The Panenka

A blog dedicated to European Football, World Soccer and the Road to Russia 2018

Hungary: The Decade of Revival

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Hungary boss Bernd Storck is carried off the pitch after seeing his side secure qualification to Euro 2016 in France.

History hangs heavy around the necks of Hungarian football. Once the powerhouse that inspired generations of tacticians and players in the 50s, Hungary are rising once again with a reinvigorated sense of purpose and ambition.

 Much of that is thanks to coach Bernd Storck who is at the forefront of a revolution for Hungarian international football. The Panenka looks at the blueprint for “A Decade of Revival” in Hungary as they prepare for Euro 2016.

In the 1930s and 1950s Hungary, in particular Budapest, was central to the development of a game, which, despite having mass popular appeal, was still finding its feet as an intellectual phenomenon. In that period the nation won three Olympic titles and finished as runner-up at the World Cup in 1938 and 1954, leading to a reputation as a fully fledged force in world football.

In the middle of the 20th century the ‘Danubian School of Football’ produced some of the greatest coaches and players the world has ever seen. This caused the Hungarian national team to become renowned for it’s forward thinking and revolutionary style.

The embodiment of the height of Hungarian football intellectualism was the 1954 World Cup team, containing Puskas, Kocsis and Hidegkuti. It represented a style of football that encompassed a variety of coaching and tactical techniques from across the continent. This led to a style of that the world had never seen before but would aspire to replicate every 90 minutes since.

Despite a quarter-final spot in the 1966 World Cup and qualification to World Cup in 1978, 1982 and 1986, Hungarian football, which had once been the envy of the world, has been in a steady state of decline.

Modern history as well has been cruel to Hungarian football: social, cultural, political and economic problems have directly affected the state of the country’s sporting infrastructure. Today though Euro 2016 is on the horizon and the tournament will be the first time the country has qualified for a major tournament since 1986.

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Ferenc Puskas scores in a 7-1 demolition of England at Wembley in 1954.

Hungarian football appears to be on an upward trend. That achievement can largely be attributed to Hungary coach Bernd Storck and the foresight of the Hungarian Football Federation to attempt to resuscitate the national team in a top to bottom nationwide revival.

Former Hungary coach Pal Dardai walked out on the Hungary team to take the managerial vacancy with Hertha Berlin last summer which left a gap for current boss Bernd Storck to fill. Under Storck’s tutelage Hungary entered the final four games of qualification with little hope. The new boss’ slightly more conservative style improved the team’s chances and meant that they were able to finish third in the group to set up a monumental two-legged play-off tie with Norway.

Such was the tremendous importance of the play-off games the Hungarian football authorities agreed to cancel all domestic fixtures a week prior to the game at Storck’s request. It paid off too when Hungary won the first leg of their play-off 1-0 in Oslo before dispatching the Scandinavians with a 2-1 victory in the 2nd leg.

Storck, formerly an assistant at Dortmund, Wolfsburg and Partisan Belgrade as well as previously taking control of Kazakhstan’s international interests, has an ambition to professionalize the structure of Hungarian football. Furthermore, he believes in drawing from the intellectual ‘coffee shop’ mentality of Budapest and Vienna in the 1950s. It is part of his philosophy that ideas need to be shared across borders and implemented, as well as adapted, across the game.

“Raising the levels of professionalism is a big thing for us,” Storck emphasized in an interview with German news outlet DW. “The point is: what is good coaching? We have to know what’s the best way to develop players. You have to go abroad and see what is happening in other countries.”

Storck wants the change to boost the standard of football in the country. The strategy document at the Hungarian Football Federation (HFF) is titled ‘The Decade of Revival.’ Hungary is attempting to implement many of the coaching models that have been so successfully put in to practice by his native Germany. The model puts a high emphasis on high-quality coaching available through regional football centers, of which there are plans to have more than 20. The manifesto, which title sounds like something from a Soviet era five-year plan, also draws on coaching techniques derived from France and England.

Furthermore, part of the changes sees Hungarian clubs are incentivized to promote young homegrown players into their respective first-teams with the HFF offering bonuses for those make the national team. Already Hungarian football and the decade of revival is seeing results and has surpassed expectations in qualifying for Euro 2016. Their original target had modestly been to qualify for Euro 2020.

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Bernd Storck celebrates Kleinheisler’s goal in the Euro 2016 play-off first leg qualifier in Oslo against Norway.

Storck’s single-minded ambition is highlighted by the fact that in the days before the hugely important Euro 2016 qualification play-off double-header with Norway, Storck gambled by removing many of the backroom staff and bringing in his own selection of people. Chiefly, he brought in Andreas Moeller as assistant coach, a 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championships winner. “No one in Hungarian football has done what he has, he knows what success looks like and knows how to achieve it,” Storck said.

In the playoff victory itself Storck handed an international debut to 22-year-old Laszlo Kleinheisler who had hardly played a game all season. The gamble paid off when the fearless youngster scored the only goal in Oslo during the first-leg. Storck’s magical touch was at it again in the second leg when he favored the out of form former Watford striker Tamas Priskin in Budapest who naturally scored in the 2-1 win to secure passage to Euro 2016.

At Euro 2016 in France no one is giving Hungary a chance. They are practically a work in progress and a side that will probably feel somewhat lucky to be there. With the sweatpant-wearing goalkeeping Svengali Gabor Kiraly, 40, in between the sticks, he will be the oldest player to grace a European Championship. The team’s creative heart beats around its captain Balazs Dzsudzsak, who plays club football with Bursapor in Turkey.

Storck believes it will take 10 years to reverse the country’s footballing decline since the 1980s. Despite having no regular first-teamers in the top European leagues Storck is adamant Hungary is not at Euro 2016 just to make up the numbers.

“My task is to develop players’ mentality, their self-confidence. Their first thought is always negative. We have a united squad, no egomaniacs or primadonnas, our team spirit is our strength,” he said.

At Euro 2016 Hungary find themselves in Group F along side Iceland, Portugal and Austria who they will play in the nation’s tournament opener on June 14 in Bordeaux.

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