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Debrecen Football Team Taken Over by City Council After Relegation

Ábrahám Vass 2020.07.02.

In the wake of one of the most successful Hungarian teams, DVSC’s astonishing relegation from the top flight of Hungarian football, Debrecen’s municipality has moved to take over the football club from casino owner Gábor Szima.

This practically means that the city, led for decades by governing Fidesz, will buy up Gábor Szima’s stakes (73%) in the club, added to the 25% the city already owns.

Gábor Szima had taken over DVSC in the summer of 2001 when the club had faced relegation but eventually avoided that because BKV Előre had proved to be unable to run in the first division after earning a promotion in the second division. After Szima’s takeover, Debrecen became the most successful Hungarian football team of the last 20 years: besides seven championship- and four Cup trophies, they also managed to qualify once in the Champions League and Europa League group stages.

But while the other teams’ spending sky-rocketed, Debrecen’s more or less stagnated resulting in the decrease of competitiveness. In Hungary, as a result of Viktor Orbán’s love of football, first division teams are increasingly taken over by Fidesz politicians and pro-Fidesz businessmen, receiving generous donations from the state, state-owned companies, or from government-related business circles.

Fact

Szima made a fortune from slot machines but was hit hard when Fidesz banned those and implemented concessions on casinos (making personal Fidesz ally businessman and film producer Andy Vajna the biggest beneficiary of the system). Szima only got two casinos, providing that he invests 40% of their profits into the club. However, it was rumored that Szima's income decreased and he cannot finance the football team as he used to.

With results going downhill, pressure on Szima had also grown, and he later became a target of fans’ anger as well.  At the last deciding match, many of them demanded his departure after the final whistle. Consequently, now they “strongly welcome” Szima’s departure, according to an official report. In addition, Szima’s relations with the city haven’t always been calm or without conflict.

At the press conference, both Debrecen mayor László Papp and former mayor and Fidesz strongman Lajos Kósa insisted that with the relegation “the time of cooperation has come,” and DVSC is an important part of the city’s identity. Kósa argued:

“If sport is part of the culture, it’s indeed worth to build swimming pools, gyms, or stadiums. For us (the government) it is obvious why it’s important for the city to stand behind the DVSC. Everyone thinks it’s okay to support the [city’s] Csokonai Theater because it can’t make a living from the market. Of course, this is only true if it is successful (…) A very bad team cannot be funded. It is all about fighting among the best.” 

Kósa (l), Papp (m) and Szima at the press conference. Image by Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI

According to liberal 444.hu‘s report, between 2010 and 2019, the club only made a profit twice, with wages costing around HUF 1 billion (EUR 2.8 million) per year for the club.

Szima revealed that they came to an agreement in a mere 10 minutes with the city’s leadership. Kósa and Papp disclosed that they now aim to bring local businesses and businessmen into the financing of the club, which, Szima said, hasn’t worked in the last 19 years. He, however, claims of handing over a stable club, with HUF 300 million (EUR 854 thousand) plus in the till.

Now, the only two teams in the Hungarian first division not having close relations to the governing circles are Újpest, owned by under-fire Belgian businessman Roderick Duchatelet, and freshly-promoted Budafok.

featured image by Zsolt Czeglédi/MTI