Football

Despite Viktor Orbán’s best efforts, Hungarian football is not a success story

I never  in my wildest dreams thought that one day I would be searching for details on some fine points of football/soccer. In fact, in my teenage years I was so indifferent to the world’s favorite sport that I wouldn’t even attend the “game of the century” in Pécs when the “Golden Team/Mighty Magyars” played against the not so mighty locals. But what can one do if Hungary is today cursed with a prime minister for whom football is the most important thing after politics? (Or perhaps even ahead of it.)

Football for Viktor Orbán seems to be so important that he even subordinates matters that are vital to the well-being of his people (education, healthcare, and social services) to his favorite sport. Austerity measures are introduced three or four times a year in order to keep the deficit under the required 3%, but these measures never touch the sacred game of football. Other sports in which Hungarians are much more successful receive only meager–and ever decreasing–government subsidies.

I have to trust those who know something about the game and who claim that Hungarian football is currently beyond redemption. They emphasize that the kind of professional football that is played today pretty well precludes the possibility of Hungary ever becoming the football powerhouse that Viktor Orbán dreams of. Football is business, big business. And the borders are wide open. A talented Hungarian football player could make millions of euros in another country. But there is one major problem: there are no truly outstanding Hungarian players, and it looks as if there won’t be any in the near future.

Viktor Orbán, whose energy between 2002 and 2010 was spent primarily on his efforts to regain power, put aside enough time to ponder the future of the struggling Hungarian football enterprise. One of his many goals as prime minister was the revival of Hungarian football, but the way he has gone about it is not likely to produce results. He launched a stadium construction and renovation project in 2010, scheduled to be completed in 2018 to the tune of 140-160 billion forints. The  map below gives a fair idea of the magnitude of the undertaking. Altogether 33 stadiums will be built or renovated. Unfortunately, the quality of Hungarian football is so bad that the stadiums today are practically empty. I assume that Orbán thinks that better stadiums will attract  more fans; if you build them they will come. Stadionprojektek But where will the players come from? From the football academies, of course. Oh, yes, the football academies. Viktor Orbán received some bad news on that front recently. Some time ago the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) asked the independent Belgian firm Double Pass to assess the work being done in the Hungarian football academies. The verdict as summarized by MLSZ is devastating. Double Pass also ranked the Hungarian academies, which MLSZ wanted to keep secret. There was good reason for the secrecy. The “famous” Ferenc Puskás Academy backed by Viktor Orbán was ninth out of twelve! This is the same academy that, according to the prime minister, was among the top ten in Europe!

Even the best Hungarian academy, the Debreceni Labdarúgó Akadémia, is inferior in comparison to academies in other European countries with strong teams. In Hungary training methods are old-fashioned and not uniform. There are no trainers who specialize in developing particular skills. Recruiting is done on a part-time basis. Psychological coaching is sorely wanting. The Hungarian academies don’t use modern training software. And the report goes on and on for 134 pages.

The directors and coaches of these academies were not at all thrilled about this probing by Double Pass, and now that the ranking is available they try to explain away the firm’s findings by claiming, as is usual in Hungary, that the employees of Double Pass don’t really understand the Hungarian system. Well, let’s put it this way, Double Pass clearly understood that the Hungarian system doesn’t produce winning teams. Hungary is currently host to the annual UEFA European Under-19 Championship. So far, the Hungarian team has lost to Austria (3 to 1) and to Portugal (6 to 1). Sportswriters kept saying that the Hungarians “should have won” against the Austrians but, well, they blew it. The Portuguese  are very good but they won against Israel with only three goals and not six. In brief, the Hungarians under 19 are lousy. And these people are students and graduates of the academies! Hungary might have 33 swanky stadiums by 2018, but the country is unlikely to have fantastic football players.

And while we are on the subject of these new stadiums, an incredible amount of money was spent on the Felcsút project, but weeks ago one could already read that something is very wrong with the drainage of the field. After a heavy rain a game had to be scrapped because the grass would have been damaged otherwise. Nature was blamed: the rain was too heavy. This time the game was played in the rain, and as one of the sportswriters remarked, the game was almost played in a lake. But that is not the only problem. The fancy wooden structure over the spectator seats does not shield people from the rain. The sportswriters with their computers were not exactly happy with the section allocated to them because the rain was coming down on them fast and furious. So, they packed up and went inside to watch the game on the monitor. So much for Viktor Orbán’s efforts so far on behalf of Hungarian football. He seems to be as successful in this endeavor as he is in governing the country.

Orbán’s son liberated himself. When will the Hungarian people do the same?

I will be writing today about a family affair. Well, not quite. It started off as a family affair, but by now it has become a scandal of sorts. Start with a father who always wanted to be a professional football player but who was not good enough. When he had a son who under his guidance seemed to be keen on football, he became hopeful: perhaps the boy. Although he produced five children, all the others were girls. So his hopes were pinned on the lone boy.

The father became an important politician of some means who was powerful enough to provide everything necessary for a burgeoning young football talent. He even established a football academy where naturally his son was a student. Because of his powerful connections in the world of football he even managed to get his son on a professional team–his favorite, Videoton. But the boy’s record was not noteworthy. He played in one game, spending a grand total of ten minutes on the field. Otherwise he sat on the bench. The servile pro-government media tried to cast his ten-minute appearance as a glorious performance, which apparently it was anything but.

Of course, I’m talking about Viktor Orbán and his twenty-two-year-old son, Gáspár. Gáspár’s name was of course known in Hungary, but in the last few days he became infamous.

The Hungarian public was aware that Viktor Orbán would be going to Brazil for the World Cup. The public was told that he was going alone and that he himself would pay for the trip. As it turned out, FIFA paid for his trip and he took his son along. That by itself would have aroused those who are not exactly admirers of the prime minister, but when the hundreds of photos taken of the VIP section at the German-Argentine game showed Viktor Orbán and his son sitting right in front of Angela Merkel and Joachim Gauck all hell broke loose. The general reaction was that Viktor Orbán is a boor who does not know how to behave. He should have known that his son does not belong in the VIP section alongside heads of states and other celebrities. Vitriolic comments could be read everywhere.

Photo EPA / Marcus Brandt

Photo EPA / Marcus Brandt

Gáspár made a mistake his father would never make. He decided to complain to one of the internet news outlets that dared to write about his unusual appearance in the VIP section. And of all places, he picked 444.hu, which is known for its caustic and irreverent style. He practically demanded that the news organ not publish anything about him because he is not a public figure, just an ordinary citizen. 444.hu told young Gáspár that he has been a public figure for some time and that after his appearance on the international scene he certainly is one now. Moreover, newspapers, the editors lectured him, write about ordinary citizens as well.

After this exchange the outrage has only grown and with it the number of jokes and less than complimentary descriptions of the abilities of the prime minister’s son. 444.hu led the way. They called young Orbán “the prince of the Hungarians.” Others followed: “Gáspár or Viktorfi?”

The World Cup final took place on July 13 and Gáspár’s picture appeared in every second newspaper in the world. As soon as he arrived back home he wrote his complaining letter to 444.hu, and two days later came the news: Gáspár at the age of 22 has retired from football. The news was received with astonishment.

It is not clear why he decided to quit the sport. HVG learned that the events of the last few days convinced him that he is not cut out for that kind of “fame.” But I personally suspect that “Viktorfi” had enough of feeling that his football “achievements” are not really his own. Apparently the Puskás Academy’s team has been thoroughly transformed: thirteen players are leaving and nine new ones are joining. Perhaps he realized that without his father’s name he would not have been one of them.

Whatever the case, the media is not any kinder to Gáspár Orbán after his retirement. One sarcastic headline read: “The absence of Gáspár Orbán is hovering over Hungarian football.” Cink.hu called the retiring Gáspár “the Eaglet,” the nickname of Napoléon’s son Franz, Duke of Reichstadt, and what came afterward was a condemnation of the father who put such pressure on his son. “Miserable Gáspár has the country’s most willful sport-daddy, who has the greatest opportunities to fulfill his own ambitions.” Plastic.hu did not feel any sympathy for the oppressed son. If he wanted to be his own man, why did he attend the Puskás Academy and why did he go and sit in the VIP section in Rio de Janiero? Our poor “national martyr.”

Then slowly details emerged. Apparently, Gáspár told his coach after the FTC-Puskás Akadémia game (1-0) that he no longer wants to be a member of the team. A few hours later hir24.hu reported that Gáspár talked about quitting in May while in Uganda where he was teaching children to play football. Gáspár apparently was a volunteer with a relief organization called “Empower a Child in Uganda.” In May this organization put up a photo of Gáspár barefoot like the children with him on Facebook. The text that accompanied the photo read: “Meet one of our New MSTs Gaspar Orban training children in soccer. He is a former professional football player in Hungary who quit the profession after GOD called him to serve his kingdom. He is now blessing the children of Zirobwe village with skills in one of the world’s most loved games.”

So, it seems that Gáspár decided to liberate himself. He just had enough. I wonder when the Hungarian people will decide to follow his example.