Hungarian success didn’t change opinion of Orbán’s football mania

The Hungarian performance at the European Football Championship created a political controversy at home. Critics of the Orbán regime feared that since Orbán’s name is so closely associated with the game, the relatively good performance, especially in light of the past performance of the national team, would bring added popularity to the regime. Opinion pieces at home and abroad pointed out the political dividend of the fantastic enthusiasm that took hold of the population, especially after the first two games against Iceland and Portugal. Many of the critics bemoaned the likelihood that, with the Hungarian team’s marked improvement, the population would more readily endorse Viktor Orbán’s gigantic spending on football. Perhaps the enthusiastic fans will find Orbán’s unnatural preoccupation with the sport justified. Viktor Orbán himself certainly thought there was a connection between his extravagant spending on the sport and the initial success of the national team when on his Facebook page he said: “You see!” (Na, ugye!) By the way, for Orbán the game is a deadly serious affair, as the picture taken of him during the Austrian-Hungarian game shows.

For Viktor Orbán football is not a game

For Viktor Orbán football is not a game / Getty Images

Some of my friends, who certainly cannot be called supporters of the Orbán government, were furious with those commentators who shared their worries over the political fallout of the Hungarian football success. They foresaw the inevitable reaction from the other side. Indeed, the right-wing media called them traitors to the national cause, spoilers of a giant national celebration. For instance, Tivadar Farkasházy, an avid football fan and humorist, had an interview last fall on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd in which he said “Of course, I always root for the Hungarians. On the other hand, I have another self. When we lose I console myself that we managed to create a bad day for Viktor Orbán.” This statement was subsequently completely distorted, as a result of which someone spat into his face on the street. Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap published long articles about the disloyal left, which cannot be happy over the fantastic performance of the national team. Magyar Idők called it a hate campaign against Orbán and Hungarian football success.

The government, of course, did its best to make the team’s achievement its own. The initially spontaneous celebrations eventually deteriorated to official ones where the number of people coming out for the team was anything but spectacular. While the state radio and television station talked about 20,000 fans gathering on Heroes’ Square, more modest estimates judged the size of the crowd to be about 5,000. As the Hungarian saying goes, “Every wonder lasts only three days.”

And the football wonder is definitely over. As Publicus Institute’s latest poll shows, Hungarians are not so naïve as to think that the couple of decent showings of the national football team had anything to do with the billions of forints of taxpayer money Orbán spent on his hobby. Or that the half-empty football stadiums have anything to do with the quality of Hungarian football. Reaction to Orbán’s football extravagance is as negative after the European Football Championship as it was before. Eighty-three percent of the adult population still think that Viktor Orbán should spend less or a great deal less on building stadiums. People believe that the money allocated to stadium construction should instead be spent on healthcare, education, the elimination of poverty, employment opportunities, and higher wages in the public sphere, in that order.

There is, however, a change from the December 2015 poll with regard to government support of professional football and NB1 players of the National Championship. Although 63% of those asked would like to see less money spent on football players, eight months ago this figure was 72%. But when the respondents were asked the cause of Hungary’s success, only 10% pointed to the financial assistance the government/Viktor Orbán gave to the national team. Most (42%) said the players themselves and hard work were the source of the good performance. Almost as many (41%) named the two coaches, Pál Dárdai and Bernd Storck, who had coached the team over the last twelve months. So, those who thought that Orbán would reap great political benefits from the performance of the national football team were mistaken.

The future of Hungarian football will most likely depend on those youngsters who are currently enrolled in the 15 football academies. Three years ago MLSZ (Hungarian Football Association) hired an internationally well-respected Belgian company, Double Pass, to evaluate the performance of these academies. Double Pass’s first assessment was published in 2014, and it was described at the time as devastating. Everywhere Double Pass looked it found major deficiencies. The best of the lot, Debrecen’s academy, got a grade of 66%. The Felcsút Academy, which received an incredible amount of financial assistance from pro-Fidesz oligarchs, ended up #9. At that time Orbán boasted that the Puskás Academy was one of the top ten in Europe.

Now, two years later, Double Pass has released its final report, and the results are no better. Népszabadság called the report “Awakening from the EC dream,” emphasizing the poor quality of the players being trained in these academies. Double Pass analyzed strategy, infrastructure, coaching, the study of games, etc. and still found Debrecen to be the best. The richly endowed Felcsút, which just last year received 11 billion from tax-free contributions to sports, mostly football, and which is getting a new indoor football field for six billion forints, did move up in the rankings. Instead being ninth, it is now sixth out of fifteen. The whole report is available online. A good summary appeared in HVG.

One of the criticisms of Double Pass was that the owners of the academies often get personally involved in the strategy and management of the academies. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Viktor Orbán were among these meddlers. If that is the case, he is not a very good strategist or manager because the season results of the Felcsút Academy between 2013 and 2016 were anything but sterling. In the 2013-14 season they were in fourteenth place with a record of 8 wins, 15 losses, and 7 ties. They were tenth in 2014-15 with 10 wins, 15 losses and 5 ties and eleventh in 2015-16, next to last in the National Championship’s first tier (NB I) with 7 wins, 16 losses, and 10 ties. By now, Felcsút plays in NB II. But I doubt that Orbán will take Double Pass’s recommendations to heart. He rarely listens to others, especially if the advice comes from abroad.

July 17, 2016
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July 17, 2016 7:31 pm

Thank you Eva for your masterful analysis.

I expect that your interest in the game itself is very limited. I have a greater interest. The danger of placing reliance for political or any other purpose on a team’s performance is that the results are almost entirely unpredictable when the national teams are concerned. Today’s build up of euphoria over some quite good results can be dissipated in a short time by the almost inevitable reverse.

A club can buy players to improve its chances. The national side cannot, normally.

Even the shallow thinking loser, Cameron, would not have tied his electoral fortunes to the performance of the English national team. Let us hope OV does and loses.

July 17, 2016 7:51 pm

Soccer is the opium of the masses. Karl Marx or someone.

Felcsut didn’t produce a single player for 1st Division .
The game improved under Dardai (who is coaching in Germany) and the Stork’s German team.
The best players have been playing abroad for years.
It seems good soccer and success need less organism and more professionalism.

July 17, 2016 7:52 pm

Correction: less orbanism…

July 17, 2016 9:42 pm
After ‘every wonder lasts only three days’ there’s another apt saying and that is ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. And I’d suggest if ‘Viktor Puskas’ is also ‘chief chef’ well everybody can be assured football will never get back to those old ’50’s Magnificent Magyar days if that’s the plan. It’s too bad the football team has to maneuver in ‘politics’ to create excellence and pride while exemplifying drive and purpose towards achieving success in a fine sports activity. Even a great sport has been managed to get screwed up in that land where some look askance at it. And that’s because who it is linked with. While it is definitely true the academies are a focal point in developing talent it can be said outright there will be no success nor achievement if the intrinsic drive and fire doesn’t exist already outside of seeming political exigencies. Bottom line is does Magyarorszag and its players ‘love the game’ ? What is the psychology of the perception and playing of the game? What needs to be done to be successful? It is there where results go back to. The US one of the richest countries in the world still hasn’t… Read more »
Gyula Bognar Jr
July 18, 2016 2:01 am
There is no realistic evaluation of the performance of the Hungarian National Team in Hungary. Naturally emotions write everything over. The team was lucky to get into a weaker group and played a very poor Austrian team first, winning the Game. The rest of the games in the group were ties. Once they got into the 16 team elimination games, they lost 4:0 nothing and went home. They had a 6 kicked to 8 received goal record. Pretty lousy, I’d say. HOWEVER, THEY DESERVE TRIBUTE AND RECOGNITION, THAT THE WERE BETTER THAN IN THE PREVIOUS YEARS! NOT CELEBRATION!!!! They did not get into the Group of 8. Katinka Hosszú, the World’s best female swimmer does not celebrate, when she does not get into the first 8 swimmers in a race. She wins well and gets dozens of gold and silver medals and World Records. That is winning and that is worth celebrating, it is the result of extremely hard work and of course her talent. Celebrating a loss takes away the value from the extreme hard work and the difficulties people overcame to be the best, to be first, to do more than they were capable. Any other soccer team,… Read more »
July 18, 2016 3:04 am

VO wrotean opinion piece in the Frankfurter Allgemeinde Zeitung, and of which a translated version was on the website.

My take on it. It sounds reasonable, and therefore, he did not write it himself. Even medication could not help here.

The analysis of the situation is good, but no offer of any real solutions is made.

July 18, 2016 12:29 pm

Thanks, Ron – don’t know how I missed this!

Everybody should read this – though of course there are a lot of half-truths in it. Haven’t had the time yet to analyze it but one thing is clear:

This wasn’t written by O, but who did? Interesting question …

July 18, 2016 5:06 pm

‘Ordnung muss sein’…and that is the segue into the continuing saga of how Magyarorszag under VO plans to bob and weave with that philosophy as the country works through ‘democratic’ institutions and frameworks. Democracies can get messy sometimes with all the give and take and back and forth etc etc. With VO, having ‘ordah’ just makes things much easier to slog through.

One thing not under ‘order’ and difficult to control is the digital sphere of communications so important now as being influential in political opinion throughout the globe. Seems to really help in coups now too. Erdogan was such a masterful digerati by using an app to destroy the plotters in Turkey. It looks as if VO surely sees it as a game- changer for the illiberalist cause. An important social and communications medium today that can light fires on the Net in a giga-blink and also hold keys to riches.

July 18, 2016 3:19 am

London Calling!

Football in Hungary is less than clean and a magnet for Gonosztevők which almost all feed into Viktorlae Orbanescu’s formal political means of control. Engaged surreptitiously whenever the Rendorseg are significantly engaged.

Fradi Gonosztevők.

Orban has as much integrity as his thug President hero – Putin not Erdoğan.

Putin is about to squeal about unfairness over his State Sponsored Cheating by WADA at the Sochi Winter Olympics two years ago. The former head of Russia’s Drug testing bureau has gone into hiding in the USA – and blown the gaff over widespread organised swapping of urine samples and cheating.

The doodoo is about to hit the fan.

His track and field athletes have already been banned from the Olympics.

Putin will never give up trying to subvert the drug testing process and is up to his neck in involvement.

Orban will stop at nothing either.

Putin and Orban? Goonosztevők.

July 19, 2016 11:40 am

I think all this discussion about the female pudenda is lowering the tone of Eva’s blog.

All the hard work she puts into it.

Then this?

Stop please.

Sites that deal with this are two a penny. Two a filler.

July 19, 2016 11:43 am

I accidentally posted this to the wrong place – but that doesn’t diminish its message.