Kisvárda, Hungarian football’s mystery contenders

OVER the past six years, Budapest-based clubs have won the Hungarian league title, with the country’s biggest name, Ferencváros, crowned champions in the past three seasons. After a period in which the likes of Videoton and Debrecen sat at the top, the capital city has regained its power in the Hungarian game.

This season, there is a new challenger in the form of Kisvárda, a provincial club from a small town in the Northern Great Plain region of the country that sits on the Budapest to Ukraine railway line. Kisvárda has a population of 16,500 and was once a strong Jewish town until the second world war. Tragically, many were sent to Auschwitz and as a result, there are very few Jews in Kisvárda today.

Kisvárda, which was originally founded in 1911 and now carries the full name Kisvárda Master Good FC, are top of the Hungarian OTP Bank Liga after 10 games, a point ahead of Ferencváros and Puskás Akadémia. The 2021-22 campaign is their fourth in the top flight, but they started superbly back in July, winning 2-1 at Ferencváros’ Groupama Arena thanks to goals from the Brazilian full back Mattheus Leoni and Czech winger Jaroslav Navrátil.

They’ve lost twice this season, at Honved and Fehérvár and their only draws have been in their last two games against Újpest and Paks. Their next big game is on November 6 at home to Ferencváros at their tiny Várketi Stadion, which has a capacity of under 3,000. In a year in which Hungarian fans have come in for fierce criticism, it is worth noting that Kisvárda’s fans recently showed their better side when a young fan died, displaying banners with her name emblazoned across them at the ground.

Kisvárda have a very multi-national squad, in fact 85% of all first team places have been filled by expatriate players according to CIES Football Observatory, the highest in the Hungarian league. They have players from no less than 10 different nations, including Ukraine, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Albania. They also have one of the most experienced squads, with an average age of 28 and one of the lowest number of players produced by their own system.

Their leading scorer this season is Bosnian international Jasmin Mešanović, who was signed from Sarajevo in the summer on a free transfer. The 29 year-old has netted four times in the league in 2021-22. Kisvárda remain one of the lowest spenders in the Hungarian league this season, their gross spend of € 150,000 just a mere fraction of the € 6 million spent by Ferencváros.

Interestingly, the owner and driving force behind the club is Miklos Sesztak, the former minister of development in Hungary. He’s an acolyte of Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, a big football fan who has encouraged the development of new stadiums across the country. Sesztak and Orbán are not the only politicians with links to football clubs, there are others among the government ministers.

Kisvárda’s success has largely been well received in Hungarian football, primarily because Ferencváros have threatened to completely overrun the domestic scene and a new name at the top is a welcome change. 

While Fradi may have been distracted by their Europa League programme, Kisvárda have been playing entertaining football and their coach, the Portuguese João Janeiro, has become a popular figure in the media. They’ve made an impressive start to 2021-22, but even the most staunch fan of the club knows that to stay ahead of the Budapest giant considered to be the best Hungarian side since the 1980s is a big ask over the course of the season. 

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