The Depressing Landscape of Hungarian Football

With Georges Leekens taking over as Hungary manager at the end of October, will he be able to turn the Magyar’s fortunes around while the sport rests on a teetering backdrop of underperformance and corruption? Written by Reka Minich

Writing this article is quite the emotional rollercoaster for me. Why? Because I am addicted to Hungarian football because of my late father, a ferocious Ferencvaros supporter.

One of my earliest football memories is when my Dad was complaining about the dire state of the Hungarian league champion. My memories are a bit faded, but I remember the name: Zoli Varga. After a little bit of googling, I found the season: 96/97. And I have been a Fradi supporter ever since.

One of my biggest dreams was seeing the national team in a big international tournament. Last year’s European Championship was really euphoric not only for me, but for the whole nation. Because of the great victories, the reality almost faded. We celebrated defeating Austria, and a draw against a solid Iceland and the later victorious Portugal in a really entertaining match. After 30 year’s absence from the top tier European football, nobody really was too bothered about the big defeat from Belgian. But we really should have seen the warning signs. They were always there, but nobody cared.

The last “great Hungarian football success” was in the 2009/10 season, when Debrecen competed in the Champions League group phase. They had a lucky draw, but they could defeat weaker teams, which is not a thing Hungarian teams can always do.

In 2010 a big political change occurred in the country. I am really sorry that I have to write about this, but in the present state of the nation’s sport it was a really big step. The Socialist’s party defeated in the elections and the Young Democrat’s party won the 2010 and later the 2014 elections. Its leader is the football enthusiast Viktor Orban, a former amateur footballer. His idea reformed the financial support of the national sport scene. The core of this new financial structure was the corporate tax, which could be reinvested in youth sports. If you know a bit about Hungary and its people, then you will correctly guess, that the money went straight into the biggest clubs of the first tier of the National Football League, and Orban’s favourite team, which was a small local team in the regional league when he played football. This team nowadays is called Puskas Labdarugo Akademia.

I know it may be hard to follow. You may be missing the connections at some points. We do too.

After years of big financial investments, we are still struggling for big tournament qualifications. Our biggest clubs have much bigger budget than other Central and Eastern European teams that are in the EL group phase. Hungarian teams continously go out in qualification.

So you may ask: what is the problem? This is a warning for you all: from now on this will be a really subjective opinion. My opinion, and I am just a Hungarian Fradi supporter who is watching the teams since 1996.

I think the biggest problem is that the financial power could not bear any success because of the old habits. You can invest a lot of money, but if you are not willing to change the core, things which are rotten, you are doomed to fail. If you are paying attention to the Hungarian top tier, you could see some familiar faces. The prime examples are Attila Pinter or Geza Meszoly. You could see the patterns. Two relatively young Hungarian trainers with no foreign experience, but plenty of local support. Pinter won a national championship with a really strong Fradi, then he could manage the national team, with no success. After his failure he managed the wealthiest second-tier team Mezokovesd, then the prime minister’s home team Puskas Akademia. Meszoly also had strong support from the background. He managed his local team Ujpest, then its rival team Vasas. After his failure, he had the chance to manage the national U18 and U19 teams.The common things? In my opinion, they both are very limited trainers. They do not have any revolutionary ideas about football. They are not the most intelligent people. So why am I picking them out? Because they made a laughing stock of themselves with their press conferences. They always thought that they are the most important people in the team and they were the first to blame the players.

On the other hand the most famous trainers are Pal Dardai at Hertha and Zsolt Löw at RB Leipzig. The common point is that they played abroad from a young age, they have the German footballing mentality. They both are very driven personalities who seem to be keen to learn the new methods in training or follow the latest trends in the tactical department. They were just examples. The rest is just a bunch of questions. I really doubt that you will ever have the answers.

What is happening with the young footballers of Hungary? We are having some real young prospects. The biggest hotshot nowadays is Dominik Szoboszlai. I really hope that he can make the final cut. He has the potential, he is playing in a good team. But can he? I have my doubts. You just have to look at the buzz of the last decade. Krisztian Nemeth, Peter Gulacsi, Krisztian Adorjan. They played at the Liverpool academy. So what happened? Gulacsi made some clever changes and now he is playing at Lepizig in the Champions League. In my humble opinion, he could be the example to follow. He always knew when it is time to make a step back so you can step forward a bit later. But Nemeth or Adorjan? The usual answer is injury. I can write more players who had some fine years in a good European team then faded. Gera with some really nice seasons in West Brom and Fulham, then not one but two ACL tears.

Nowadays we have some really fancy academies with outstanding facilities and financial support. Last year’s Double Pass audit made some depressing conclusions. The focal points was that the main focus is still the results from the youngest age groups. This is a real problem for the players whose development is slower than the others. I know that the chance is very slim that a Messi would be born in Hungary, but for example Adam Nagy had similar problems and he barely made it to professional football. The team training is adequate but the individual development barely exists.

In the last few years I was trying to read about the tactical and physical phase of football. That was the time when I realised how important it is to analyse every aspect of the game. I think these are the two most important aspects of the modern game. To be one of the best you have to learn from the modern greats. In Hungary we have history and pride. We are not willing to learn. I always watch the analysis from the “great players” of the last 20 years on the weekend. One of the quotations which really stayed with me is something like this: “I also can train Barcelona, they have a similar training which we have in Hungary”. You can say that, but the sad reality is that Hungary suffered its most embarrassing defeat in a while against Andorra earlier this year. We have not had a team in the Champions or Europa League group phase in years.

As I was writing this little article Hungary played a World Cup qualifier against Switzerland. We lost 5-2. Last year the prime players were: Kiraly, Gera, Dzsudzsak and Juhasz. Two of them retired from the national team. Gera is injured again, but at 38 it’s really crazy that the team relies on him heavily. Dzsudzsak was suspended, but his physical attributes declined heavily since he signed for Al-Vahda. After them, there is a giant void which can be a great problem in the upcoming years. Some of the 2020 European Championship matches will be played in Budapest, but I really doubt that we can make it there.