Exclusive | Hungary assistant manager Zoltán Gera: “Hungary are on track and I’m proud of how they are playing right now.”

Germany face Hungary in their UEFA Nations League Group A3 match in Leipzig on Friday night. The ‘Magyars’ hope to improve on the 1-1 draw from their opening game in Budapest, but amongst the most notable absences will be Basel striker Ádám Szalai who is currently injured. 

Germany’s second match is a tricky away fixture against England at Wembley on Monday night. The DFB team are second in the group and will be without Marco Reus, who suffered an injury in Borussia Dortmund’s win over Schalke at the weekend but have newly called up Southampton defender Armel Bella-Kotchap. Manuel Neuer and Leon Goretzka have also withdrawn from the squad after testing positive for Covid-19.

Gareth Southgate’s England team will need two wins from both their matches against Italy and Germany in the coming six days if they are to avoid the humiliation of relegation to the second tier of the competition, that Germany experienced in 2018. 

Hungary is top of Germany’s UEFA Nations League group with seven points from four games. They’ve racked up some impressive results so far. Marco Rossi’s team beat England in both matches, first 1-0 in the opening game of the group and then giving the Euro 2020 finalists a real lesson in tactical football beating them 4-0 at the Puskas Arena in the reverse fixture. 

On Monday night, Hungary will be hoping to improve on their 2-1 loss from their first match against Italy in Cesena in June. Rossi’s team have valid hopes of reaching the finals, which will be played in June 2023. For Hungary, qualification for the finals would be an impressive feat having failed to get out of the group stage in the 2019 and 2021 tournaments.

The ‘Reds’ have a very poor qualifying record in major tournaments. They have not qualified for a FIFA World Cup since Mexico 1986. In the UEFA European Championship after a 36 year absence, there has been a marked improvement with the side reaching both Euro 2016 and 2020. 

A coach who has been a leading mind in the revival of the Hungary team over the past six years, is former West Bromwich Albion and Fulham attacking-midfielder Zoltán Gera. The 97-time Hungary international and two-time Player of the Year (2004 and 2005) has been the assistant coach of the senior team since 2018 and took charge of the U21 team the following year.

In an exclusive interview with Ben McFadyean of GGFN, Gera talked about some of the reasons for the revival, shared some insights from the coaching set up and highlights some of the talents in the team to watch out for.  

Ben McFadyean (BM): Zoltán, you are the head coach of the Hungary U21 national team and were a vital part of the first-team set up between 2018-21 as assistant manager as well, how does it feel to be on the coaching side now?

Zoltán Gera (ZG): I feel really good, it’s actually an honour in fact to be coaching my country, I started three years ago and I am enjoying working with the young players, it’s an important step for the players, we are working hard to get them into the players into the kind of shape they need to be in and it is starting to pay off in the results on the pitch.

BM: Looking at the Hungarian game right now, the team are achieving very respectable results in a very tough group which includes Italy, England and Germany, what is the key to the revival of your country’s football that we are seeing?

ZG: In fact, the team are improving, and I think that the results will continue to get better. We have a good generation of players, also at the U21 level which I coach myself, who are coming through, but you never know at that level because everything can change very quickly. But there is definitely a really talented generation of players coming through in Hungary.

BM: Talking about Hungarian players, RB Leipzig’s Dominik Szoboszlai and András Schäfer of Union Berlin are already making an impact in the Bundesliga. Goalkeeper Zsombor Senko is now with Juventus and striker Andras Nemeth is currently playing with Genk in Belgium, how far can these players go?

ZG: You know our job as coaches of the national team is to nurture the talent primarily, and that is what we aim to do. Take for example Szabolcs Schön who is now with three-time champions Fehevar, he is a young player who is already playing with the first team and for sure one to watch out for. Szoboszlai has had a period of injury but he has returned this season and is performing well. Senko is currently with Juventus U23s in Serie C, but he is the future, a really talented keeper. Nemeth is also a really good prospect, I could see him in the Bundesliga or Premier League in the future.

BM: Winger Zalan Vancsa signed with Manchester City, how much can City fans expect from Vancsa? 

ZG: Zalan is a very creative player, he is the youngest ever player to score in the Hungarian league and has been playing in Belgium with SK Lommel, he has pace and good technique. I think if he can keep up the performance level and can become part of the Manchester City first team that he signed for, for over €4m last year.

BM: You are well-known to the Fulham fans from your three seasons with the Craven cottage-based club, where you played alongside Moritz Volz, how do you see their promotion to the Premier League?

ZG: I was with Fulham for three seasons in the Premier League during my time there and I remember my time fondly. Fulham belong in the top tier, they are a big club. I hope they will play a good season ahead, especially as I am also a Fulham fan myself. I would very much like to spend more time in the UK and have many friends there. 

BM: Hungary are top of the table in Group A3, one point ahead of ‘Die Mannschaft’ with England a surprise bottom of the table, can your team go all the way to the finals?

ZGItaly failed to get to the Qatar World Cup, but as they showed when they beat us 2-1, they are always dangerous; and we need. to watch out. In the case of Germany, they have had some fair results. Hansi Flick’s team are always very difficult to play against, they are disciplined and have a great mentality. England is going through a rough spell but have the talent to bounce back. I feel Hungary is on track to keep improving our performances, but I couldn’t predict who will reach the finals. But I will be pleased if we keep playing as we are, I feel proud of the team right now.

Ben McFadyean

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