just been on a Jet2 aeroplane for too long and the sight of anything other than an overly made-up air hostess was incredible. Either way, I was extremely happy to be there. I got a guided tour through the city and we drove passed the Ujpest Football club and stadium, one of Vasas’ rivals.  The stadiums are what I would describe as ‘Character filled’. This is estate manager speak for “Small but interesting”.  I pretty much just went to sleep after this as I had an early start first thing; my first training session was only a few hours away!

Morning came, and I was woken up by the head of the program Sandor. We commuted to the training ground using the public transport, which by the way is incredible in Budapest. I spent £30 on a monthly pass that I could use on any form of public transport that runs 24 hours a day and is as regular as clock work. You can get anywhere in the city in 15 minutes. Anyway I’ll stop talking about the public transport. After 10 minutes or so we arrived at the Vasas Pasaréti Sportcentrum which is the academy training ground. Wow, just wow. The whole ground is incredible. It has a full sized 5th generation Astroturf football pitch. 3 five a side pitches and 2 further netted goal keeping pitches. This was honestly a coach’s dream! One by one the players started to arrive being dropped off by their parents. I had no idea that they were expecting me and looking forward to meeting me. The more the morning went on, the more embarrassed I felt. My Hungarian was none existent and the parents English was perfect. I must admit, If I could have my time again I would have learned some Hungarian before going but, hindsight is a wonderful thing.  It was lovely to speak to them in English and I was extremely impressed with all of them.

First training session started and although the kids didn’t speak much if any English it was amazing the reception I got. I was extremely impressed when the players started to talk to me about Liverpool FC. Maybe it’s the Liver bird tattoo on my calf or maybe it’s the fact that I can’t go more than 5 minutes without talking about the club I love so much (even to people who speak a different language and have no idea what I’m saying) but the kids quickly picked up on the fact that the best way to get into my good books was to talk about Liverpool FC. Now, as this was the first day, the kids didn’t really speak much English as I said, so instead they listed every Liverpool player past and present that they could think of and put their thumbs up, looking at me for approval. It was very sweet. Throughout the days, weeks and months this continued and even evolved into naming Chelsea and United players and then booing which I found quite funny. The football sessions started off quite basic as we needed to assess the ability of the players. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the standard of Hungarian football is not the same as here in the UK. The players work hard enough but have a tendency to be somewhat selfish with the ball. Still, as a coach it’s my job to improve players and I was so excited about introducing them to ‘The Liverpool way’ pass and move style of football.

One thing that was very different to coaching in England is the level of respect you get from not only the players but from the parents too. I have had occasions when coaching teams in England where parents have yelled at me or sometimes called me on my mobile to have a moan about their son not playing enough or getting enough attention which I found extremely irritating. As a coach I don’t just enjoy coaching the best players, in fact, I enjoy coaching the players who can progress more and can take the most from you. It is an extremely proud moment when you see a player progress due to your training or see them do something in a game like score, set up a goal or break down play using a method or style that you taught them. The children that want to learn and work hard are the players that I enjoy coaching the most and here I was, in Hungary, with an entire group of hungry (yeah yeah Hungry Hungarians), enthusiastic, polite and respectful players who were eager to learn. It was, from a coaching perspective, perfect.  The other difference that stuck me straight away was the replica shirt situation. Now, in my experience here in the UK most of the players will be wearing replica shirts, some Real Madrid or Barcelona shirts but most are of the team they support here in the UK and I expected it to be the same in Hungary, the kids wearing Vasas, Ujpest and Debecen shirts (The same Debecen we beat 1-0 with a David N’gog goal back in 2009 the night we crashed out of the UCL) But no, I was wrong. In a group of 22 players I saw one, yes one, Vasas shirt and that was it. The rest of the players were wearing Real shirts, Barca shirts, Juve shirts, you name it, but not local. This for me is one of the major problems with Hungarian football. All their best players go abroad at a young age as the Hungarian league can at present offer them no future at all which is sad.

I grew up within half an hour’s drive of Anfield and I feel privileged to have gone to watch my team play, I have seen the likes of Rush, Fowler, Owen, Stevie G, Torres and now Suarez excite the Kop and it saddens me that these kids in Budapest have no desire to go and watch their team play. All of the best Hungarian players have already long gone by the time the first teams need them to light up the Hungarian league. A perfect example of this would be our very own Kristian Adorjan. Now for any of you who haven’t seen this youngster play with Liverpool reserves he has a lot of talent and a habit of scoring very impressive goals, a brilliant habit to have. We bought Kristian in 2009 as a fresh faced youngster not long out of school from MTK Budapest (another Vasas rival). Now don’t get me wrong, I am very happy that Liverpool are doing what so many other clubs in Europe are doing and getting the best talent early. However, I do wonder what the attitude of Hungarian kids would be if they had players like Kris that they could not only look up to but go and watch play for their local teams.

As the weeks went on more and more Liverpool shirts started to appear which was cool to see. I’d taught them well. The players English lessons were going well and we could now have a conversation. Ok, conversation is maybe a little kind, but they were improving and got their point across really well on the field. My Hungarian was coming on also but the kids were finding English much easier than I was finding their language. One of the proudest moments that will live with me forever is one of my young wingers making a clever run down the right only to turn, face the midfielder with the ball and shout “Yes! Go-ed lad!” I still to this day have no idea if he understood what he was saying, but he got the pass so it worked. Even the shy kids were starting to feel comfortable enough to try a few English phrases. One day I was wearing my Liverpool shirt with DALGLISH 7 on the back. One of the kids asked: “Who’s Dalglish?” And to my surprise one of the quieter players answered: “The world’s best Coach.” At this exact moment I knew I had made a difference. I had taught them not only skills and techniques they could use on the pitch but lessons about football in general.

I am aware that I have written rather a lot on this so if you have got this far thank you for reading! Vasas are a very special club and the players, staff and people that I met there will be great friends of mine for many years to come. I am extremely honoured and proud to have worked with such a great club and I was flattered when I received the news just last week that I have been offered a coaching role there again next summer which is wonderful. I learned so much from them and I’d like to think they learned something from me to. After all, that’s what coaching is all about.

My Vasas shirt is sat on the hanger taking pride of place right next to my Liverpool shirt (fortunately the Vasas wear the same shade of red). I have plenty more memories to share so if you have found this article interesting please feel free to message me on twitter or leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading!

Hajra Vasas – You’ll Never Walk Alone.

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