Interview with Michael Boris
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Michael Boris, head coach at MOL Fehérvár, and chatting football for a while. (1 hour 4 mins to be precise!). We also managed to cover American football, speedway, Netflix, Disney+ and a cheeky wager thrown in for good measure. One of us might end up paying for a very expensive lunch next May! What a lovely guy, full of enthusiasm and very passionate about football, also a great sense of humour. Thank you, Michael.
When did you fall in love with football?
I was 6. It was 1981/82, in Germany there was no basketball or handball or sports like this so you played football in school and in your free time and this is how it started, but if you ask me about if you think you will end up in professional football then of course not. I was always fighting; I think I had a little bit of talent, but I knew what I could do and then I met this really good goalkeeper coach and he brought me up to the level where I could play in the 3rd league in Germany. I played until I was 25 and then I got an elbow injury, and it was no longer possible to play as a goalkeeper, so I changed and became a goalkeeper coach.
Talk me through your coaching journey to where you are now.
After 4 years of being a goalkeeper coach I started to think maybe I could be a head coach, the first year was ok and then in the 2nd year I had some, perhaps you can call it luck. It was in the cup and in Germany you have to win the regions cup to qualify for the 1st round of the German cup, so you end up with 36 amateur teams and 36 professional teams. We got Schalke, where Felix Magath was the coach, and we played against each other. I was asked before the game by a tv journalist what my target was for the game, and I said that it would be nice if I got an internship at Schalke, and finally I got an internship for 2 weeks. After the 2 weeks, I asked Magath if I could come once a week and he told me that if I won with my team, I could call the assistant coach to make another appointment. I won 8 times in a row, so I called him and then every Tuesday I went there. After about 7/8 weeks Magath asked me if I knew who would be a good coach for the 2nd team and I said yes – me! It was a remarkable story in Germany at the time, I was the first amateur coach who had asked for an internship live on TV. I went on and got my pro licence, but even after the time at Schalke I was still a coach in the 4th league in Germany. Then Bernd Storck asked me to be the head coach of the U19 national team of Hungary and I fell in love with the country and Hungarian football. Meanwhile, I have been away 2 times, half a year in China and half a year in Denmark but I keep coming back, I like it here, I like the people, I like how they work, the connection with the players. I was on the market, and I came back to Hungary without having a new job, I was at a ground every week and then in February I got the chance at Fehérvár. Initially it was only for 2 and a half months, just until the end of the season. You have to trust yourself and believe in yourself and if you get the chance then you have to grab it. It is very different to MTK, the facilities and the training pitches are excellent and also the players. I have 5 or 6 national team players; the language is English. I’m not a native speaker but I think everyone can understand me. I do also speak a little bit of Hungarian and I’m still trying to improve my knowledge of the language. The first 5 games were horrible. But thanks to staff and the players, we changed everything 180 degrees and then we were on the winning streak. I mean all of the staff, from the greenkeeper to the woman who does the laundry, everyone, we all believed in the team, and we all worked together, making the changes so we could find a winning formula. Ultimately every small wheel in the big wheel was turning together, we like each other as group, we accept whether it’s to sit on the bench or to play for 5 minutes or for the full match is the key. There are no excuses on the pitch, there are no second chances, you have to deliver.
What elements about football make you excited and motivated to work every day?
For me being a coach is not just a job. You come inside the stadium and there is the smell of the grass, you see the young guys, the motivated guys, playing the best sport on the planet, this is what drives me every day. Targets, I think every football player likes to have targets and win matches although it’s clear that you can’t win every match but this motivates me every day, to watch a football player, who loves his job, who wants to work, to improve, to win the match and to build up his career with the team. This is the greatest thing that you can do for a living.
What are your core values as a coach? Do you follow a specific philosophy for training and conditioning? If so, what is it?
Our greatest value is to be a team where everyone stands up for each other. Moreover, my philosophy is that you have to train hard, work hard and then you can play hard. If you are not suffering in the training, how do you want to suffer in the game? Of course, the spectators in the stadium can be crazy and you can go the extra mile because of them and of course the result. During the week you have to focus on this, you have to work hard for it, this is how I like it. Be prepared and be prepared for a lot of things. During the game there is 5-10% where you have to decide ad hoc. But for example, the coaching staff thinks about every substitution the day before, like if player A is injured then who can come in, if we have to change or we don’t have to change the system, if there is a red card for the opponent or for us. So, we prepare as much as we can but sometimes things happen and you just have to deal with it.
What is your preferred communication style when interacting with the players and other team employees? Describe a time when one of your players wasn’t putting in as much effort during practice as everyone else. How did you solve it?
We talk a lot; I like to talk. I like to analyse but less emotional. You can show the data, everyone is tracked during training and during the game with the GPS so I can use this to show my players what I expect from this position, but this is what I got from you. So don’t be disappointed if you are not in the starting eleven. There is an emotional side if they want to be a football player, but we have to bring in a minimum standard onto the pitch so if they want to be in the starting 11 or on the bench then they have to work hard and maintain at least what is our minimum level and higher. We are in a delivering community, and we have to deliver. It’s not about nice or not nice, good looking or not good looking, you have to show it and if you don’t show it then you have a problem.
What is your end goal with Fehérvár? This season and long term? What will you consider to be a good season?
You have to stay humble – Nemzeti sport rang me yesterday and they said Fehérvár have always said they want to attack Ferencváros, but to me, Ferencváros are a different level, they have played Champions League, they have their own financial thing, they always have 15/20,000 spectators inside the stadium so you can’t attack Ferencváros. When we played them last time in Fehérvár and they beat us 2-0, their coach changed them one on one, swapping out one machine for another. I could say our target is to attack Ferencváros and then you will come to me at the end of the season, and we are say 24 points behind them and ask “well what was that?”. We have to stay humble and set ourselves realistic goals, they have to be serious, but they also have to be reachable and keep you motivated. We want to stay in the cup as long as possible, a final in the Puskas arena would be nice, the target in the Conference League is to stay in the competition as long as possible. Nothing is easy, and we have to train for the different challenges and be prepared. It would be a really big thing to reach the group stage and we will try to do this. In terms of the Championship, for Fehérvár, last season in the last 11 games, we lost 2 matches and then we remained unbeaten in the last 9 rounds and got 19 points, if we can repeat that 3 times then we would have 57 points, this is a realistic target. This is what we have in our mind: to reach 57+ points, if we collect more than 60 points then it is a massive season and I think we can attack 2nd place or get closer to first place. The schedule is also tight because we finish the league for the break in November and if we do reach the group stage in the conference league, we will have a lot of games that are Thursday – Sunday – Thursday – Sunday, so a lot of things have to be in a good order – for example to get through the season with no injuries or illnesses. So, we can have another talk at the end of the season and decide if it is tick or no tick for those things.
How do you prepare your team for an upcoming football game?
2 days before a game we always have a big meeting and the analyst introduces the next opponent, 3 days before we start with the tactics. For us it is important to know, whether they play with the same tactic as the last opponent or with a different one. In our training we have a big side game, the B team will have to play like the opponent so we know the movements. For example, if there are 3 at the back or 4 at the back, just to be prepared for these differences. The day before the game is set pieces and put some fun back into it. We do everything to prepare ourselves on and off the pitch. On game day we have a very short meeting, 5 minutes maximum to get the whole team focused on the game. After the game, those players who did not play have to do a compensation training. The next day is regulation training and the players who did not play will play a game. It is not good to just have 11 players on fire, you need to have 20/22/25 players on fire, so we try to get the match load on game day or the day after. We also analyse the game. That means, we watch back sequences from the game, the good things like goals and good scenes but also things that we have to work on. They are off the 2nd day after a game if we are not playing during the week. We have 2 training sessions each day and in between we talk in groups, not with the whole team. If the topic is defending then we speak with the defenders. If the topic is on how we have to be in the box, with 1, 2 or 3 players, we talk with players who cover these positions and work on it to get better. We do not only work with the first team, it is important for the whole squad. The aim is to always keep the level, to be constant. We don’t want it to drop, we don’t want our season to be like a rollercoaster going up and down depending on the result. I think this is something we did well at the end of the season. We kept our level, we scored some goals, we conceded goals, but we kept our level. Sometimes you have to be rational. You use facts and data, because you work with professional players, they need this to see what they did and didn’t do.
If your team is behind in a game, what techniques do you employ to help get them back in the lead?
Sometimes you just have to be calm, for example Kisvárda. It had been international break so we had not played for 2 weeks. In training we had a friendly game v Budafok, we had a lot of chances and won 1-0. Then on Tuesday we played against our 2nd team and also won 1-0, with a lot of chances. And we were really well prepared for Kisvárda. Everybody was motivated, we changed our 4-3-3 and we were ready to get on the pitch and to play the game. After 8 minutes it was 0-3, I turned around to ask the assistant coach and the other coaches, if it we had to change our system. But we believed in the team, we believed in our preparation during the whole week and then 6 minutes later it was 2-3 and then the train was running. If you work hard during the week and everybody knows his job then you have to believe in your power.
There’s a lot of emphasis these days on mental health, do you have a sports psychologist work with the players in relation to maintaining their MH?
No. We are the sports psychologists, the physios, the masseurs, me as the head coach and everybody who is working with the team. We create or even try to create a good mood. Of course, there can be unexpected and difficult situations, like the war in Ukraine. We have 4 Ukrainian players and of course they can talk with a psychologist, but it’s also difficult if it is not in their native language. Back to my rational/emotional things, in this time of course I talked with these players differently. They lost a lot: not only buildings or money but also friends and family who died in the war. So, in this case you have to act totally different. In moments like this football is not the important thing, there is the human side and you have to handle it.
From your experience, what makes a football player excellent?
Mental strength, joy in work and speed. With speed I do not only refer to physical speed but also the mental speed to anticipate the situations before they happen. Ronaldo did not come to this earth as a machine, he has worked very, very hard. The athletic side has become more and more important, you have to be able to play football but everything has become so speedy. In the current time everything is getting faster. There is less time to play the ball, less time to think about where you’re going to place it, everything depends on the speed.
How do you rate the standard of the OTP Bank Liga at the moment?
The best promotion for it would be for Ferencváros to win in the Champions League. If they just made it into the group stage, that was great. And of course, for us, Kisvárda or Puskas Akadémia to reach the group stage of the conference league. I think if we want to compare the Hungarian league to the German, then there are maybe 1 or 2 teams that could play in the Bundesliga. They would not challenge the top teams obviously, but they could cope at that level and also in the Bundesliga 2. In the English championship, maybe Norwich would be a good team to compare. They can’t really compete with team like Liverpool for example and can go up, down, up down.
I come from a refereeing background so for me I like seeing a coach who lets their emotions show but is also respectful towards referees. What are your views on referees and VAR?
VAR – for me – is the best invention on our planet. It’s about football, it’s about money, it’s about decisions and it’s about the speed on the pitch. If you talk about VAR, the perfect system, it is good because it avoids mistakes, it is clear if a decision is right or not. It can sometimes be annoying, if you scored a goal and then you have to wait for one minute, one and a half minutes and then it is given offside. But if it is offside then it is offside, this is the rule so for me it is brilliant. I like referees; I never got a yellow card. I am talking with them during the whole match; I don’t want to make their job harder than it is. Football is quick, you have to see everything and the players, you know how it is, they touch each other, and they fall down and sometimes they are acting. If a referee makes a wrong decision, it’s far more obvious than if I make a mistake in training. I like the referees, I accept the referees and I accept their job.
Which football coach was most influential in shaping your current coaching style?
Pep Guardiola. He is the best.
Why does he think things didn’t work out at MTK and SønderjyskE and what did he learn from both experiences?
With MTK it worked very well. In the first year we were promoted to the first league, in the second year we kept the class and thus achieved the season’s goal. But nevertheless, those in charge wanted to go into the next season with a new coach and a different style of playing football. I like MTK, a nice club, very familiar, and for me, it was two great years to develop as a coach. They are good people there, right from the greenkeeper and all through the staff and the supporters as well, they are very passionate. In Denmark it was a lack of quality, I tried to do lots of things, but you can look at their record after I left and decide for yourself. I put everything inside, every day like always but sometimes it is just not enough.
*I looked – For Michael – 17 matches in charge, 5 wins, 3 draws and 9 defeats and an average of 1.06 points/game. Henrik Hansen was in charge for the final 17 games – 2 wins, 7 draws and 8 defeats with an average 0.76 points/game. The 5 games in between were 1 win, 1 win after penalties in the cup, 2 defeats and 1 draw in the league. They were relegated at the end of the season. I also made a note that his points/match total at MTK was 1.84*
The national team – the progress how far do you think they can go?
It’s amazing what Marco Rossi has done, during the Euros last summer and the way he has collected the players, like Callum Styles from England and put him in the team and he fits. Also Fiola and Nego went back yesterday after 16 days off, Loic was very happy. It’s 2 more games and if they can stay in the league that is big. I’m happy that the National team has shown the whole of Europe, what they can do and what is inside Hungarian football. During the Euros, ok the first match they lost against Portugal, then France 1-1, in Germany they also drew but if they had won, they would have been in the next round. The Euros before with Bernd Storck, in the last 6 years something big has happened in this country. Just look at the talent and where some of the players are playing now: Germany and in England. There is a lot of potential and they just have to keep working hard with it.
Well I am curious about István Kovács ? Does he see him back in the starting lineup. I feel like before that injury he was going to be captain after Juhász. Also does he plan to sign any Hungarian players for this season ?
I think for István the injury is the problem, every injury makes a player slower. If you want to play this transition like I do then it’s difficult to find a starting place for him. He’s a brilliant guy and I like him so much, he’s working really hard in the pre-season but with the speed it is difficult to find a place in the starting 11 but we will see. Everything is possible. For the 2nd question, the standard is higher for Fehérvár and we are looking for Hungarian players for sure, the where, why, how we shall see but for sure we are looking.
Name a few youngsters who have a realistic chance of breaking into the first team the upcoming season
So, what is a youngster, we have to determine what age is classed as youngster. [We decide probably U21]. Babos Bence, he is 18, scored against Dunaújváros. He is very motivated. Milán Papp (20) also scored in that game and is another to watch. A lot of the 2nd team have been training with us because the international players have only just come back after 16 days off so I have been able to see them and work with them. Of course, any player who is playing well for the 2nd team, we will invite them to train with the 1st team and it strengthens the connections. If they work hard, have the motivation then they may earn themselves a chance.
Does Dárdai Palko deserve to get called up to the Hungarian national team?
He has to work on it, he is young, he needs to work on his body and on some situations. I think if has a good season, Marco Rossi will see him, and he will maybe invite him.
Bamgboye does he have the potential to be a national team player?
Funsho? Yes, he is quick but I have to give the same answer like before with Dárdai. He has to work hard and I’m glad it is not my decision to call up the squad for the national team!
These young players have to learn to see the team’s success as an opportunity for their career. The better the team are playing then the more likely they are to be noticed or scouted by the national team. They need to just keep working hard, to win games and then people start asking who are this team Fehérvár in the next round of the conference league, and study them, study their players.
Should Vidi be focused on the league only or do we have a strong enough squad to reach the UECL?
If this is the music that we can dance on 3 parties then we must do it, it all depends on the music.
What is the official goal for Vidi in the UECL and what is realistic in your opinion? (Obviously it highly depends on the draw but what is this team capable of at its best?)
The first goal is to get past Qabala. I don’t look beyond that. Of course, I like to dream and personally I would love to at least make the group stage but in reality, we have to just take it one game at a time. If we play as a team and we can show our quality, we can win the games and make it into the next round. If we do that then our goal will be to win and reach the next round. The main goal is to train well, prepare well and play the best that we can.
Do you want to keep Stopira? (His contract is up.)
Contract negotiations are ongoing. It is not just about what I want, it is also about the players and what they are looking for with their next contract. The same applies with Fiola. Both of them have played for the team regularly and you don’t get selected for national teams matches for no reason, but I have no influence on whether they can agree terms with the club.
*Since doing the interview Stopira has signed for another year*
Is the squad more or less complete, or are more players expected to arrive during this summer transfer season? Köszönöm.
As a coach you will always look to strengthen your squad, if there are players that I think will fit into the squad I might go after signing them, if one of my current squad get an offer from elsewhere and decides to leave then I will have to replace them. I think we have decent squad now but until the transfer window closes at the end of August I can’t say yes or no because I don’t know what will happen between now and then.