Ferencváros achieved a major feat last Saturday. For around 70 minutes, the team under coach Peter Stöger were a man down in the stormy derby against city rivals Honved after a red card for full-back Endre Botka – but Ferencváros went on to win the game. Tokmac Chol Nguen scored early on and they were able to hold onto that lead. "It was a very difficult game and we had to put in a lot of defensive work," was the post-match analysis of head coach Stöger. The former FC Köln and Borussia Dortmund boss took over the helm at the Hungarian side for the new season after successful manager Sergej Rebrov left Budapest after three championship titles in succession and the first qualification for the Champions League in 24 years to join Al-Ain FC in the United Arab Emirates. Qualification for the Champions League failed to materialise under Stöger as the Hungarian side lost to the former club of Gerardo Seoane in the play-offs. Young Boys Bern won both legs 3-2. That means Ferencváros are now in the Europa League – where they see themselves as underdogs. "We won't be going into any game as favourites, that much is clear," is Stöger’s assessment of their position.
The most famous names at Ferencváros are probably amongst the management. In addition to Stöger, who was prised away from his old club Austria Vienna, the sporting director may also be familiar to many German football fans. Tamas Hajnal was a technically-gifted midfield maestro with 149 Bundesliga games for Schalke 04, Karlsruher SC, Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart and 41 second division games for Kaiserslautern and Ingolstadt. Following his playing career, he took over a management role at his hometown club Ferencváros in 2018. He has put together an international team with players from 14 nations in addition to several Hungarians.
There are however not many famous names. Winger Robert Mak, who played for FC Nürnberg in the Bundesliga for four years, later gained Champions League experience with Zenit St Petersburg and he took part in two European Championships with Slovakia. With three goals to date, the now 30-year-old is top scorer for Ferencváros this term. In the Champions League qualifiers, the Albanian Myrto Uzuni and the Moroccan Ryan Mmaee led the way with four goals each. Other important members of the team are Mmaeee's big brother Samy, who plays in central midfield alongside the Slovenia international Miha Blazic, plus goalkeeper and captain Denes Dibusz.
Stöger has a number of options in attack. Players like Uzuni, Nguen, Mak or the Ukraine international Oleksandr Zubkov are versatile and they are able to provide a threat on goal from the flanks thanks to their pace and ability to get forward. Perhaps the most interesting gift from his sporting director has not yet been fully unpacked by Stöger. Hajnal succeeded in securing a major coup with the summer signing of Serbian top talent Zeljko Gavric. The 20-year-old, from Red Star Belgrade, has already played for his country and in 2020 he was nominated for the Golden Boy Award. He has only been on the pitch for 22 minutes at Ferencváros but he will provide additional strength for the already well-equipped attack.
Ferencváros certainly expended a lot of energy in the city derby against Honved on Saturday. Stöger said they had picked up three points "at the cost of suffering." In addition, the international composition of the team also has one or two disadvantages. "For the preparation for the game against Leverkusen it didn't really help that a lot of the players were on international duty," complained Stöger on Saturday and he is also well aware of the inferiority in quality of his own league in comparison to the top European leagues: "The Bundesliga is not the Hungarian league," declared Stöger.
Over the last two years, Ferencváros failed to progress from the group stages of the Champions League and the Europa League. They were just one goal short of progressing in their final group match in their last Europa League campaign in 2019. Will they succeed this time? Given the strength of the group, Ferencváros are more the underdogs but they do have the ability to spring a surprise. But it would not be the end of the world for the Hungarians if they don't manage it. "The Europa League is already a great success for us," said Stöger. So there is not much pressure.
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