BUDAPEST: Sandor Csanyi believes that the passage of the great and the good of world football through Budapest is a good omen that the Hungarian game, after years in the doldrums, has turned a positive corner writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Hungarian fans have to look back 26 years to the last appearance of their national team in a major finals.
The Magical Magyars of Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and Jozsef Bozsik are now mere legend for the vast majority of Hungarians. The great days when the plum-red jerseys conquered all of Europe – including England, most famously, at Wembley in 1953 – are long gone.
As Csanyi told visiting FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his colleagues: “In the past two decades Hungarian football has fallen behind the best teams.”
Blatter, then 18, was standing behind one of the goals in the old wooden Wankdorf stadium in Bern when runaway favourites Hungary lost 3-2, against all the odds, to West Germany in the 1954 World Cup Final.
Hungary had gone four years undefeated only to lose the one match in all that time they had to win.
The last two decades have been sad years for Hungary. The collapse of the Iron Curtain saw the finest young talent rush to take up lucrative contracts in western Europe. The old state sponsorships vanished and the game collapsed into a black hole of financial anguish, hooliganism on the terraces as well as corruption on and off the field.
But then, as Csanyi added: “Two years ago the Hungarian federation elected a new presidency to bring professionalism and organisation into the game. We want to prove that Hungary has not forgotten how to play the game and we should not be written off.”
The renewed federation drew up a 10-year plan to redesign and re-invigorate the domestic game from grassroots to professionals, from kindgartens to senior players, including a modern approach to the training of coaches – a sphere in which 1950s Hungary led the world game – and the adoption of new scientific methods.
Csanyi is proud of what has been accomplished already though he knows it is only a start. He says: “We have already achieved somersaults. We have stabilised the financial basis of Hungarian football thanks to our professional foundations which have made a major investment in youth development.”
Results can be read into statistics already.
“In two years,” he says, “we have seen an increase from 67,000 to 110,000 in young people playing football, the number of youth teams from 2900 to 3500 and of amateur players by 20pc.”
A 65,000-capacity new national stadium should soon leap off the drawing board, two smaller new stadia have already completed and a new approach to relationships with fans and a consequent reduction in hooliganism means that fences will be torn down.
The youngsters were also third at the World Under-20 Youth Cup in 2009 which was Hungary’s first medal since the last of their five Olympic medals (three gold, one silver, one bronze) in 1972.
Csanyi says: “Our Hungarian government understands the importance of sport and helps us with sport-friendly legislation. We hope that one day history will repeat itself and bring us some more medals.”
Hungary cannot boast a new Sarosi or Zsengeller, Puskas or Kocsis, Albert or Tichy* but the national team have climbed up the FIFA world rankings from 62 to 35. It’s a start.
** Heroes of yesteryear: Gyorgy Sarosi and Gyula Zsengeller from the 1930s; Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis from the 1950s; Florian Albert and Lajos Tichy from the 1960s.