Hungary’s progress to the Under-20s World Cup semi-finals in Egypt has brought to the spotlight the country’s close links with Liverpool Football Club.
Three of Hungary’s best performers during the tournament are currently on the books at Anfield as part of a tie-up between Liverpool and MTK Hungaria. And with Liverpool recently bringing Oldham Athletic into the partnership to act as a sort of halfway house between Budapest and Merseyside for young Hungarian players, the links look set to strengthen in the medium to long-term future.
First, a look at the Liverpool trio who impressed for Hungary in their successful Under-20s World Cup campaign:
Imaginatively described as Hungary’s answer to Petr Cech (well they do both play in goal and have virtually the same name), Peter Gulacsi was signed by Liverpool from MTK Hungaria in September 2008 upon completion of a successful loan spell at Anfield. He played a part in Liverpool’s successful reserve team of 2007/2008 and was then loaned out to Hereford United in 2009. Gulacsi made his football league debut at Edgar Street, but could do nothing to prevent Hereford’s relegation to League Two.
In fairness, comparisons to Cech are not wholly baseless – with his tall, gangly frame and commanding style of keeping there are similarities between Gulacsi and the Czech international, and even facially they bear resemblance. “It’s not the first time someone has mentioned that to me,” Gulacsi told FIFA out in Egypt, “but we just look the same and that’s it. I’d love to be compared to him as a player one day, but I’m still a long, long way from achieving that.”
Gulacsi only made his debut at international level recently; his first appearance came in Hungary’s 3-0 defeat to Honduras at the U-20 World Cup in Egypt. But the 19-year-old was scarcely to blame for that loss and quickly grew into one of the best keepers of the whole competition, commanding his defence around with authority, displaying good handling skills and also showing a talent for saving penalties. Gulacsi was the hero in Hungary’s round of 16 win over Czech Republic after saving three penalties in the shootout.
2, András Simon (Striker)
The 6ft striker has represented his country at Under-17, U-18, U-19 and now U-20 level, and played in all but one of Hungary’s games in Egypt. Simon was signed by Rafa Benitez in a double deal that also brought Krisztian Nemeth to Anfield back in 2007, and while he has appeared regularly for Liverpool reserves, this year Benitez allowed Simon to go out on a season long loan to Cordoba CF of the Spanish second division. He can operate as a second striker or targetman but is not thought to be as highly rated within the club as their other Hungarian forward…
3, Krisztian Nemeth (Striker)
Currently out on loan at AEK Athens, Liverpool have high hopes for Krisztian Nemeth. Described by Benitez as ‘a great finisher’, Nemeth has scored goals at every level in his young career and is continuing that trend in Greece where he already has 2 goals in 4 appearances.
With 3 goals to his name at the Under-20 World Cup, including an all-important extra time brace that eliminated Italy in the quarter finals, Nemeth’s impressive displays in Egypt have only furthered the 20-year-old’s growing reputation. The Liverpool fans’ reserve team Player of the Season 2007/2008, some at Anfield already feel the Hungarian is ready for first team football, Liverpool Kop calling Benitez’s decision to loan him out this season a “mistake” and claiming Nemeth is “more than capable of holding his own in the first team.”
Liverpool’s partnership with MTK Hungaria is part of the Premier League club’s strategy to gain direct access to a country in which the quality of youth football is currently on the rise. Established in 2007, the link-up involves Liverpool supporting MTK’s academy by helping to train the Budapest outfit’s young players. In return the Reds get first pick on the best academy youngsters.
Oldham Athletic were also recently brought into the deal after they initially sought a partnership with MTK of their own. The Latics’ good relationship with Liverpool chief scout Frank McParland resulted in Oldham’s entering into the partnership, and the League One club now have seven Hungarian players on their books, three of which have made it into the first team squad.
The link-up with Oldham suits Liverpool, as they now get to see how well the Hungarian academy players adapt to life in England before exercising their option to buy.
“Liverpool do not want to go to Hungary to see the players all the time and so they have brought them here to England and Oldham so that Liverpool can see them easier and they can get used to the quicker game here,” Hungarian coach Zsolt Szekely told Oldham Athletic’s official website, and the three-way partnership seems to suit all parties.
Liverpool get first refusal on MTK’s promising academy players but can first vet them at Oldham to see how they do, Oldham get a handy boost to their squad and the chance to pick up any players Liverpool deem not good enough for the Premier League and MTK Hungaria are rewarded financially.
Of course, Liverpool are not the only Premier League club with exclusive links to other European clubs’ academies. Youth development partnerships are en vogue these days. Manchester United have had links to Royal Antwerp since 1998, Chelsea established a partnership with Holland’s PSV Eindhoven in 2004 and Tottenham recently set up a deal to link up with Brazilian side Internacional.
The question for Liverpool now is whether Peter Gulacsi, Andras Simon and Krisztian Nemeth can help vindicate the club’s decision to enter a partnership with MTK Hungaria by making it into the first team at Anfield.