Ripe for improvement at Újpest?

 Written by János Afánál

After a number of reasonable but not brilliant seasons Lilák flirted with the relegation zone for most of 2011-12, eventually finishing 13th. However, prospects this time may well be better. The Belgian owner, Roderick Duchâtelet, has now been in control since October 2011 and settled most of the financial issues left behind by previous incumbents, so the club is now in a much more stable position. They have also appointed a new coach, Jos Daerden, who unsurprisingly is also Belgian. As a player he spent his best years with Standard Liège (owned by our owner’s father Roland) and also played for the Belgian national team. In coaching he has had a relatively successful career in Belgium, Holland and Ukraine most recently at Charleroi who won the Belgian 2nd Division last season.

Last season was the worst finishing position in 20 seasons for Újpest and the great team of the 1970’s which won 9 championships in 11 years seemed light years away. The squad looked decent on paper but for some reason failed to perform with any consistency on the pitch, the revolving door of coaches over the past few years can hardly have helped. Zoran Spisljak deserved to see out the season in my view as there had been some signs of a recovery but it was not to be and it was left to the new Belgian assistant Marc Leliévre to oversee the end of the relegation battle in a caretaker capacity. He remains at the club as no 2 to Daerden and also joining the staff from Belgium  is fitness coach Steve Vanharen..

On the playing side a major positive is that there is always a stream of promising young players coming through at Újpest and this goes way back, even earlier than the last fifteen years when such advocates of youth as Várhidi Péter, Filkor Attila, Urbányi István and Mészöly Géza were at Újpest. As with all clubs these days, there will be overseas signings, but the introduction of Hungarian youth is vital and this is likely to continue with club stalwarts like Pálinkás András and Brockhauser István involved at first team level. In addition to that the club have re-recruited Víg Péter to run the B team where lots of this young talent will gain valuable experience against hardened pro’s in NB II. Péter had previously worked with that team for 7 years and was head coach when the B team won the NB III championship in 2010; so he can take some responsibility for, and pride in, most of the young Hungarians now in the first team picture.

The squad from last season is largely intact and to that have been added Bavon Tshibuabua a 20 year old DR Congo international striker from Germinal Beerschot, Grégory Christ a very experienced French midfielder from Sint Truiden and, on a season long loan, there is Yadin Zaris who scored 11 goals for Maccabi Herzliya as they finished 3rd in the Israeli NB II last term, he netted twice for us in three pre-season matches. Other new signings are Naim Aarab the Belgium U21 defender/midfielder from Larissa but last season on loan at Charleroi and Filip Stanisavljević a Serbian midfielder from Javor Ivanjica. Finally, 18 year old keeper Banai Dávid has signed his first professional contract. Also like a new signing is the return of Vermes Krisztián, the Hungarian international defender has been out for a year with a cruciate injury and if back to full fitness he will be a major plus.

Triallists during pre-season included Kenny Gillet the French left back who was with Inverness CT in the SPL last season, Yannick Salmon a Jamaican youth international midfielder from Chicago Fire and Ivica Milutinović a Serbian left back from Ethnikos Achna. Currently it looks as though these three will not be signed. Making a number of appearances have been Ramazan Cevik a forward from the Standard Liège youth team and José Maria “Chema” Antón the Spanish u21 left back from Red Bull Salzbug so either or both of those may be added to the list of new signings.

In terms of the departure lounge Egerszegi Tamás and Fodor Marcell have gone on loan to Siófok, while Kiss Zoli and Bognár István are also out on loan but will play NB II football for Véber Gyuri’s Mezőkövesd. I’m disappointed about Tomi who did so well on loan last season that Egervári Sándor called him up for national team duty, but at least he is still our player. Dvorschák Gábor’s contract has not been renewed which is a shame, he’s had few opportunities but done really well in some big games and could be a good signing for someone. In happier news Lipták Zoltán has transferred to Győr and Nikon “El Maestro” Jevtic has left the club. News of Rajcz’s departure have been premature; training and playing the last two games with the B team he scored in the first and in the second Peti notched a hat-trick. Twice in recent years he’s been “out of the door” only to suddenly sign a new contract just as the season starts. Possibly the B team thing was a deliberate wake-up call from the coaching staff, don’t write him off yet.

Lázár Bence, Rubus Tamás, Simon Krisztián and now Barczi Dávid are currently recovering from injury but despite that, pre-season has gone much better than might have been expected. Opening with a low-key 4-3 win over Eger, Újpest then went to Austria and beat First Vienna 3-2. The squad next travelled to Belgium for four matches and began on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering by Kortrijk. Disappointing yes but Kortrijk did finish 6th in the Belgian top division last season so no real surprise. After that wake-up call the squad made some real progress in the last three matches; opening with a creditable 1-1 against Sint Truiden, Lilák then beat top Saudi side Al Faisaly 3-1 and finished off with a good 1-0 win over Royal Antwerp.

With the changes in club and team management plus some new signings it is difficult to predict what the season holds for Újpest. There are still a number of key players from last season in the spine of the team like Balajcza, Mihajlović, Vasiljević and Kabát; although I have a feeling that Balajcza may face competition from Horváth Tomi or even one of the very young keepers and that Kabát’s presence may be limited with the other attacking options now available. As at all clubs the sign of good management and coaching is in getting disparate skills and forces to come together in building a team and at this stage there is insufficient evidence to say if Daerden and co can make it work. The talent at his disposal however, is surely enough to merit a top six finish (hmm could have said something similar at the start of last season) but in my view Lilák could finish anywhere from 3rd to14th.

It’s the start of a new season and the time to be positive. I’m going for 5th or better. Hajra Lilák!!!