“Although chances are not on our side, with courage, bravery, and organization, anything can happen at the upcoming Euro,” Marco Rossi said. In the interview with Hungary Today, the national team’s Italian coach claimed that although there are still many things to develop, Hungarian football is definitely improving, while Dominik Szoboszlai could easily become one of the top midfielders in Europe.
When you first came to Hungary years ago and started working at Honvéd, did you think that the Hungarian adventure could go this far?
Absolutely not. I remember when I worked at DAC, and the first rumors arose about me, before the appointment of Georges Leekens. But coaching the national team seemed so far, far away, I wasn’t even thinking about it. I remember, I was going on holiday with my family when I received Mr. Csányi’s call and I couldn’t believe it.
As a coach, you considered it important to translate and learn the Hungarian National Anthem. Why?
I deemed it very important, as I saw that the National Anthem is a great identifying and unifying power of Hungarians.
When I hear Hungarians singing it and scream “ria ria Hungária” after, I can feel that kind of identification the Hungarians feel with their country. And it’s not something too common worldwide nowadays.
If someone told you a year ago that we would qualify for the European Championships and win the Nations League group as well, would you have believed it?
I would have asked someone to take me to neuro-psychiatry.
Seriously speaking, it was very unexpected, as, to be honest, our maximum target in the Nations League group was to avoid relegation. And the Euro qualification was also more of a dream one year ago.
At the upcoming European Championships, we will play against France, Germany, and Portugal in the group stage. What results would be satisfactory to you?
Although I know that results are what actually count in football, it is difficult to speak about exact outcome expectations. Of course, even though we will clash with some of the best teams in the world, there are still unacceptable results.
We need to keep our feet on the ground, but we have to show that last year’s results weren’t only a matter of luck. We need to work and play with the same attitude and show them that we are a team.
At the Euro, the most important thing would be bravery, and no fear of the opponents.
On paper, we don’t stand a chance but in football anything can happen.
Of these matches, we will receive Portugal and France at home, in front of Hungarian fans. What kind of atmosphere do you expect?
I remember very well in 2016 when the world recognized the particular and heated Hungarian crowd and the atmosphere they created in France. I think that the atmosphere will be more or less the same and I hope the guys on the field can pay back this kind of enthusiasm.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the national team has played behind closed doors in 2020. Is it possible that this in fact helped the team as there was less pressure on them?
At the away games it helped, I can say. The best example was our first game in Turkey where it was definitely easier for us not having to play in front of tens of thousands of fanatic and loud Turkish supporters.
At home, however, it has been a disadvantage, in my opinion. I know many argued that perhaps against Iceland the team could keep its patience this way. But in general I do think that it was a disadvantage, as fans have always been behind the team from the first until the last minute.
Assistant coach Zoltán Gera and Marco Rossi. Image by Tibor Illyés/MTI
World Cup qualifiers kick off soon as well. What are the chances for a ticket to Qatar?
As we were in pot 3 at the draw, we are now to clash with two higher-ranked teams, meaning that on paper we don’t have a chance. Meanwhile, it is needless to praise the world-class English team, and Poland is also very dangerous with a top-class Lewandowski. But this is football, anything can happen. We have to dream it, believe it, go step-by-step, and not be afraid.
While there are 24 European teams qualifying for the EC, the World Cup only has 13 European teams. Could we think of a qualification to the World Cup in the near future?
Look, in comparison to eight years ago when I first came to Hungary, Hungarian football has improved a lot in many aspects.
For example, [Hungarian first league] NB1 is, I think, better now than the Polish and Slovakian championships. And in the winning team against Turkey at home, there were 7-8 players coming from the NB1.
So, I think, both the National team and NB1 is slowly but surely improving and if this trend remains, the future could be bright. Of course, we have to be patient and wait for some other players to emerge too.
We have Dominik Szoboszlai, who is becoming a key player on the national team. Could he become a world class footballer?
He is absolutely talented and has made great improvements in the last two years. Now everything depends on how he would improve in the near future. I think his decision to sign with RB Leipzig was good. If he manages to become a key player in Leipzig too, he can be one of Europe’s best midfielders.
Szoboszlai didn’t come out from the academic system, nor did any of the key players of the team, yet many see this as the key to the development of Hungarian football. However, many criticize it and it is considered to be very expensive. What do you think about the Hungarian academic system? How competitive is it?
Now with the appointment of Róbert Barczi as sports director, the Federation is apparently trying to change things, and I think the results will be visible in some years. You know you always have to learn from past mistakes and probably that’s what we are experiencing right now. But I see some interesting, promising young players, who now have to play regularly at their clubs and wait for the right moment.
Overall, what do you think Hungarian players should improve upon?
Up until recently, the main negative aspect was that many players wanted to stay in their comfort zones and go for the comfortable choices in terms of signing contracts or going abroad. This has changed by now and many players appear a lot more open to going abroad, choosing the harder way, and not being satisfied too early.
On the other hand, I think we still have to work on the players’ psychological development.
In general, I’m convinced that Hungarian players are skilled enough, at the same time out of a Slovakian, Croatian, and Hungarian player, managers still prefer to choose the Slovakian and Croatian guy because of their psychological reactivity.
This must be changed.
Politics is highly involved in Hungarian football, both in terms of financial support and club ownership, tendencies which are often criticized. How do you feel about that?
I am not a political expert, I can only speak for myself. Personally, I have never experienced pressure and them wanting to say what to do, or whom to sign.
Ferencváros qualified for the Champions League group stage, bringing joy to many. Critics, however, note the large number of foreign players on the squad. What do you think of that?
I’m absolutely sure that Hungarian football can benefit a great deal from their success. And Vidi [MOL Fehérvár FC] falls into the same category too. There are teams with a lot of foreign players in Italy too, this is a world-wide trend in football these days. The most important thing is that those foreign players should be better than local players, and in that case, Hungarians could learn from them too. Let’s take Dávid Sigér [Ferencváros’ midfielder] as an example, if he had stayed in Balmazújváros, he would never have made it to the national team and become a useful member of that.
Last year, you were elected the ninth best national coach in the world according the IFFHS rankings. Where do you place yourself among the national coaches?
It was mainly due to this year’s results and the points we collected. But I don’t feel myself the same level as the coaches I’m grouped together with.
Marco Rossi. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI
Did you get any offers after last year’s success? Did your name come up in Italy?
To tell the truth, only journalists contacted me from Italy. And although several interesting offers came in from other countries, for now, I refuse to go into details with even the most promising ones as priority is given to Hungary. My contract expires at the end of the year, during which many important games will come and things can change easily. All in all, I’m calm now, and I know that our President, Sándor Csányi wants me to stay, which I’m more than open to.
One of your assistants, Cosimo Inguscio, said earlier that if we qualify for the EC, you (two) would learn Hungarian. Would you already hand out tactical instructions in Hungarian at the EC?
Well, I only started a couple of days ago. All I can say is I’m trying, but to learn Hungarian is very difficult and you have to be intelligent. I plan to take around 20-25 lessons and then we’ll see.
In the featured photo: Hungarian national team coach Marco Rossi. Photo by MTI/EPA/Vaszil Donev