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Feb, 1973: Syposs interviews Gábor Kléber

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2023-03-24 18:12:41

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
— Zoltán Syposs | February, 1973 —

We talk in the morning silence of the Astoria press hall. This is the first time I've seen him from such a close range — outside the football field. He is a tall, upright, gray-haired, serious man. He has an attractive manner, is calm, and has a thoughtful speech. You can feel something barely concealed on his face, a quiet resignation in his being, perhaps the resignation of an outsider, but still a criminal, his tension restrained by discipline. He probably wants to tell the present one more about the secrets of the old football. He lives with his 91-year-old mother; two and very alone. Tuesday is a big day, pleasant. This is when the old football players of the twenties, the once celebrated players of MTK's heyday after the First World War, meet. Certainly, the "golden team" has worn out, few of them have remained standing, time has worn out many of them. Apart from Kléber, Ferenc Keveházi (Kropacsek), György Molnár, Zoltán Opata, Imre Senkey are on the move. Rudolf Jeny, Béla Rebró are probably sick, they haven't seen each other in a long time.
It's Saturday, we're sitting alone with Gábor Kléber. He drinks one black out of propriety, I drink two out of habit. The last time he drank was on Tuesday, at the meeting. He does not smoke or drink alcoholic beverages; I respect and envy him. Even in his smile, he restrains himself, I didn't see him laugh. I only know his past as a football player and sports writer in faint lines, I try to detect the white spots before asking him about his great contemporaries who are no longer there and with whom he had so many friendships and memories of hard football battles.
He was born in 1901, when György Orth. When they were boys (today: teenagers) (in their shoes with holes showing pure amateurism), they kicked rag football together on the "Csángó" ground in Angelföld, and much later, in domestic and international matches, the real one, made of leather. Kléber's football talent was his gym teacher. at the same time the manager of the TVE of the III. district), he was discovered by him, after graduation, he joined the Óbuda team and the national team for the first time at the age of 20. From 1923 to 1934, he was a player of MTK (Hungária) and as a twenty-five-time "A" national team, he was a three-position half-back player (mainly centre-half), toured every continent except Australia. He was thirty-three years old when he last participated in a match. "I noticed," he says, "that my speed is not what it used to be. Let the young people come! One Sunday I was still playing for the team, the next I was covering a league match." He became a sports journalist, a correspondent for Nemzeti Sport, Képes Sport, and then a football columnist at Népsport, until 1949. After that, for many years, he coached the football players of Salgótarján, Tatabányai Bányász, and then Dorogi Bányász. He presents all this with dry, lexical conciseness. Almost coldly towards the person he was talking about and who was himself. (If I showed him the manuscript, he would probably delete the "holey shoe" because he didn't say that.) His eyes only got a warmer light when he mentioned György Orth.
— List, Brother Gábor, some of the names of what you consider to be the outstanding personalities of your active footballing days. First among the Hungarians. No matter what position they played and for which team.
Kléber: György Orth, Imre Schlosser, Alfréd Schaffer, Mihály Pataki, Károly Zsák, Sándor Biró, György Molnár, Zoltán Opata, József Takács II., Dr. György Sárosi, Jenő Kalmár, László Cseh. Of the foreigners, I think the best at that time were the Austrian Gschweidl and Sindelar, the Czechoslovak Káďa and Silný, the English Buchan, the Spanish Zamora and the Italian Cevenini. Of all these, it was György Orth whose outstanding ability was second to none. In his prime, between 1917 and 1925, until his terrible injury.
» He was a head and shoulders above contemporary footballers, one way or another. They say he was 188 cm tall. We used to shout at him when he played. He could create an atmosphere, he controlled the team with his eyebrows like Zeus controlling the universe.
— I always felt that György Orth's game was the culmination of a very long development of football. You were his friend and his partner in the games. You played behind him, as they called it then, in the centre-half position. You can talk about it with the power of direct experience.
Kléber: He was more than an excellent footballer. He was an artist in this 'profession'. There wasn't a match that I didn't see something new and unprecedented from him. Something that was dazzling, inimitable. There, on the pitch, with the thousands of spectators in the stands, I would have loved to applaud one of his stunts, which were always effortless, perfect and surprising. Once, perhaps back in the 1930s, I was talking to Gschweidl, the world-famous forward of the Wundermannschaft of Austria: "You know, there are a few of us footballers like me and Pepi Blum and Káďa, for example," he said, "but there has never been another like Orth and I don't know if there will be another. We are just skilful craftsmen next to him."
— Since Orth, great footballers, world class players, have been born. I would mention Di Stefano, Suárez, Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Pelé, without weighting or chronology, but I could also list many of the old Hungarian classics. The world has changed a lot since then, football too, even the look of the ball. Nowadays, they are in the top school of sport, those who want to stay at the top. In this way, it is perhaps impossible to compare yesterday with today. Yet let's try! In terms of knowledge and talent, who do you consider to be the footballer who beats Orth's standards, or even surpasses them?
He bows his head. He thinks. And then he looks me in the eye and says very seriously, as if he were convinced: "I am standing here, I cannot do otherwise":
Kléber: I have known many players of wonderful ability, and in my career I have played and watched them play against teams of perhaps every nationality in the world. Even when I was just a spectator, I was still a spectator with open eyes. In my humble opinion, there has never been a more brilliant footballer than Orth. Yet, if I could compare him with anyone, it was not Pelé or any of the others you have listed, but Ferenc Puskás. Orth was barely 16 when he joined the national team. In our time there were five forward, three half-backs and two full-back positions, apart from goalkeeper. Orth was a national team player in ten positions and once successfully substituted for the injured goalkeeper in a national team match.
— It is said that sometimes, when his tall figure appeared at the entrance to the pitch, the crowd in the stands would rise from their seats and celebrate for minutes. How would you describe his personality and his game?
Kléber: He was highly intelligent, impeccable in appearance, endearingly modest, well-read, well-informed and had that indefinable something that for us was leadership. He was aware of what his talent meant to Hungarian football, but he never played the prima donna, and he was far from haughty, conceited or arrogant. His play was generous, dynamic and witty. Clever and enjoyable. Every movement seemed natural and effortless. The way he took the ball and passed it straight to the right spot without thinking, you had the feeling that there was no other way to solve the situation. He moved all over the pitch, never letting his opponent stand still for a moment. He anticipated what would happen to the ball in 4-5 moves and positioned himself in such a way that he was almost certain to get it. He alternated the most unexpected moves with simple solutions. He was unpredictable. He could fool his opponent any way he wanted. There were many times when defenders were afraid to attack him for fear of making a fool of him. His body was dazzling, and he handled the ball perfectly with his left and right foot. With a movement of his chest and neck, he could catch the ball. In his heyday, he had such bomb shots that the ball would hit the net like a thunderbolt. His fearsome header could be the subject of a study, and his headers were as dangerous as his shots. He could always head from any position with his forehead, and he was able to make great use of his excellent form to do so. He controlled the ball with every inch of his body. He was very quick as a youngster, but later lost his speed, especially after breaking his leg. Although his upper body was not strong, Orth was a hard-bodied sportsman and could not be overpowered. He disliked and never initiated violent play, but opponents could not intimidate him, and he returned toughness with toughness. I was often amazed at his great solutions. Even in the most difficult situations, he could not be held at bay. He was incredibly quick to "switch" and shift his brain. He immediately found the key to the situation, his overview, his situational awareness was like that of a good commander. And it was also great! He could impose his intentions on his companions, making them feel with a single gesture what was to follow. He was the player who could single-handedly decide the fate of the match. He was also a selfless sportsman. He fed the ball to his teammates, helped mediocre players to great performances. We played once with the French, here in Budapest, in 1927. We won 13:1. Takács II. and Skvarek, the two inside players, were just pouring in the goals. And the crowd cheered for Orth. He sent the two inside players in front of the goal, he put the ball down for them so that they only had to kick it into the goal.
— What was his training method?
Kléber: We had four training days a week. Orth practiced long, very diligently. He strictly followed all the coaches' instructions. First, he fisted the boxing ball in the gym, warmed up thoroughly, then went to the court, started the outdoor training with an easy run. 15-20 minutes of rope jumping followed. Once he was thoroughly sweaty, football drills came with both feet, hours of goal kicking. He practiced a single kicking form for half an hour and didn't stop until it was perfect. Then headers, all variations. He was never satisfied with himself. He was always analysing his game and criticising it very harshly. And it sounded sincere. And when one of us made a mistake in the match, he never reproached us. "Next time it will be better." That was it.
— Who was the coach of the team?
Kléber: Englishman Jimmy Hogan, formerly of Bolton Wanderers. Scored by Alfred Brüll. He was a great man, and under his guidance an MTK team was formed that introduced and entertained the public with all the beauty of football. After a while, he returned to his homeland and in 1924, after the Egyptian scourge of the Olympics, MTK asked him to coach the team again. "Does Orth still play? Then I will be happy to go back, because for me the greatest happiness is to see him play. Every 100 years, only one such footballer is born." Hogan taught the Scottish style. Passing the ball straight through, usually short, flat, quick passes. The constant movement, which means that it's not just the man with the ball who plays football, but the man waiting for the ball. All forms of kicking have a part to play, from catching the ball, receiving, heading, dribbling, trickery, running down wingers at lightning speed, to the ingenious resolution of situations with polished, sophisticated play. This was the style Europe was playing then.
— Were player meetings held to coordinate the team, listen to tactical instructions, discuss behaviour etc.?
Kléber: Usually on Fridays. When we were preparing for the "top of the league" game against Fradi, it was always held by Alfréd Brüll. This match was the most important. If we won, all was forgiven.
» György Orth was 24 years old when a tragic accident ended a phenomenal period in his career. In Vienna, in September 1925, during a 'friendly' match against MTK Amateure, when Tandler, the Vienna right-back, kicked Orth's swinging leg from behind. Even now, one cannot help but be moved to read the old newspapers' lament, crying out with pain and bitterness: 'The soul of the Hungarian national team has been rendered incapable of fighting'... In the spirit of doubt, hope, pain and anger". "It is not only the tragedy of Orth, it is the disaster of Hungarian football"... "Unanimous statements by Molnár, Jeny, Opata and coach Fischer: 'Tandler ruined the game with a deliberate act of pity'" "György Molnár: ... before the match, players from other Viennese clubs warned me that Tandler was dangerously ruthless", "The Viennese newspapers against Tandler"... Vienna Orth's bedside"... "Orth can never play another match," was the cruel diagnosis of the assistant professor at the Hochenegg Clinic in Vienna."
— Were you at this match of sad memory?
Kléber: I was there, I played as centre-half. Orth's every move was applauded by the crowd, he played wonderfully. The terrible thing happened midway through the second half. I was 15 metres away from him. A crack... Orth got to his feet and shouted: "I'm finished, my leg's broken!" The doctor shouted for an ambulance. The 40,000 spectators were stunned. When we took the poor man out, the silence on the pitch and in the auditorium was so deadly that you could hear the buzzing of a fly. It took him a year to recover. In the autumn of 1926 we played against Hakoah in Vienna, the MTK stadium was packed to capacity, everyone wanted to see Orth back on the pitch. Never before had a footballer received such a celebration as he did from the crowd. There were tear-jerking moments. But his game was never the same. He played for a few more years and had a few big flashes of the old Orth, like the one in the game where we beat the French. But the graph of his game was starting to show a strong downward trend. He's lost a lot of his courage, avoiding close combat. He couldn't keep up the pace, and after 10 or 20 minutes of brilliance, there were big lulls. He was losing the will to play. At the age of just 28, he went into a sharp decline and was no longer a full footballer. He left Hungária, played for Budai 11 and then for a while in Debrecen, but he was a shadow of his former self. In 1930 he went abroad, became a coach...
* * *
György Orth's eight-year successful and memorable career was the highlight of his decades spent abroad. At first abundantly, later slowly. He had 31 years left in his life, the second half followed. A thousand threads pulled him back to his homeland: a grave, that of Mama, who "dissolves blue dye in the water of the sky", has been "over there" for a long time; the guys from Csangó, then the "golden chain" forward line..., uncle Béla Salamon, who supported MTK throughout the historic decades, Jimmy Hogan, whose stories about the secrets of Scottish football, famous football battles of old times and distant lands, he translated for the boys, because then he already spoke three languages... And again the aging boys, to whom he sent hopeful or despondent letters from Austria, Italy, Mexico, Uruguay, longing for home... and the last message of his restless wanderings, which arrived later here as news of his death. The last port of call for his sickly fate was Oporto, Portugal.