Most prestigious signing since ’58
Still getting over the disappointment of flunking their Champions’ League final “rematch” against AC Milan a couple of weeks ago, Liverpool FC last Monday announced the signing of two young Hungarian footballers, Krisztián Németh (18) and András Simon (17). Both players signed five-year contracts in Liverpool on 25 May and will be moving from Budapest team MTK to feature in the Reds’ reserve squad next season.
Németh played his last match for MTK on 28 May, when they beat Újpest 2-0 in the last round of the Hungarian league, in which they came second to Debrecen.
Németh scored 11 goals last season for Hungary’s under-17 team, helping carry them into the UEFA championship (merely qualifying for an international tournament is news in Hungary at the moment).
He has since joined the national under-19 squad, and has scored 12 goals in as many matches for MTK this season. Simon was also in the under-17 team that made it to the finals in Luxembourg last year. Both players are strikers, although Németh is also said to be useful in midfield.
Hungarian players going places
The signings may not be the big name deals that Liverpool fans are waiting for, but are seen as part of the club’s commitment to building for the future. Manager Rafael Benitez said of the signings: “We have been watching these players for a long time. There were a lot of big clubs interested in them, such as Real Madrid, Ajax and PSV Eindhoven.”
Hungarian football not
Although Hungarian football is in a rather dire state at the moment – the latest humiliation for the national squad being a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the newly formed Montenegro team in its first ever international game on 24 March. This was nothing compared to being trounced 2-1 by football midgets Malta in October last year, giving the island team its first UEFA European Championship victory since 1982. This is a far cry from the days when Puskás and his “Golden Team” showed Europe a new way to play in the ’50s – incidentally giving the English team what to this day is its worst international defeat (7-1 in Budapest in 1954).
Greener pastures abroad
There has been a steady exodus of Hungarian players over the past few years. From Hungary’s current national team, Márton Fülöp is goalkeeper for Sunderland, defender Ádám Vass plays for Stoke City, and striker Zoltán Gera is a midfielder for West Bromwich Albion, and has been described as the team’s best player.
Other members of the squad play for German, Greek, Swedish, Scottish, Ukrainian, French and Italian teams. Liverpool is possibly the most prestigious club to take on a Hungarian player since Puskás moved to Real Madrid in 1958.
The daily Népszabadság carried an interview with Attila Simon, father of Liverpool bound András, last Tuesday. András is the third footballing prodigy raised by the proud father in the northern Hungarian backwater of Salgótarján. His twin brother Ádám and older brother Attila Snr both play for MTK. The boys’ grandfather, Imre Simon, is president of SBTC Salgótarján football club. Attila Simon Snr will be director of the Illés Béla Football Academy when it opens in Szombathely (western Hungary) in July. He told Népszabadság that he trained his boys six hours a day as they grew up, albeit “not with a stop watch in my hand, or with weights on their belts.”
Family, not country
So is Hungary about to witness a footballing renaissance? “I always believed in them and in myself, though I have to say I’m quite sure that Wayne Rooney might not be Wayne Rooney if he had grown up in Hungary,” said Attila Simon. “I just wanted to prove that even in circumstances like ours we could do something that, in other parts of the world, would hardly be seen as a miracle.”