“How important is Viktor Orbán? Hungarian football would be dead without him” – George Hemingway speaks to HF.com

George Hemingway is the chairman of Honvéd, and has been since 2006. Honvéd have a rich history, not just within Hungary, but throughout the World. Their side in the 50’s contained the nucleus of the ‘Aranycsapat’ (the Magical Magyars) including Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik and Zoltán Czibor, and probably would have gone to win a European Cup if it wasn’t for the Hungarian revolution in 1956. They have had limited success in Europe since then with a few 3rd round appearances in the UEFA cup, the only performances of note. They currently have won the fourth most Hungarian titles with 13, behind Ferencváros, MTK and Újpest.

Since Hemingway took over, Honvéd have won two Hungarian Cups but are still looking for that elusive league title which has escaped them ever since 1993. From the USA, Hemingway (who is part-Hungarian) chairs “The Hemingway Group” where he worked as a lawyer and a senior counsel with major Los Angeles firms. He also owns many Pizza Hut and KFC branches across Eastern Europe and can speak fluent Hungarian.

Hemingway spoke to HungarianFootball.com for the first time in 2011 and has kindly agreed to speak to Tomasz Mortimer again. Here’s the full transcript:

Hi George, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions again. First off I’d like to ask you about the academy at Honved. In 2010 the Honved Magyar Futball Akademia kind of burst onto the mainstream radar after winning the Puskas Suzuki Kupa, then you retained that title in 2011 and 2012 – memorably thrashing Puskas Akademia 7-0 in the final. Have you been working hard and spending money to improve your academy in recent years, and what do you think this success has been down too?
Since 2011 Hungarian football academies, including the Hungarian Football Academy, have been privileged to receive support from the new Hungarian government. As a result, this new source strengthened the academy programs which so far have been totally neglected by previous governments. All the money received has been spent on improvements, upgrading the staff and providing decent living wages to the outstanding professionals employed.


Do you primarily focus on talent from the Budapest area or do you look across Hungary for potential players?
For incoming players we are looking in the entire country as well as the ethnic Hungarian regions of Romania and Serbia. Presently about 95% of our players come from Hungary, the rest from the neighbouring countries.


In Dutch football teams like to build a “pyramid from the bottom up” by investing in youth football more than the first team. Is that how you like to work at Honved?
Yes, that is exactly how we would like to work at Honvéd. Our investments in youth football are significant while at the first team level we have an absolute salary cap which controls the first team’s spending.


What is your ultimate goal as Honvéd chairman? Would you like to see the competing as league challengers, or would you prefer to produce players to be able to sell abroad?
Our ultimate goal is to be able to compete in a reasonable way on the international scene, have a team composed  mostly of academy graduates, sell some players abroad and become champions.


Does your academy currently have any players that we should be aware of who might be future stars of Hungarian football?
Absolutely. I would look for Bálint Vécsei, Filip Holender, Gergely Bobál, Dániel Prosser, Dániel Gazdag, and others. They are already starting to make their way and you should hear a lot more about them in the future.


Do you see Hungarian football in general adopting a better approach to youth football in recent years?
Since Dr. Sándor Csányi became the president of the Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) he began stressing the need for fundamental change in the way coaches and players are trained. The MLSZ also instituted radical changes in the financing of youth football. Dr. Csányi commissioned Double Pass, a Belgian football quality control organisation, to improve the quality of the academies. This process (which should end in the middle of 2016) would, I believe, further improve the professional atmosphere in Hungary.


I recently spoke to somebody at Ferencváros who believes that Hungarian clubs don’t “market” their players well enough to foreign clubs. Do you see this as a general problem in Hungarian football? Very few Hungarian players go abroad when you compare that to the likes of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia etc. 
Yes and no. First you must have a product that is worth marketing. Perhaps the clubs could do a better job marketing their players but the fundamental challenge is to produce players worth marketing.


How important has Viktor Orbán and the current Hungarian government been for Hungarian football?
How important is Viktor Orbán? Hungarian football would be dead without him.


Back to Honvéd. How has the Italian connection come about? 3 of your last 4 managers have been Italian, and you have also signed a lot of players from Italy too.
Our hiring of the first Italian coach was an absolute coincidence. He was one of the people we interviewed and hired him. After we brought in our international director, Mr. Fabio Cordella, he recommended the next head coach from Italy. We also signed a number of players from Italy but for the most part our Italian players have not performed well for us.


Honvéd have signed a lot of foreign talent in the last few decade or so. Do you feel like this will hamper the youth players chances of making it to the first team? Gergely Bobál is one player I’m sure Magyar Foci fans would like to see more of in a Honvéd shirt.
We will hire foreign players as long as we do not have players from the Hungarian Football Academy who are ready and able to do a better job than the foreign players we can afford to hire. This policy does not hamper the youth players’ chances to make it to the first team. Quality and not nationality is the true measure. Our job is not to discriminate against foreign players but to grow local talent that is better than the foreign players we could afford to hire.


What are your feelings about Honved’s own Ferenc Puskas’s name being used for a club in Felcsut?
The Puskás Ferenc Football Academy was named with permission from the Puskás family for the use of the name prior to the time I founded the Hungarian Football Academy. Their use of our greatest player’s name is legal.


And finally, what are your expectations for the current season?
In the 2014/2015 season we would like to be able to participate in one of the UEFA international tournaments. In order to do this we must win the Hungarian Cup or finish among the first 3 in the championship. Very hard task. It is also a given fact that certain teams, like Ferencváros, Videoton, Győr, PAFC, Debrecen and Diósgyőr spend significantly more on player salaries than we do. On the other hand we have done this before and hope to do it again.