What is wrong with Hungarian football?

From being a dominant force in world football for more than a decade, Hungarian football has gradually retreated into the wilderness.  How did this happen and are things likely to improve?  IBWM welcomes Tomasz Mortimer.

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.

You can get the latest updates from Hungary by following Tomasz on twitter @HungariaFootbal

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