As a consequence of his father’s position as Secretary of State ahead of World War II, Csaba Emődy’s family had to flee Hungary after 1945. After a short detour in Italy, the family ended up in Argentina, which, at that time having been one of the richest countries in the world, received refugees with open arms. In addition to his successful business and his leading role in the local Hungarian community, he served for many years as a presidential board member for one of the most famous and mythical clubs in the world, C.A. River Plate. We asked Emődy about his long and adventurous life. A few weeks later, he passed away at the age of 76.
How did you end up at the “Millionaires”?
My father, a huge fan of River, took me to a River-Boca Juniors derby first. Needless to say, in Argentina, football is a matter of life and death. In Buenos Aires, without overlooking many smaller clubs (e.g. Pope Francis’ favourite club, San Lorenzo), most people root for River Plate and Boca Juniors, so the rivalry between these two clubs is fierce, to say the least. On derby days, nearly 100,000 people squeeze into the Monumental, the stadium of River. When fans are jumping, the building sways out one and a half meters, while the noise they make can be heard 12 kilometers away, so it’s insane, and it was love at first sight to me.
How did you get into the presidency?
Due to my height, I started playing basketball. Soon, I grew interested in the club’s internal operation. It’s actually quite similar to a country, socios (members) of the “parties” “elect” the “government.” I entered one of these parties called the Juventud Riverplatense, where in my very first year, I was appointed secretary, and three years later president.
As a result, in 1977, when I was only 35 years old, I got into the club’s presidency.
What was your job there exactly?
Since social work has always been one of my interests, and there were about 3000 youngsters under the age of 18 for the sixty of us, my path seemed obvious.
I had a lot of talks and planning with young players and the legendary goalkeeper Amadeo Carrizo about this situation and, as a result, in 1985, we established the Escuela de Fútbol Ángel Labruna. Actually, this was a historical moment in football, as this was the first football school in the world that belonged to one specific club.
Not surprisingly, it has been a great success. Everyone who was somehow connected to River wanted their kids to play here, so we were holding trials day and night.
The recruitment and development of youngsters from childhood became one of the greatest weapons of the club. Each year, about three of them had reached the lobby of the first team, where they either took root, or we assisted them to go elsewhere. Not only the club, but the kids also benefited from this system.
You must have plenty of stories…
Once we received a tip to go to Lima (a small town, some 120 km from Buenos Aires) and check on a supposedly good striker. We, however, soon came to realize that he was only a mediocre player, useless for River.
One of the goalkeepers. however, was fantastic; among other things, he saved two penalties. We looked at each other and knew that we must sign him for the Millionaires no matter what cost. He was none other than Sergio Goycochea himself, who made history at the Italian World Championships in 1990: he stepped up after Pumpido’s injury, and not only did he show great skill in matches, but thanks to his fantastic saves in the penalty shootouts against the Yugoslavs in the quarter-finals and Italy in the semi-finals, Argentina got into the final.
By the way, I called him “mi pollo” (my chicken; one of River’s nicknames is Las Gallinas) and he was my most famous discovery.
As far as I know, you had a role in the Argentine Football Association (AFA) too.
Beforehand, I already took part in the organization of the 1978 World Championships. And yes, from 1987, I had the chance to work in the Argentine Football Association (AFA) too. The following year, we won the Olympics in Seoul. In ’92 and ’93, I was the AFA’s secretary responsible for foreign representation, meaning that I was in charge of the organization of the national team’s away matches, so I travelled everywhere with the team.
I heard that you had a “prank” with the local Hungarian scout team in the Argentinian World Cup in 1978.
Yes, we hung a huge Hungarian flag with the slogan “Transylvania is Hungarian” on it at certain games. The idea came from the Argentine Federation of Hungarians that I became the manager of by that time, while my relations in the AFA helped a lot with the execution of the prank, since I could organise the lads to get it onto the pitch.
Wasn’t it a scandal?
Not for us, although by that time, I was already on River’s presidency. In Romania, on the other hand, there had been an outcry because the Romanian TV live broadcasted the Italy-Hungary game during which the drapery was the most visible. After that, the Hungarian national team’s games weren’t broadcasted there for a long time.
Who did you root for in the Argentina-Hungary game (in 1978)?
Neither my wife nor I were able to decide whom to cheer for. I remember it was a nasty game, some players behaved quite distastefully, but in Latin America, this is something you quickly get used to.
Besides your football duties and your own business, you were involved in social work too.
Yes, as I said, all kinds of social work was important to me. In the Lutheran World Federation, I was the Argentinian Church’s project manager. I was delegated to lead charity and other social work projects in a number of places such as India, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Korea.
When did you leave Argentinian football?
I resigned from my duties in 1996 when I was elected to the presidency of the World Federation of Hungarians. The whole Latin American division belonged to me, about 250,000 Hungarians in total. Then in 1997, we eventually returned to Hungary.
What did you do after your return?
My wife and I opened a jewelry and antique shop in Szentendre and later in the Marriott Hotel. In the beginning, it went very well, but sadly, after September 11, 2001, fewer retired American tourists came.
Did you stay in football after your return?
Yes, but, unfortunately, it ended badly. In 2007, we brought over two young Argentinian players to Vasas. However, it was doomed to fail, as Vasas’ coach at the time made them use the other dressing room, separating them from the team, presumably because of racism. One of them, Cristian Omar Diaz, was later crowned the Bolivian Championship’s top-scorer and returned to Europe to Śląsk Wrocław.
What do you think about Hungarian football receiving so much money from political sources nowadays?
First of all, I have a rather bad opinion about the current situation of football: players are under-motivated, faking it, essentially doing nothing. However, I hope that now, in exchange for the sky-rocketed support, there are clearer expectations and requirements. If this is the case, it may end happily. Overall, I see a positive trend, for now.
(You can learn a lot about Csaba Emődy’s life by reading the second volume of Remigrates (Visszidensek), a book about Hungarians who left the country or were born abroad but decided to come back to their mother country).
images by Péter Csákvári/Hungary Today