The current Hungarian political landscape is a wasteland. Almost nothing is happening. Half of the government seems to be in France, and the rest of the country talks of nothing else but the Hungarian national team’s surprisingly good showing at the European Championship. Since 1972 no Hungarian national team had been good enough to even participate in these games, so the national delirium is understandable. Today I’m going to look into some possible explanations for the sorry state of the sport in Hungary in the last thirty years or so.
Hungary was once a powerhouse of football, but today economic realities make it highly unlikely that it will ever return to its former glory. Hungary simply doesn’t have the kind of money necessary to finance a top-flight team. Each player has his own price and, according to Andreas Möller, the recently hired assistant to Coach Bernd Storck, the market value of the Hungarian national team today is the lowest of all the teams playing in France. One reason for this low number is that a fair number of the athletes play for Hungarian and Polish clubs, which are lesser known and valued and hence pay lower salaries. (Or they pay lower salaries, hence they are lesser known and valued.)
But it seems that there are other problems in the world of Hungarian football that have less to do with money and more to do with the circumstances created by the leaders in the sport. I read an interview with a player who felt so neglected in his Hungarian club that he packed up, moved to Austria, and today is a member of the Austrian national team. For one reason or another, his coach in Hungary didn’t appreciate his talents.
One shouldn’t think that this young man’s case was unique. A couple of months ago Storck, the new coach of the Hungarian team, made the mistake of asking why a certain young player from the Puskás Academy was being ignored when he is very talented. Storck was immediately rebuked by the coach of the Academy, who announced that all decisions are his responsibility and he doesn’t appreciate advice, even if it comes from the coach of the national team. László Kleinheisler, the hero of the Hungary-Norway match, was a member of Videoton, where he was completely neglected although again he is apparently a very talented player. To everybody’s amazement Storck picked him to be a member of the national squad. Criticism immediately followed this “rash decision” on Storck’s part.
Over the years, reading the Hungarian media, I couldn’t help noticing that the coaches of the national team came and went with frightening frequency. Today I sat down and counted: nine coaches in ten years. One of these, Sándor Egervári (2010-213), gave an interview to Sport TV in October 2015, shortly after Storck was hired and had just made the decision to change the entire staff he inherited from his predecessor. Egervári said in the interview that “we trained [the players] for second place because for us second place meant moving further up.” Well, I don’t know about football, but in other sports the coach wants his team to win and not be satisfied with second place. In the interview he had to admit that “unfortunately in the last half year” when he was the coach, the Hungarian team lost its second position.
In the rest of the interview he expressed his misgivings about Bernd Storck who, in his estimation, is a divisive personality, which will be detrimental to the squad’s cohesion. He called Storck’s decision to hire an entirely new training staff “horrifying” because the old staff “knew the circumstances that exist in Hungary” and they were the ones who could help the players. He went on and on until it finally became evident that what Egervári really objected to was that the new coach was not a Hungarian. Someone coming from the outside cannot get to know the players, he said, adding that “we are Hungarians in an emotional sense” and thus, I gather, a German will never understand the Hungarian psyche. Never mind that the mostly Hungarian coaches in the last thirty years hadn’t achieved anything. The final message of Egervári was to “go with the flow,” don’t change anything, permanence is something to be cherished. But the trouble is that in this context permanence meant failure.
Storck’s daring moves and his assessments of player talent were largely responsible for the achievements of the Hungarian national team, but the second man who should be applauded is Sándor Csányi, president of the Hungarian Football Association, who backed Storck up through these last few months. He told Storck that he had a free hand in deciding with whom he wants to work. He also defended the coach against the leadership of the Puskás Academy.
In October, right after Egervári’s attack on him, Storck explained his decision to change the entire staff only a few months before the beginning of the games. He explained that the members of the old staff worked only half-time, and Storck is apparently the kind of guy who works 24/7. Also, he had his own ideas about the game and needed people who could understand and share his vision. As for the risks, he said there are times when one has to take risks. A few days ago he again elaborated on the lack of daring of Hungarian football players as well as their lack of self-confidence and a will to win. “It is hard to convince the players that they should raise their heads, look their adversaries in the eye, and be proud that they wear this uniform.” Just as we heard Egervári say that he would be satisfied with second place, apparently leaders in the Hungarian world of football kept telling Storck and Möller before the game against Norway to “play for a tie.”
I’m not sure, but I have the feeling that Storck is paying a lot more attention to analyzing the techniques of the adversaries than his predecessors did. He believes that there is never enough study of earlier games. Each player receives a detailed account of the strengths and weaknesses of their adversaries. The staff works out a complete plan for the coming game. With a part-time staff I wonder whether such thorough prepping was possible. Most likely not.
Of course, one swallow doth not a summer make, but Storck and Möller are committed to staying in Hungary until at least 2018. The question is how hard a time they will have changing the fundamentals which, like so many other things, would need a total makeover.