Opening the Door to the East in Ball Sports
Besides performing outstandingly in the two Olympic Games, Hungarian athletes have been strengthening their reputations in the championships of the Asian sporting scene for the past two decades.
Opening the Door to the East in Ball Sports
Culture and Innovation

Opening the Door to the East in Ball Sports

Martin Ádám (Photo: Facebook/Ulsan Hyundai)
Tamás Gáspár B. 15/02/2023 05:00

The 2020 Summer Olympic Games (held in 2021 for the CoVid-19 pandemic) in Tokyo, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar – three major sporting events that set the focus of the sports world firmly on Asia. Besides performing outstandingly in the two Olympic Games, Hungarian athletes have been strengthening their reputations in the championships of the Asian sporting scene for the past two decades.

In the years before and after the change of the political system in 1989-1990, Hungarian athletes were keen to put their skills to the test in the West. With the borders open after the fall of the Communist regime, the more adventurous Hungarian athletes boldly ventured into countries and continents hitherto largely unknown in Hungarian sporting circles. Still, the Far East and Arab countries remained unexplored as far as sports go up until recent times when Hungary made her eventual appearance there in two sports: volleyball and football.

A Championship Record in Japan

Of the two afore‑mentioned sports volleyball presents the smaller contingent of Hungarian players – but what may look unimpressive in quantity is certainly much more impressive in quality. This is above all seen in one of the best men’s volleyball players of all time, Sándor Kántor, who, after making his mark in the Hungarian, German and Italian leagues played in Japan and Qatar in the early 2000’s. In Qatar he did the double: his team won both the championship and the national cup in the year Kántor was there. In Japan before and after his Qatar intermezzo, his team, the Panasonic Panthers of Osaka won the Asia Cup and had several podium finishes in the national championship. The achievements and accomplishments of the legendary player, capped 168 times for the Hungarian national team, are well shown by the fact that he was named best hitter in 2004 and best serve returner in 2006. Also, Japanese sportswear manufacturer Asics has named a model of volleyball shoes after Kántor.
Krisztián Pádár (Photo:

The current Hungarian men’s national team also features a player playing in Asia. Playing in the Japanese top division Krisztián Pádár has had his fair share of success: he was the best scorer of the 2021–2022 season playing for the Toray Arrows, and also netted the best server title with 519 ace serves – a championship record.

The first Hungarian football player to choose the east instead of the “usual” west was Péter Vörös of Haladás signing with Lokomotiv Tashkent of Uzbekistan in 2009. And heads really turned when Ukrainian‑born Hungarian national team player Vladimir Koman signed with Iranian side Sepahan in 2018 having played club football in Italy, France, Russia and Turkey. His team finished 2nd in that season. Koman then ventured on a tour‑of‑Asia: he spent the next season with al‑Hatta in the United Arab Emirates followed by a season in India with Chennaiyin FC. Returning home, he now plays for the Hungarian side Diósgyőr.

The Hungarian Globetrotter

The Chinese football league became an increasingly attractive destination for Hungarian players during the 2010’s. Between 2014 and 2017 Hungarian national player Szabolcs Huszti moved from the prestigious German Bundesliga to the Chinese team Changchun Yatai. Twice. First from Hannover 96 then from Eintracht Frankfurt. Then, like Koman, his road from Asia led back home to Hungary. Still, the best‑known Hungarian footballer to ever play for an Asian side is record‑capped Hungarian national player Balázs Dzsudzsák, who played in Asia after spending time with teams in the Netherlands, Russia and Turkey. Dzsudzsák signed with Al Wahda of the United Arab Emirates after the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament. He then also played for two other teams in the UAE, Al Ittihad and Al Ain, and ended up winning the national cup twice during the three spells over a combined 5 seasons, before signing once again with his home team, Hungarian side Debrecen.
Martin Ádám (Photo: Facebook/Ulsan Hyundai)
When the #1 Hungarian globetrotter, Krisztián Vadócz will set foot on a Hungarian football pitch again is anyone’s guess at this point – he is currently playing for his 15th club, Central Español in the second division in Uruguay. But his resumé is not devoid of Asian stops either: two countries, three teams, four separate spells – as one would expect of a true globetrotter. His first – rather unremarkable – Asian venture took him to India playing for Pune City then Mumbai City. But third time luck saw him signed by Hong Kong side Kitchee SC, not one but twice. The results: two championships and every domestic cup they could win. As for individual accolades he was named Best Player of the 2017-2018 season.

Trainers in 15 countries

Today only one player is representing Hungary in Asia: Martin Ádám. The top goal scorer of the 2021‑2022 Hungarian first division was signed from Paks FC to South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai FC, the current favourite to win the K League 1. His signing with the Korean team was not free of controversy, as there were legit reasons both for and against the move. But it would be a huge mistake to think of the top flight of the Korean football league as any kind of downgrade. Both the league and national team of South Korea top Hungary in their respective rankings. Also, Ádám is by no means the first Hungarian player to try his luck in South Korea. In the 1990s no less than seven of them played there, and even in the 2010s one could see Hungarian names pop up on the player rosters of Korean teams. In fact, Ádám was signed by Ulsan to replace fellow countryman Márk Koszta, in 2022.

And if we take a look at Hungarian coaches who managed Asian national teams and allow ourselves to look back further than the past two decades, we can safely claim that no less than 15 Asian countries have seen their national teams managed by Hungarians over the years. These include Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia; more recently, in the 2000’s the national teams of Malaysia and the Maldives were managed by Hungarian coaches.

One major football scene has so far remained impervious to Hungarian presence however: Japan. So, if anyone feels like making Hungarian sport history... the door is open.

This article was originally published in our Hungarian-language magazine Eurázsia in 2022.

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