UEFA and FIFA presidents Michel Platini and Joseph Blatter were among the footballing aristocracy who attended the official opening of the “Globall Football Park and Sporthotel” on Saturday, 2 May. The Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) hopes that its new training centre in the town of Telki, ten kilometres west of Budapest, will play a major role in reversing the fortunes of the national game.
One-time Dutch international footballer and current manager of the Hungarian national team Erwin Koeman was also at the opening, along with former Holland teammate Frank Rijkaard. Other notables present were Polish Football Association president Grzegorz Boleslaw Lato and Football Federation of Ukraine vice-president Oleksandr Bandurko.
Poland and Ukraine will host the European Championships in 2012, after their joint bid beat a combined effort from Hungary and Croatia, and a solo Italian bid.
Hungary’s top footballers will now have access to state-of-the-art training facilities for last-minute fine tuning on the road to, hopefully, qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The Telki training centre has four full-size football pitches (105 x 68 metres), three of them covered with natural grass, the other with artificial turf. The main pitch is equipped with an AMISCO analysis system, which can track the movements of players throughout a game, allowing coaches to analyse individual player stats such as average speed, possession and accuracy of passing and striking. The centre also has handball and tennis courts, a 64-room hotel, a sports medical centre and a restaurant.
To be great again
“The association has now taken a very important step in moving forward and bringing success back to this country,” Platini said. “I know that the Under-19 team has already qualified for the [next] FIFA Under 20s World Cup, and I am sure that this centre will also help the talented Hungarians to improve their skills,” adding that “Hungary was very famous in creating great talents.”
The two-time World Player of the Year was referring to the glory days of Hungarian football in the 1950s when the Golden Team, led by striker Ferenc Puskas, laid to waste all before them. Hungarian football fans still remember with pride the match in 1953 when the Mighty Magyars as they were known in Britain inflicted a 6:3 defeat on the English national team at Wembley. That was followed by a 7:1 hammering in Budapest seven months later: to this day England’s worst international defeat.
All this was during of a consecutive run of 33 unbeaten international matches, a record that still stands. That winning streak only came to an end in the World Cup final in 1954, when West Germany handed Hungary a 3:2 defeat as Puskas struggled with an injury. The standing of the Hungarian team at the time is reflected in the name German fans gave to this match: “Das Wunder von Bern” (“The Miracle of Berne”).
Long time in the valley
All this is a far cry from the recent realities of Hungarian football.
Club teams have been struggling for financial survival, while numerous promising players have moved abroad. Hungary has not qualified for the World Cup since 1986, when it was knocked out in the group stages, an exit made more painful by a six-nil hammering at the hands, or rather feet, of the Soviet Union. Many feel that it is high time Hungary got its act together.
“Hungarian football is awakening from its ‘Sleeping Beauty’ slumber. The federation will get a long term return from its investment in this complex,” MLSZ president István Kisteleki said at the opening of the centre. “Some 50 artificial pitches have recently been awarded via the national Children’s Football Federation scheme,” he noted.
EUR 10 million centre
The Telki centre cost HUF 2.85 billion (EUR 10.08 million), of which roughly half was loaned by the Hungarian Development Bank (MFB), UEFA put up a further EUR 2.5 million, while FIFA contributed USD 800,000.
The MLSZ also used HUF 500 million (EUR 1.77 million) of its own funds and secured HUF 227 million (EUR 803,000) in EU development cash.
The state played no part in the centre’s creation, nor will it play any role in its running. The entire centre is wholly owned by the MLSZ, Kisteleki said.
On the road to 2010
Hungary are currently in second place in their qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup – which also includes Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, Malta and Albania – but four difficult games remain between them and a place in South Africa.
Kisteleki talked up the current situation, noting that since the change of leadership at the Hungarian Football Federation in 2006, Hungary’s FIFA world ranking has risen from 84 to 44: hardly in the great footballing force category, but at least heading in the right direction. Hungary also has one eye on the European Championships in 2012, for which it has not qualified since 1972.
“A new Ferenc Puskas Prize will be awarded at the world football authority’s annual gala as of next January,” Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai announced at a meeting with Blatter.
The new training camp may not produce a new Puskas, nor is it likely to catapult Hungary to the pinnacle of international football. But if it means that this country of ten million can make better use of the homegrown talent it does produce, Hungarian fans will have less to be embarrassed about than they have over the last few years. Hungary has undoubtedly thrown up some useful young players recently, such as 20-year-old Krisztin Németh, who signed for Liverpool in 2007. The federation hopes that such natural talent will now be hot-housed at home from an earlier age.