There are several of the less-traditional European footballing powers that are currently nurturing a golden generation. Erling Haaland, Jens Petter Hauge and Kristoffer Ajer are leading the way in Norway, North Macedonia have just qualified for their first-ever major tournament and Austria – under the power of Red Bull Salzburg – are seeing an exciting crop of players come through. Another country that will hope to be talked about in the same breath as these teams is Hungary. Right now, a single individual’s reputation and ability is putting Hungary’s young players on the map: Dominik Szoboszlai.
The attacking midfielder has just reached the final stop on the Red Bull pathway, moving from Salzburg to Leipzig in January, but he’s already made an impact in the Champions League and will be Hungary’s main man in the summer at the senior Euros. This, however, has left a Szoboszlai-shaped gap in the U21 side, a tournament Hungary are hosting and he was meant to take by storm for the hosts. Without him, the team lack a talisman and player of genuine quality to drag his teammates up a level. One man who will take over his role in terms of importance, if not as a direct replacement further up the field, is Bendegúz Bolla.
Bolla won’t be a name football fans outside of Hungary will be familiar with, particularly as his club side Fehérvár (formally known as MOL Vidi or Videoton) fell at the last hurdle in qualification for the Europa League this season after being beaten by Standard Liège. Now settled in the central Hungarian town of Székesfehérvár, Bolla’s career up to this point has been well planned by his parent club, with two seasons of loan moves to progressively stronger sides. After being given his senior league debut in Fehérvár’s final league game of the 2017/18 season after already been confirmed as champions, Bolla joined second division side BFC Siófok for the first half of the 18/19 campaign. Bolla impressed sufficiently to be recalled by his parent club and instead sent to Zalaegerszeg where he went from fighting for survival to promotion in the second-tier, eventually helping his new team win the league.
Zalaegerszeg secured Bolla for their return to the top flight in 2019 when Fehérvár couldn’t guarantee him game time, and putting in such strong performances that he was named by fans in the top flight’s team of the season. Bolla has finally broken into Fehérvár’s first team in this campaign, although securing European qualification is the main aim right now, rather than challenging Ferencváros for the league title.
At club level, Bolla has almost exclusively featured as a traditional right-back. He has good acceleration and a decent top speed and a very impressive work-rate, allowing him to frequently join in with attacks on the right-hand side. This season, Fehérvár have occasionally played with three centre-backs, allowing Bolla more attacking freedom as a right wing-back that against weaker opposition is essentially a right midfielder. Bolla is tall for a full-back and has a decent leap on him, allowing him to contribute to defending set pieces as well.
Bolla (wearing white in the top picture on the ball) has picked up the ball facing away from goal in the inside-right channel. He exchanges the ball with the winger outside him, before moving into the box and receiving the ball at this feet again. He then uses a clever flick to play a one-two with his teammate who scores from an acute angle. Bolla technical ability is above average for a full-back in tight exchanges such as these, and he’s very comfortable further up the pitch, both in wide and central areas.
In the example above (Bolla, playing in white is at the top of the picture) is comfortable playing high up the pitch as a right-back in a back four. He makes the overlapping run past the winger who flicks the ball into his path. Fehérvár’s players have created an overlap on this side, forcing the defender to make a decision on who to mark and gives Bolla slightly too much space trying to track the winger’s run. This allows him to shift the ball inside and play a dinked cross into the box, where Fehérvár’s forward meets it after running through Mezőkövesd’s static back line.
In this example Bolla (playing in red, on the edge of the D in the top picture) is playing as the right wing-back as Fehérvár have switched to three-man defensive formation. When the ball is on the left, Bolla is allowed to drift inside and loiter on the edge of the box. The cross is initially cleared to Bolla who snatches at his shot – composure in these areas is something Bolla will need to work on if he’s going to be used as a wing-back or midfielder more often – but the ball is clipped back into him and his improvised flick with the outside of foot ends up beating the offside trap and providing an assist.
This example shows that Fehérvár expect Bolla to contribute in attacking areas when playing in this formation, as he can be seen in the bottom photo (number 77) lurking on the edge of the box offering an option when the ball is on the right. In the top picture, you can see him showing for the ball, recognising that although his teammate is in possession in the box, he is in a better position to shoot as he hasn’t been closed down by a defender yet.
In this final example, Bolla has taken up the position of a right-forward and has given himself plenty of space to run into when the ball is played into his path. However, Bolla’s decision making is poor, choosing to shoot with his right foot from a narrow angle with his laces, giving him a very sall chance of scoring. Instead, Bolla should have taken a touch and looked up, when he would have spotted that a right-footed cross across the six-yard box would have found his teammate in a much more dangerous area. This is an aspect of Bolla’s game that will improve with time, given he’s still relatively inexperienced in this role.
Bolla has a bright future, but his future development and potential career options aren’t straight forward. Young Hungarian talents tend to move to countries such as Turkey and Belgium, the step up to the top five leagues is normally too great. Fehérvár won’t qualify for the Champions League this season, but should make the Europa League or Europa Conference League next season, the latter possibly will give Bolla a longer, European campaign to test his skills at a higher level. The other potential move for him would be to Ferencváros where he could join Hungary’s dominant domestic force, and possibly showcase his skills in the Champions League.
And Finally On Hungary…
When Hungary (along with Slovenia) were awarded the U21 Euros in December 2018, they obviously had no idea that the football calendar would be completely reshaped going into that tournament. UEFA’s ruling on whether players can appear at both the senior European Championships and the U21 Euros is currently unclear, however Hungary will be without Szoboszlai in March for the group stages due to injury, a very unfortunate sequence of events for the hosts.
Without Szoboszlai, Hungary coach and former Fulham and West Brom midfielder Zoltan Gera will be calling on the likes of Bolla, Vasas FC’s Bence Tóth and the MTK duo of Zsombor Nagy and Bence Bíró to put in some respectable performances in a tough group. Germany and the Netherlands would both be disappointed if they didn’t pick up three points against the hosts, while Romania will be the game Gera’s men target, but they too are experiencing a footballing renaissance right now. UEFA have also ruled that crowds will not be permitted in stadia, making home advantage less effective than hoped.
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