Voted Hungarian player of the year in 2006, and armed with over ten years of Bundesliga experience, Hertha Berlin's versatile defender Pal Dardai is aiming to help his country reach their first FIFA World Cup™ finals since 1986.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the 32-year-old discusses his club's Bundesliga prospects, the Hungarian national side's chances of reaching South Africa 2010 and the state of the game in his birthland.
FIFA.com: Pal, Hertha Berlin have taken four points from their first three games and occupy tenth position in the league. Are you pleased with how the season has started and what can we expect from Hertha this season?
Pal Dardai: The first thing we're all hoping is that things go well for coach Lucien Favre in his second season. His first year in the role helped him get to know us, and the coach has done a good job. We want to go as far as possible in the German Cup and win a lot of our home games to get the fans back on our side. It will also be nice playing in the UEFA Cup this year. It's always important for the club that we get plenty of television coverage. The papers are writing about us and people are talking about us. All that is great but the best thing will always be to qualify for the Champions League.
Qualifying for the FIFA World Cup will begin in a few days' time. Hungary are in Group 1 along with teams of the calibre of Portugal, Sweden and Denmark. How can Hungary expect to fare?
At first glance, Hungary don't appear to have a chance of qualifying because Sweden and Portugal are better sides. But if we work hard, steer clear of injuries and focus on each game at a time then anything is possible. If things go well, Portugal would be the group winners and we could qualify in second place. If we all give everything we've got we can beat Denmark, plus we'd have to make sure we got a positive result away to Sweden. Whatever happens, it will be very tough. If we can still be in with a mathematical possibility of qualifying going into the final round of matches, I'd be satisfied.
In August 2007, Hungary surprisingly beat Italy 3-1 in a friendly, only to lose to Malta in a UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier shortly after. Can you explain this level of inconsistency?
That's one of the Hungarian national team's biggest problems. In friendly matches everyone wants the ball, they take responsibility and everything goes great. But when it comes to a competitive match everything goes wrong. The level of expectation in Hungary is huge, because in the past we had one of the world's best teams. Everybody wants to give their all and do something special, only for us to have a poor game and end up losing. That's why it's good to have a foreign coach, someone who's calm and intelligent. At the moment everything is positive, everybody's working with real intensity and cohesion. We have to get the country and the fans excited about us again so we can get the qualifying phase off to a good start.
What is the true state of Hungarian football?
There's no doubt that Hungarian people can have complete faith that things will get better. I'm confident of that because our creative players such as Tamas Hajnal (Borussia Dortmund), Szabolcs Huszti (Hannover) and Zoltan Gera (Fulham) are rising to the challenge. That's a big point in our favour. At this moment in time we have some very good creative and attacking players, something that wasn't the case before. If we want to achieve anything we need people who can put the ball in the net. Every country has strikers who are guaranteed to get goals. That hadn't happened to us until now, but things have changed under coach Erwin Koeman. We're scoring goals, putting in good performances and picking up points.
We all know about the exploits of Ferenc Puskas and Co, the Magical Magyars that reached the 1954 FIFA World Cup Final against West Germany. Will a Hungary team do as well again in your lifetime?
I don't think so. We're simply not on a par with teams like Germany, Brazil or Italy. It's like this: the more kids you have playing football, the more talent is produced. And the bigger the country, the more pitches they have. In Germany they are laying football pitches everywhere, while in Hungary we're losing dozens at a time. Instead of sporting facilities they're building petrol stations and shopping centres. As a result, we're getting fewer talented players all the time. We don't have a pool of 25 or 30 players who could all step in and do a job. We've only got about ten or 12 good players, and that's not many. But on the positive side it's good to see so many Hungarian players going to the Bundesliga and England, and young players are making the move too.
Lothar Matthaus, Germany's most-capped player, was Hungary coach between 2004 and 2006. What was your experience of his time in charge?
Under Lothar we always trained well, you can't fault him for that. His coaching methods were very good. But what he never did was explain tactical issues to us and give us a base from which to work on in that respect. Perhaps he thought that we were all big stars. But that's not the case. With a small team, you have to organise the players properly and explain your tactics in detail. He used to put the formation on the whiteboard and just say: 'Go out there and win'. That's not enough. Whatever the case, it was a very good experience. He spent two years with us, during which people's interest in Hungarian football picked up and a lot was said about him. I think he had a big impact on the press.
You were named Hungarian Player of the Year in 2006. What did that mean to you?
It was nice and it means a lot to me but footballers can't live in the past, they always have to look to the future. A prize like that is very positive for my kids, more than anything else. The award is in a display case and my son is always asking what it is, and I then explain it to him. He wants to win something similar when he's older. I've got three kids and two of them play football. I don't put pressure on them but they find it a source of positive motivation.
Finally, who do you think will win the German title and how will your club Hertha Berlin do?
It'd be great if Hertha could finish in fifth spot. I think Werder Bremen are going to win the league.
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