An Optimistic Hungarian

Written by Tomasz Mortimer for InBedWithMaradona in November 2010

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the Hungarian National team during 2010. The ever-improving Magyars ended the year second in the Euro 2012 qualifying group behind World Cup finalists Holland, and with encouraging results and performances against respectable opposition, the optimism continues to build.

At the beginning of 2010, the Hungarian national team were down in the dumps. Three losses in their remaining four World Cup qualifiers dashed any hopes Hungary had of qualifying for their first major tournament since 1986, leaving manager Erwin Koeman sweating over his job.

Things didn’t get much better for Koeman and his boys. Defeats to Germany and Holland – 0-3 and 1-6 respectively – after drawing to a youthful Russian side at home, left players and fans wishing for the manager’s head. And in July, Hungary captain Gera and co got their wish.

Sandor Egervari was appointed the Dutchman’s replacement. Just last year, the former MTK boss steered a Hungarian side to the bronze medal at the Under 20 World Cup. Clearly, the MLSZ (The Hungarian Football Federation) had little choice but to task this man with the job of giving Hungarian football fans something to smile about again.

Egervari immediately gained respect from the players. Many recognised what a brilliant job he did with the Under 20s and several had worked under him in Hungarian club football. However, Egervari took a different approach to what many expected. It was thought the new national coach would draft in youngsters from his previous job like Krisztian Nemeth, Zsolt Korcsmar, Peter Gulacsi among others, but Egervari opted to only to call up only one player from that team, Vladimir Koman, who scored six goals in the Under 20 World Cup from midfield.

Many fans felt aggrieved with this decision, and called for younger players to be called up along with the likes of Zoltan Stieber and Adam Bogdan. However, a strong display against a lackluster England side, brought hope to the Magyar supporters, with Vladimir Koman being involved in the controversial Hungarian goal. And if it wasn’t for two strokes of genius from captain Steven Gerrard, Hungary could have walked out of Wembley with another win under their belts.

The next game however was a cause for concern. An extremely poor performance away to Sweden, resulting in a 2-0 loss, left the fans, media and players thinking it could be another long qualification period ahead. The next game wasn’t convincing either. A 2-1 win at home to Moldova thanks to strikes from Serie A regulars, Gergely Rudolf and Vladimir Koman. Had the MLSZ got it wrong in appointing Egervari? However poor the display was from the Hungarians, it seemed to bring a lot of confidence to the players, and they certainly showed this in the next qualifying game, an 8-0 win over lowly San Marino. Yes, I know it’s only San Marino, but an 8-0 win is a great result whomever you’re playing, and for Adam Szalai to get a hat-trick in only his fourth cap is a great achievement. This was great preparation for probably the biggest game of the season, and certainly the most exciting.

Hungary travelled to Helsinki to take on Finland in a Euro 2012 six pointer. For Hungary it really was a must win if they were to stand any chance of qualifying – even if it was after just 3 games. In the early stages of the match, Hungary were abject and couldn’t string a pass together, but managed to get to half-time at 0-0. In truth, Finland weren’t much better but they tested Gabor Kiraly on a few occasions, certainly more than Hungary tested Jussi Jääskeläinen. In the second half, Hungary suddenly came to life, largely due to the introduction of Sampdoria’s Vladimir Koman. After just five minutes of being on the field, Koman threaded a Xavi like pass to Adam Szalai, who rounded the Bolton keeper and slotted into an empty net. 1-0 to Hungary. The dream is still alive.

Hungary started to grow into the game, the confidence was brewing and it looked like they believed they could go on and win. Kiraly made a couple of good saves, but so did Jääskeläinen. Then came the killer blow. With just 2 minutes of normal time remaining, the Finns equalised. A terrific ball over the defence by Eremenko landed in Forsell’s path and he finished the one-on-one as everyone knew he would. Hungarian hearts were broken. And there was still time for a Finnish winner.

Jari Litmanen (Yes, he’s still alive), began to dictate, and the intent was there for all to see. Finland were going for the win. Wave after wave of Finnish attack bombarded the Hungarian goal for six whole minutes that felt like sixty. Kiraly made one great save, and Szalai missed a superb chance to win it for Hungary in the 94th minute. His missed opportunity left one last attack available for Finland. The ball was pumped long, it fell to Eremenko who played it to Litmanen on the left but Akos Elek of Hungary picked it up on the edge of his own area. With the clock ticking, Elek ran with the ball, he ran a bit further, and a bit further until he reached the edge of the Finnish box. He found the right pass and Dzsudzsak was there. In front of goal.

The 2010 Hungarian Golden Ball winner had a chance to win the match for Hungary. He took a touch, kept his head down and powered the ball straight past Jääskeläinen. The net bulged. I dropped my laptop. Magyars screamed. Hungary had done it. They’d beaten Finland.

I may have just have talked about that game like Hungary had won the World Cup, but it really felt like they had. It was a superb win and in previous years, Hungary would have folded and lost that match by two or three goals. But the passion was for all to see. The true grit and determination was fantastic. A comfortable 2-0 friendly win over Lithuania a few weeks later left the national team ending the year on a high after the depression of just 12 months earlier.

So 2010 was a great year. We may have started badly, but friendlies don’t matter. The Hungarian players now seem to care about their national team once more, and if they can keep that under Egervari for the rest of the qualifying campaign, maybe, just maybe, we could see them in Poland and Ukraine. Fingers crossed.


Hungary and the New Giggs, Xavi and Heskey (?)

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Balazs Dzsudzsak

Written by Tomasz Mortimer for InBedWithMaradona in November 2010

In the recent 8-0 mauling of San Marino, and the last gasp 2-1 victory over Finland in Helsinki, three Hungarian youngsters came to the forefront as major stars of the national team. Their names; Balasz Dszudszák (PSV), Adam Szalai (Mainz) and Vladimir Koman (Sampdoria).

I know many people out there would have heard of these young lads, with all three of them being tipped to come to England at some point, and I would say at least one of them will come over within the next three years. Despite all being 23 or under, they are probably the best players Hungary has currently.

I’m going to start with the one who will most likely come to England and a player who is one of my favourite footballers to watch as things stand; Balazs Dzsudzsák or Juji as he’s known in Hungary. Juji may have come to people’s knowledge quite a few years ago, but still just 23, he has a huge future ahead of him, and already has 31 caps for the national team. Dzsudzsák started his career at Debrecen and played over 50 games for the Hungarian giants, in 2008, he moved to PSV and instantly became a fans favourite by tormenting defenders and scoring many goals from midfield. Dzsudzsák is a left sided winger who is reminiscent of a young Ryan Giggs, with great pace and the ability to beat a man with such ease. His ability to change direction at such speed is a fantastic asset and allows him to beat his marker to open up space ahead of him to create chance after chance for the strikers. He also puts a fantastic ball into the box similar to that of David Beckham, be it from free kicks, corners or crosses on the run, with his fantastic left foot or his slightly weaker right. He takes every set piece for PSV and Hungary; penalties, direct and indirect free kicks and corners, and in the recent demolition of San Marino in Budapest he set up 3 of the 8 goals and also scored 1. Dzsudzsák was also the hero in Helsinki by finishing fantastically from just inside the area, from an incredibly tight angle, past a more than competent keeper in Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Over the past two years, he has been watched by many clubs, and rumours have spread that he will be moving away from Holland in the not too distant future. Palermo seems to be the most interested club in recent weeks, with their manager claiming that they would be taking him to Italy in January. Arsenal had scouts monitoring his progress in 2009, but the hefty price tag of about €15million probably put Arsene Wenger off.

In August 2010, Dzsudzsák looked destined for Fenerbache, but he did the right thing and turned them down, considering a move to Turkey may be a backwards step for his career.

Many rumours have been circulating that Real Madrid and Manchester City have been keeping a close eye on him, but after the signings of Silva and Di Maria to Man City and Real Madrid, these moves seem to be now out the window.

In my opinion Juji would adapt to English football better than anywhere else and he’d fit brilliantly into a team like Man Utd, Liverpool, Tottenham, Aston Villa or even Chelsea, altough with the latter he may struggle to get past the likes of Malouda to become a first team regular. As Man Utd, aren’t exactly blessed with wingers any more, with Giggs nearing the end of his career, Valencia out with a broken leg, possibly never coming back the same and Park possibly nearing the end of his Man Utd career, Juji would fit in well on the left side at Old Trafford.

Vladimir Koman is the player who probably has the most potential out of the three. At the age of just 21, Koman is now a first team regular for Italian giants Sampdoria after signing the player from Szombathely Haladás in 2005. He only had to wait two years to make his full debut at the tender age of 18, starting against Torino where he also set up a winning goal. He found first team opportunities quite hard to come by to begin with but with, but being so young this didn’t matter. He achieved a bronze medal with the Hungarian Under-20 national team in the 2009 World Cup, and was sent on loan to Serie B outfits Avellino and Bari in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons respectively. Koman can play anywhere across midfield but prefers a more central attacking role. He loves to dictate the play, and is really comfortable on the ball at such a young age, has a great range of passing and loves to move forward with the ball.

In Hungary’s recent 2-1 win over Finland, Koman was brought on at half-time with the score at 0-0, and he assisted the first goal by playing an exquisite pass to Adam Szalai who rounded the keeper. But when times got tough later in the game, Koman didn’t shy away from the pressure like more experienced players like Gera. He was always looking for the ball, trying to make something happen to give his side that important second goal. This quality is really important to see in a player, as most youngsters would not have the confidence to take the game by the scruff of the neck and win a match for his team. This was similar to the performance of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool when he dominated the 2006 FA Cup final against West Ham. If I was to compare Koman to another European great I would probably compare him a young Xavi, as he can pick a wonderful pass to the front man and can fit into a playmaker role. If Koman becomes half the player of the Spaniard, Hungary will have a true great.

Many teams have looked at Koman, and the most frequent rumour involved Liverpool in 2009, following the Under 20 World Cup. But this transfer never transpired and even though teams like Fulham and Napoli have taken a look at Koman, he seems to be very settled in Genoa, and as he is at such a big club, it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving anytime soon.

Ádám Szalai, 22, is a completely different player to the previous two. He’s not got the glitz and glamour and he’s not as easy on the eye as Juji and Koman, but Szalai is very effective in what he does and the way he plays. Standing at 6”4, Szalai is a big strapping old-fashioned striker who plays in a target man role, holds the ball up, brings others into the game and moves across the ground very quickly. He’s a bit similar to Luca Toni or Emile Heskey (oh no, I hear you say) but much more nimble and faster. So far for the national team Szalai has scored 4 goals in 5 games and 3 goals in 8 for Mainz this season. He left Hungary at 16 to play for the Stuttgart youth team, and stayed there until he was 19, never making a first team appearance, before moving to Real Madrid Castilla in 2007. He made nearly a 100 appearances for them and scored a goal in roughly every four games. Szalai then moved to Mainz on loan earlier this year, making 15 league appearances scoring 1 goal, before moving permanently in the summer. He’s now become a first team regular starting most games this season for the German side, and has scored two winning goals, one against Bayern at the Allianz Arena and one against Wolfsburg in the last minute after a stunning comeback from being 3-0 down. Also, in the two recent internationals, he scored a superb hat-trick against San Marino and a goal against Finland.

As expected Szalai’s stunning start to the season hasn’t gone unnoticed by Europe’s elite, with Real Madrid (who are looking for another striker) being the biggest club monitoring the Hungarian. As well as Real, Palermo have declared their interest in the target man as recently as a week ago, with their chairman being extremely inquisitive about a move for the big man. Several other teams have looked at Szalai including Porto and even Notts County (back when they had Sven), and I wouldn’t be surprised if he moves to a bigger club next summer. Szalai is one of those players who can play in any league, so don’t be surprised if he’s playing at a club near you some time soon.

These three stars really offer optimism to the Hungarian football fan, and anybody who else who wants to see Hungary become the footballing force that they once were. They are all terrific young prospects and if you haven’t seen them play, please get online, watch a stream, turn on ESPN or something. They are all incredible talents.

 

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This is Debrecen

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Written by Tomasz Mortimer for InBedWithMaradona in October 2010

The story of Debrecen is almost fairytale like. Founded in 1902 as Egyetértés Futball Club they lived in the shadow of city rivals DKASE until they collapsed due to financial difficulties and formed a coalition with Debreceni Vasutas Sport Club. For about 50 years, they were the West Brom of Hungary, Yo-yoing back and forth from the first division, to the second and occasionally down to the third. However, since 1993, “Loki” began to find its feet with the rest of Hungary’s elite. They won promotion to NB1 and since then they haven’t looked back, and just 6 years later, they won their first national trophy, The Magyar Kupa (The Hungarian Cup).

11 years on, they’ve won the League Title 5 times, the Magyar Kupa a further three times, the Super Cup 5 times and the newly formed Hungarian League Cup once. They also became the 2nd ever Hungarian team to qualify for the Champions League group stage, and impressive performances against Fiorentina and Liverpool at Anfield made people look at a Hungarian side seriously for the first time in about 15 years. Admittedly, they lost all six of their games, but against teams like Fiorentina, Lyon and Liverpool, that’s not exactly disastrous.

There are two main reasons to explain the sensation of Hungary’s most successful team of the 21st century. One is the combination of András Herczeg (ex-Debrecen Youth Coach/Assistant Coach and now current Head Coach) and the constant success of developing youth players. Throughout the “noughties” Debrecen produced more than 10 players through their youth system who went on to play for the Hungarian national team, most notably Balázs Dzsudzsák, and countless more who played or who are currently playing for Hungary at various youth levels. The other explanation is the constant shrewd signings, with the backing of an extremely solid financial base, which gives them a huge advantage over most of the other teams in NB1. Within the last 10 years, three of Hungary’s top 4 most successful clubs have had some sort of financial problems (Újpest, Honvéd and Ferencvaros), which shows just how vital Debrecen’s financial backing has been to their constant achievements. While MTK, even though they may be rich and have a solid financial backing, their chairman doesn’t like to spend money on the club, which no longer makes them a force within the Hungarian league.

Shrewd signings down the years getting players who didn’t make it elsewhere like Róbert Feczesin, Péter Halmosi, Leandro, Igor Bogdanović, Gergely Rudolf, Ibrahim Sidibe and Norbert Csernyánszki show just how good the scouting system is down at Debrecen. In addition, current players like Zsolt Laczkó, Mbengono Yannick and Péter Czvitkovics all who were signed from other Hungarian teams are now important players in the Loki side. This shows that also with their financial state they can tempt other Hungarian based players with more lucrative wage packets.

In addition, they have the best and most loyal fans in the country - and I am saying this as a Haladás fan. Throughout the years, even through the bad times they have had one of the best attendances in NB1, and they aren’t as fickle as the bigger clubs like Ferencvaros and MTK

Loki’s display last Thursday night against the Italian giants Sampdoria shows just how far this once railway club has come. The game ended 1-0 to Sampdoria, thanks to a soft penalty that was converted by Italian international, Giampaolo Pazzini. To say Debrecen were “unlucky” to come away with a 1-0 loss would be a huge understatement. Loki probably had the better chances during the game and if it wasn’t for two outstanding saves from the Sampdoria keeper, they could have left Genoa with at least a draw, possibly a win.

Admittedly, in the first Europa League game of the group, they lost 5-0, but were not embarrassed. I know it’s only if’s and but’s but it seriously could and probably should have been 1-1 at Half Time, after Péter Czvitkovics hit the post just before Metalist got their 2nd goal, and soon after that, Kabát was sent off very harshly for a late challenge. Then as Loki were chasing the game, 2-0 down with 10 men, three counter-attacking goals made the score line look like Debrecen were only here to make up the numbers.

This team (yes it doesn’t have the glamour of Gergely Rudolf, Róbert Feczesin and Zoltán Szélesi ), I think, has the capability of providing a few shocks in this Europa League campaign starting with PSV on October 21st at home. Even though their domestic form hasn’t been that great of late, Debrecen are still the favourites to retain the title and make it six titles in 7 years. After a poor start to the season by their standards, they only sit 6 points off top place Videoton, the team that took Debrecen so far last year.

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What is Wrong With Hungarian Football?

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Written by Tomasz Mortimer for InBedWithMaradona in September 2010

Let’s go back to 1956. Hungary had, arguably, the best football team that had ever lived, the ‘Mighty Magyars’. They lost narrowly in the World Cup final 3-2 to West Germany two years earlier after leading 2-0 inside the first 10 minutes, won the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki and famously beat England 6-3 at Wembley in 1953, to strike fear into countries around the World. The Hungarian club sides weren’t bad either, Honvéd, made up mostly of the Hungarian national team, were one of the best teams in Europe, losing narrowly on two occasions to the English champions Wolves in a competitive friendly before the European Cup had been introduced, and two years later to Atlético Bilbao in the 2nd ever European Cup. However, October 1956 changed everything. The Hungarian Revolution collapsed in Budapest and as a result, the Soviet Union took control, leaving Hungary under communist rule for over 40 years. This lead to the Golden Generation being unable to go back home, and finding other places to play football (Puskas to Real Madrid and Koscis to Barcelona in two famous cases), which left Honvéd and more importantly, Hungarian football in limbo.

Right now Hungarian football is almost an at all time low. The national team is ranked 51 in the FIFA World Rankings, between Bolivia and Honduras, after a jump of 11 places from August (somehow). Their European club coefficients place them 36th out of 53, languishing between Slovenia and Georgia. And now, they only have one team playing in Europe, Debrecen (who have won the league 5 out of the last 6 years), who were thumped in their first game by Metalist 5-0 at home.

However last season was quite a good year as far as Hungarian football goes. Debrecen reached the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history, and became only the second Hungarian team to have achieved this feat. They did go on to lose all their games, but they were placed in the hardest group of that year’s competition facing opposition from Liverpool, semi-finalists Lyon and Fiorentina. The Hungarian national team also came close to pulling off the unlikely act of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but three losses in their last four games to Sweden and Portugal twice, spoilt the dream for the once great footballing nation.

So, what’s the problem I hear you say? Well putting it simply, not enough people play the game. Back under the Soviet Union rule, football wasn’t exactly the priority, the Golden Generation had gone. Too frightened to go back home. The once great Honvéd team were saved relegation the following year by the expansion of the first division, and the Hungarian people no longer had any role models to look up to. The film, ‘Magyarafutball, a 91. Perc’ states that if the National Team is going to be successful, they need to be able to choose from many hundreds of thousands of footballers. That is simply not the case. Children’s role models in Hungary nowadays are swimmers, and after the recent success of hosting the European Aquatics Championships, this is only going to be boosted.

Nonetheless, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic for the average Hungarian fan. Recent results like the 1-0 win over Denmark in Copenhagen last year, the 1-1 draw with Russia in March, and a narrow 2-1 defeat to England at Wembley in August makes you think that this new crop of Hungarian players could be the ones to bring football back to the forefront of the Hungarian people’s minds, or even a first World Cup appearance since 1986. And with a recent Bronze medal at the 2009 Under 20 World Cup, this buoyancy should grow, especially with players like Sampdoria’s Vladimir Koman (21), Mainz’s Ádám Szalai (22), Bolton’s Ádám Bogdán (22) and ex-Liverpool man, Krisztián Németh (21) who all look like they’ll be big players for the national team for many years to come. If these players can learn to play well with constant consistent national team performers like Balázs Dzsudzsák from PSV, Zoltan Gera at Fulham and Roland Juhász from Anderlecht there could be a few heads being turned to look at this new Hungarian side.

Now these Hungarians need to kick on for their respective first teams. Too many bright Hungarian talents keep going off the radar such as; Szabolocs Huszti current playing for Zenit (reserves mostly), Sandor Torghelle, once of Crystal Palace and Tamás Hajnal, who can hardly kick the ball straight for the National team. But with the mass influx of Hungarians descending on England, this only going to aid their football education and development, and hopefully create brighter sparks for the national team for many years to come.

But that leaves the Hungarian Top Division (Nemzeti Bajnokság I or NB1), without any proper talent except for the late developers, like Zoltán Gera, Joszsef Kanta or Tisza Tibor. But they have to sacrifice this if they are to have success with their national team. There is no money whatsoever in Hungarian football and as result facilities for the clubs are terrible, stadiums are in a dire state and the coaching is at a very poor standard. The once giants Ferencváros, who have won the league the most times (23), and who once got a famous draw to Real Madrid in the 1995-96 Champions league, were demoted to the Second Tier of Hungarian football, NBII, due to financial difficulties in 2006 and only gained promotion in 2009 thanks to the wealth of Kevin McCabe (The Sheffield United Chairman), the constant English loan signings from Sheffield United and the managerial skills of ex-Blackburn, Everton and Sheffield United man Craig Short.

So in a nutshell, if Hungarian players are going to develop and Hungary are going to become a footballing force once again, they have to move as soon as possible, like Szalai, Nemeth and Koman and this will, hopefully, make them better players, and, hopefully, give Hungary an appearance in a major tournament, for the first time since 1986.

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