Euro gambles by maverick Storck pay off for Hungary

Budapest (AFP) – As managerial gambles go, it was a high stakes play by Hungary’s German coach Bernd Storck.

In the Euro 2016 qualifying play-off against Norway in November, he handed an international debut to 21-year-old Laszlo Kleinheisler, who had hardly played a game all season at his Hungarian club.

The gambit paid off. The fearless youngster scored the only goal in Oslo, setting Hungary up for a 3-1 aggregate win and a first qualification for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

“I never doubted him for a moment,” Storck said of Kleinheisler, now 22 and who was snapped up by Germany’s Werder Bremen soon after the play-off.

Unorthodox moves have become a calling card for the 53-year-old German. For the second leg, he picked the unheralded former Watford striker Tamas Priskin who scored, of course.

“Hungarian coaches tend to opt for safety, but I am a different character,” Storck said in a recent interview. 

Tasked in March 2015 with overhauling Hungary’s youth development structure, he won plaudits for taking the Magyars to the last 16 at the FIFA under-20 World Cup, where they lost unluckily to eventual tournament winners Serbia.

In July, after his predecessor Pal Dardai cut short his contract to return to Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin, Storck took over the national team, the second German to do so after Lothar Matthaeus between 2004 and 2006.

The appointment raised eyebrows though, as doubts were expressed about Storck’s experience. 

A spell with Kazakhstan was his sole stint as head coach, alongside assistant roles in Germany at Hertha, Wolfsburg and Borussia Dortmund — where he also played as a defender — and Partisan Belgrade in Serbia.

Local noses were put out of joint when Storck took another gamble and removed most of the backroom staff just before the play-offs. He brought in as assistant his former Dortmund teammate Andreas Moeller, a 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996 winner but an inexperienced coach.

“No-one in Hungarian football has done what Moeller has done, he knows what success is and what it takes to achieve it,” Storck explained.

Dardai had steered Hungary to a chance of automatic qualification but under Storck, draws against Romania and Northern Ireland, a narrow win against the Faroe Islands, and a defeat to group whipping boys Greece meant the play-offs beckoned.

Had his tactical gamble against Norway backfired, Storck’s job may have been on the line. 

Instead the maverick German, who received a standing ovation at the press conference after the Norway game, secured hero status and a contract extension to 2018 at least.

“I feel responsible for the future destiny of Hungarian football,” he said recently.

According to the German, Hungarian football needs at least 10 years of development to reverse the decline since the 1980s, never mind begin restoring the glory days of Ferenc Puskas and the Magical Magyars of the 1950s.

“My task is to develop players’ mentality, self-confidence,” he said. “Their first thought is always negative!” 

Despite having no regular first-teamers in the top European leagues, Storck is adamant Hungary is not at Euro 2016 just to make up the numbers.

“We have a united squad, no egomaniacs or primadonnas, our team spirit is our strength,” he said.

With tactical strokes up his sleeve like the Kleinheisler gambit more surprises from Hungary in France cannot be ruled out.

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