The future of Hungarian football

Features writer Bence Bocsak looks at the state of Hungarian football and what we can do to improve it.

Adam Szalai’s words highlighted the harsh reality of Hungarian football and its current state. An 8-1 demolition suffered at the hands of Holland has finally drawn the curtains to what looked like a fairly promising campaign and one that could finally take Hungary to a major competition. However, as it always seems to, it all fell apart towards the end. The 8-1 was just the final straw, earlier this year Hungary had the chance to beat Romania on home soil, before they folded and let the opposition score a late equaliser that ultimately led them to 2nd spot in the group. Then followed an arguably even more humiliating defeat away to Romania, expectations were high, yet the Hungarians crumbled under pressure and were thrashed 3-0. The defence looked shaky throughout the qualification process and although there were a few highs, especially the two results against Turkey, home and away, 3rd spot is pretty much where we are as a country. In fact it should be considered as an impressive achievement considering we finished ahead of a team of Turkey’s stature who have experienced some terrific World and European cup moments over the last 10-20 years, whereas we haven’t featured in any since 1986. So where do we go on from here?

Mediocrity is not where I want to be, of course emulating the mighty Magyars of the 50s is a long way away, that’s of course if we ever get to that level again. For me getting to one World Cup would just be enough, however for that to be the case, a major change needs to occur in Hungarian football. Academies need to be strengthened, coaches need to be developed and we need to ensure we have the right mentality in the Hungarian set-up.

There are already a couple of Academies in Hungary who I would say are at a decent level and would be able to compete with Europe’s elite in terms of the facilities and the quality of coaching, the players ability is still a long way away. For example at MTK’s Academy, coaches not only develop the young players’ ability, however they also prepare them for the tactical and mental side of the game- two elements that are vital in modern football. In addition to that players also get the taste of different football cultures, and regularly participate in European tournaments. Meanwhile the extremely talented ones get the opportunity to go on trials for clubs abroad and showcase their ability to well regarded coaches in the game. The work they do over at the Academy should be an example to all, and thus unsurprisingly countless players have gone onto achieve bigger and better things after their development in the well renowned Sandor Karoly Academy, including the likes of Krisztian Nemeth and Krisztian Adorjan.

Furthermore what’s even more impressive regarding MTK’s academy is that many of the youngsters also get their opportunity in the first team, and instead of investing on foreign talents, MTK acquire their players from the Academy.

Their academy is by far the best in the country and the only one that comes a little close to being at the same level are Honved who too have an exemplary academy, and many of their young talents are currently featuring in their first team, including the likes of Balint Vecsei and Richard Vernes. Unfortunately though in recent years Honved too, just like the rest of the teams in NB1 have seen an influx of foreign players, which has halted the development of some of their most promising youngsters including Gergely Bobal who was dubbed the saviour of Hungarian football at the age of just 16. Now 18, he is struggling to break into a Honved side who currently lie 8th in Nb1. Now compare him with other 18 year olds elsewhere, Adnan Januzaj at Manchester United, Raheem Sterling at Liverpool or Luke Shaw at Southampton, have all featured regularly for their club’s first teams respectively. I’m not denying he doesn’t have potential or quality, however these youngsters need to be given a chance otherwise their careers will go down the drain. Especially someone like Bobal, the young lad has been hyped about so much in the media, he’s facing constant pressure and the only way he can ease that pressure is by playing, but unfortunately he’s not and when he does get the occasional run-out, everyone expects him to be a world beater. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. For me honestly he would have been better of going to a club abroad, he’d probably get more taste of first team action anyway!

Just look at the likes of Adam Szalai or Kenny Otigba, they have both spent the majority of their careers abroad and have went onto make a name for themselves, the latter is beginning to with some eye catching performances for Heereveen this season. Meanwhile Szalai who’s potential was evident at an early stage as no one without potential to become a somebody in football features in Real Madrid’s academy, has gone from featuring in a struggling Bundesliga side to scoring goals in the Champions League. Meanwhile Krisztian Adorjan, Soma Novothny, Kristof Polgar and Krisztian Tamas who are all currently at top clubs look to follow suit of the two mentioned above. However these are only a few players and not every one of them are guaranteed to make the grade, therefore we need more.

The only way Hungarian football is every going achieve that is by focusing the agenda on youth, with all the NB1 club’s attempting to imitate the success of MTK’s academy and the NB1 introducing a limit on foreign players. This way youngsters will be given a chance to develop and flourish in a first team environment. For me another decisive factor is the fact that Hungarian players will attract more fans, the supporters love seeing homegrown talent come through the ranks and impress, and I’m sure they’d much rather witness one of their ‘own’ featuring for the club, rather than a foreigner who doesn’t give a monkey and can’t even speak the language. However of course I stress that there are exceptions, some foreigners like Besic at Ferencvaros have given an awful lot to Hungarian football and they’re a joy to watch. Paulo Sousa could also fit into that category, as he did a magnificent job in increasing the popularity of Hungarian football and achieved miracles with Videoton, memorably overcoming Sporting 3-0. However, he too decided to play his more experienced foreign stars rather than the up and coming talents such as Adam Gyurcso or Istvan Kovacs who mostly made appearances off the bench.

Limiting the amount of foreign players or even banning the clubs to acquire foreign talents entirely will not bring immediate success, however it will put the country in the right direction. Although I don’t quite support the idea of not allowing a single foreigner to be included as I do believe some of them bring a lot to NB1, liming their numbers to just 3 or 4 in a squad would help an awful lot though. It would mean that teams would begin to focus more on bringing their own players through and also to consider thoroughly when deciding on purchasing a player from abroad. Therefore they’ll purchase the best players and we’ll no longer have useless foreigner reducing the playing time of talented young Hungarians.

Going even deeper into the problems surrounding Hungarian football, for me coaching at youth levels is appalling. I for one was involved in it for a short period myself and still know many who are currently at Academies. Obviously there are exceptions, however most of the coaches are greedy and have no knowledge of football itself, they’ve either taken up coaching for the money or to increase their kid’s chances of playing. You might think this only occurs at the small clubs and not at NB1 level, however absurdly, some of the big clubs run their Academies with coaches such as these. There are at least 70-80 kids in each age category (Most are only there to pay the monthly fee and they don’t actually play in games), the kids who do get their chance aren’t always the most talented either. Often the technical ones who are small of stature are pushed aside, and the more physical players who won’t necessarily go on to become phenomenal players get the chance to play instead or the ones whose parents are friends with the manager. Coaches don’t educate, they intimidate the kids, for them the most important aspect is winning, and they couldn’t care less about the development of the players. If Hungarian football were to move on, greedy and selfish coaches like these need to be eliminated from the clubs and replaced by knowledgeable ones who have a passion for the job. I strongly believe that many talents are being wasted due to poor coaching, and subsequently they lose their love for the game, ultimately deciding to play other sports such as water polo and handball.

In addition, the mentality of the Hungarian players needs to be changed; they’re all losers. Every time they go out on the pitch against a tougher opposition, they seem to lack belief and are more prone to making errors. As Szalai mentioned in his controversial press conference earlier this month, there’s a massive difference between playing in front of a couple of thousand in NB1 and then turning up to play in front of 50 thousand in Romania and the Netherlands. Some players can deal with that pressure, however as we witnessed this year some just simply cannot. Therefore who ever Egervari’s successor is, his first job will be to make the players believe again, that they can cause upsets. The fact that Szalai was so adamant in his speech about Hungary having no chance against Holland was just upsetting. If any team goes out with that state of mind, they are going to suffer an 8-1 drilling every time. Obviously, we only heard from Szalai thus far who didn’t feature in the game, however he also mentioned how many of his teammates shared his ideas. Quite clearly there were issues in the dressing room behind closed doors, and although it may not have appeared so evident but Egervari’s method wasn’t liked by many of the players. Just take Huszti for example, he’s by far one of the most talented Hungarian wingers around, besides Dzsudzsak. However he was forced to quit international football, following a bust-up with Egervari. The coach wasn’t liked amongst the senior players, the likes of Szalai and Huszti were brave to come out, although I still do believe that there were others who secretly didn’t agree with Egervari’s approach.

Therefore part of the next step for the MLSZ will be to find a successor for Egervari who will have control over the players and someone whom the players will respect. For a country like Hungary who unlike England haven’t produced well renowned managers over the last 20-30 years, choosing the right candidate is difficult, hence why a foreign manager is the preferred option. Hungary require someone who will give youth a chance, has the ability to earn respect from the players and the fans and most importantly is there for the long term. A quick fix is not what we’re looking for, Hungary need a simple plan, the NB1, MLSZ and the new manager will need to cooperate and bring everything into order in Hungarian football.

For me one vital aspect of why the national team struggles to pick up results against the big sides is the lack of experience at playing in large venues filled with thousands of fans. This could be easily fixed, simply instead of playing NB1 players such as Devecseri, Guzmics and so on, give the youngsters a go. Even with the lack of talents produced there are a few Hungarian teenagers who are on hot form right now. The likes of Kenny Otigba, Krisztian Adorjan, David Holman, Andras Rado and Mario Nemeth should be given a chance. The probability is that they will be torn apart to begin with by the bigger sides, however as they continue to experience playing in big stadiums in front of huge crowds at a young age, later on in their careers they will be less terrified and more suited to the challenge ahead. The other advantage of this is that throwing them out on the international stage means that they’re more likely to be spotted by scouts abroad and if they impress, just like Dzsudzsak did against Italy back in 2007, they can easily get snapped up by top European clubs, ultimately increasing the possibility of them playing in front of bigger audiences, thus they’ll gain more confidence and subsequently become better players in the process.

Overall a lot needs to be altered before we can witness Hungary competing in World Cups. However if the MLSZ set-out a similar plan, success will come. It takes time though, at least 5-10 years, therefore fans need to be patient and made aware that everything will come good in the end. For now I just hope something does change otherwise Hungary will continue to decline and fade away even further from Europe’s elite