When you’re number one at home and see riches abroad: Ferencváros eye the Champions League

THE HUNGARIAN domestic season has ended with Ferencváros, the country’s most decorated club, winning their 32nd league title. It was won with relative ease, with 20 points separating “Fradi” and second-placed Puskás Académia. Ferencváros were champions for the third consecutive year, but at the end of the campaign, their coach, Sergei Rebrov, resigned and is now employed by Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates.

Rebrov’s departure may have surprised some fans, but he had an uneasy relationship with the club and disagreed with Fradi’s transfer policy. 

Rebrov was named coach of the year and was also recently named Fradi’s coach of the decade. There was surprising talk that his old club, Tottenham, may have been interested in talking to him over the vacant manager’s job.

It has been a memorable season for Fradi, though. They lost just one game in the league, a home defeat in January at the hands of Diósgyör and achieved some notable wins, including a 4-0 victory at fierce rivals’ Újpest.

Local bragging rights may have been satisfied, but the real high point for Ferencváros was qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time since 1996. They started their campaign in mid-August by beating Swedish club Djurgårdens and then Scottish champions Celtic. A tough clash with Dinamo Zagreb saw Fradi come out on top by 2-1 before a play-off round that ended with Norway’s Molde beaten on away goals. 

The draw for the group gave Fradi one of the toughest possible fixture lists – Juventus, Barcelona and Dynamo Kyiv. Under normal circumstances, the possibility of welcoming Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the same group would have been a wonderful opportunity for Hungarian football fans. As a challenge on the pitch, Fradi were likely to be on the end of some emphatic defeats and they did concede 17 goals in six games. They only won a single point from their matches, a 2-2 draw at home to Kyiv.

Unsurprisingly, Fradi finished bottom of the group, but the financial rewards for participating will be significant and provide a clear competitive advantage for the club at home. This should amount to around € 16 million but could go higher. This is roughly the size of the club’s total budget for the season.

As modest as it may seem, Fradi are the biggest spenders in the transfer market in Hungary. In 2020-21, their outlay was €6 million, some 4.5 times their nearest contender, MOL Fehérvár (the club previously known as Videoton). Furthermore, over the past five years, Fradi have spent € 12 million on a gross basis, double Fehérvár’s outgoing cash in the market.

One of the more high profile acquisitions was Myrto Uzuni, a 26 year-old Albanian striker who joined from Lokomotiva Zagreb in 2020 for € 1.8 million. Uzuni was the club’s top scorer with 12 goals in 2020-21, but he made headlines for his goal celebration when Fradi played Juventus. Uzuni copied the antics of his hero, Cristiano Ronaldo, which didn’t go down too well with the Portuguese legend. 

Another of Fradi’s front-men, Tokmac Nguen, has been watched by a number of bigger clubs since arriving in Budapest in 2019 from Norwegian club Strømgodset. Nguen was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and moved to Norway when he was just five years old. Nguen was reprimanded by the Hungarian Football Federation for wearing an anti-racism t-shirt earlier this year. The 27 year-old was defiant, however, and told BBC World Service that he would do it again. “I don’t feel it’s right that just because I play football, I can’t say what I feel,” he said.

The club, who recently joined the government’s “Hungary Helps” humanitarian programme, has been combating racism for quite a few years and their fans, unfortunately, have gained a reputation for right-wing politics. The current Ferencváros squad is very cosmopolitan and  includes around a dozen different nationalities. 

Budapest is one of the Euro 2020 venues and Hungary are in arguably the toughest group of all alongside Portugal, France and Germany. Fradi will have seven players in the various squads, including five of the Hungary’s selection.

With another Champions League season approaching, Ferencváros will be eager to repeat the experience of 2020-21, both for the players and the club’s financial department. If they can become regular participants in the group stage, Hungarian football could be facing a period of Fradi domination.

Photo: Marcell Katona CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 (via Flickr)

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