“I love playing on the wing, especially out on the left, and that’s where I play for my club. The thing is, they said I’m a striker!”
Those words, uttered almost disbelievingly to FIFA.com, belong to Hungary’s Bence Mervo, one of the revelations of the group phase at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.
The smiling front man has taken everyone by surprise with his effectiveness in front of goal, not least himself, having struck four times so far in the competition, a statistic that should leave no one in any doubt that Hungary possess a No9 that can help them revive memories of their glorious past.
“It was my coach Bernd Storck who came up with the idea of playing me in a different position,” explained Mervo. “It’s worked out very well for me, though, and the goals I’ve scored have made me start to believe.”
The new front man has had a while to get used to his role, having appeared in the No9 jersey in the team brochure handed out by Hungarian FA before the start of the tournament.
Discussing his recent conversion, he said: “Our masseur Miki started calling me ‘Mr Goal’ at the end of a training session and it stuck. My team-mates have all been calling me that ever since. I like it, especially as it’s thanks to them that I’ve got to where I am today.”
Those selfsame team-mates, led by Donat Zsoter with two assists, helped Mervo score a superb hat-trick as Hungary kicked off their tournament with a handsome 5-1 defeat of Korea DPR.
That treble was the first by a Hungarian player in an U-20 World Cup match, with Mervo becoming only the fourth Magyar ever to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup competition. That select band also includes Laszlo Kiss (the very first substitute to score a world finals hat-trick, at Spain 1982) and two other greats of Hungarian football in Florian Albert, who achieved the feat at Chile 1962, and Sandor Kocsis, who scored two hat-tricks at Switzerland 1954.
“Hungary has a wonderful footballing history,” said the youngster, who plays for FC Gyori. “I have a huge amount of respect for all the compatriots who have gone before me in the World Cup, including Albert, Kocsis and Kiss obviously. Who wouldn’t?
“If there is one player who stands out from the rest for me, though, it has to Ferenc Puskas. He’s the best Hungary has ever produced.”
Continuing to list his goalscoring heroes, the wide man-turned-striker added: “Apart from Puskas, I’m a huge admirer of Brazil’s Ronaldo. He was amazing. He also had the ability to recover from some tough times in his career and get back to the top of his game, which was incredible.”
A born No9
*O Fenomeno’s *compatriots saw Mervo’s finishing skills at first hand in Hungary’s second outing in Group E, the front man scoring his side’s only goal in a 2-1 defeat, a game in which the Hungarians were reduced to ten men after only 16 minutes.
Mervo went goalless in the opening 45 minutes of Hungary’s final group game against Nigeria before coming off at half-time, powerless to prevent his side slipping to a 2-0 defeat.
“They were very tough opponents and one of the best teams in the competition, if you ask me,” said Mervo, who found central defender Abdullahi Mustapha-Onyinye Ndidi hard to shake off: “I got the feeling after the Korea DPR match that the marking was a bit tighter on me. It made things that little bit tougher.”
Whatever the treatment he gets from opposing defenders, the exciting Mervo can look forward to a rewarding career at the highest level. A modest young man with both feet on the ground, his progress in New Zealand is being tracked by a clutch of European scouts.
“I’m just like any other guy my age,” he explained. “I’m not married yet and I don’t have children, and I enjoy all the pleasures that life has to offer me: music, working out and football, of course.”
And what better for a young footballer than pursuing his passion for the game at a World Cup finals? “Yes, it’s just fantastic, especially as we’ve qualified for the second round. My four goals have counted for something, and my country can be really proud of us.”
He added: “We’re not going to settle for that though. I want more and if I’m going to get it, I need to keep on improving.”
Yet as Mervo has already shown at New Zealand 2015, Hungary have produced a No9 they can believe in.