On June 23, 2021, Oliver Ruhnert, the manager of Union Berlin, watched the European Championship preliminary round match between Germany and Hungary, and he was moderately amused by what happened in the 68th minute. Andras Schäfer scored a goal - to meanwhile 2:1 for the Hungarians. "I didn't like that at all," says Ruhnert - although that only had to do secondarily with the result of the game. First and foremost, fear crept over him. Ruhnert, 50, wanted to bring Schäfer, who was then active with the Slovakian first division club Dunajska Streda, to Berlin. And the fear of the Union maker was "that a lot of clubs could now take notice of him".
Today Ruhnert tells the story with amusement. Because the damage was limited. Hungary still conceded the 2:2 in Munich and were eliminated from the European Championship; Schäfer, in turn, switched to 1. FC Union Berlin in January 2022 for allegedly 1.5 million euros. This Friday, Schäfer will play with Hungary again against Germany in Leipzig, this time in the Nations League - and he can now claim to be one of the established forces of the reigning Bundesliga leaders.
Schäfer, 23, needed his start-up time. In the second half of last season he did not play a single full-distance game for Union in the Bundesliga - only on matchday 31, in the 2-1 win in Leipzig, was he considered for a starting eleven by coach Urs Fischer. In those days, Schäfer particularly impressed him, says sports director Ruhnert. Schäfer was a national player, he didn't play - but, says Ruhnert, he was always at the front in training: "inquisitive, ambitious, patient".
The result: In the new season, Schäfer has multiplied his playing times at Union. He has been on the pitch for 372 minutes on seven matchdays so far - 150 minutes more than in the entire second half of the season. He was there from the start in four of the last five games, including the notable wins of Köpenicker against Leipzig (2-1) and FC Bayern (1-1).
Union manager Ruhnert wanted to watch another player - then he was hypnotized by Schäfer
Ruhnert had wanted to bring Schäfer to Berlin in mid-2021, but no agreement was reached with Dunajska Streda at the time. "We persevered because we really wanted Andras. Definitely!", emphasizes the manager, "it was clear to me: He is simply a 'match' in every respecthttps://www.sueddeutsche.de/sport/."
It was a bit of a coincidence that Schäfer appeared on Union's radar. Ruhnert actually wanted to watch another player in Slovakia, but then Schäfer hypnotized him: "I thought: Phew! He has everything!" What did the manager see? A young player who is "positive, plays well under pressure, always shows full commitment, is always focused and tactically variable. He's basically the prototype of the player I like," says Ruhnert. Consequently, Schäfer is the prototype player that surprises Union again and again: more or less unknown - and capable of development.
Bernd Storck, 58, who was Hungarian national coach from 2015 to 2017, is also full of praise for Schäfer, whom he coached at Dunajska Streda - after the player's completely failed trip to the Italian league. The advisors had sung to Schäfer that he could start in Serie A, from January 2019 to January 2020 there were zero appearances for Chievo Verona and CFC Genoa. But Schäfer proved unbowed when he came to Slovakia. "Andras is a mental player," says Storck, who is now a coach at the Belgian first division club KAS Eupen. "He rolls up his sleeves. You can rely on him," says Storck. And: "He's someone who opens his mouth in the cabin. He has personality."
Schäfer grew up in Szombathely - 500 meters from the front door of Hertha legend Gabor Kiraly
It seems strange that Schäfer ended up in Berlin despite his CV at Union and not at Hertha. Schäfer was born in the Hungarian town of Szombathely - like Gabor Kiraly, the cult goalkeeper of Hertha BSC. Kiraly would rather have seen the midfielder in blue and white than in Union's red and white, Schäfer recently revealed to the Berliner daily mirror. It can be assumed that Kiraly had advised Hertha to take a look at the boy from his home country, Schäfer grew up just 500 meters from Kiraly's front door.
In the meantime, Schäfer is slowly becoming one of the figures in Berlin's West End that is making the envy of East rival Union grow. He also impresses with his tactical variability, which Ruhnert and Storck expressly praise. In Hungary's national team, Schäfer plays with the currently injured Roland Sallai in defensive midfield on the double six. At Union, he is usually more offensive in the eighth position.
At the age of 15, Schäfer had joined MTK Budapest, a legendary club in Hungary that had seen its greatest glory in the 1950s. At the time, MTK produced players like Nandor Hidegkuti, Jozsef Zakarias or Mihaly Lantos, who tragically lost to Germany in the 1954 World Cup final in Bern (2-3) - but had achieved an immortal 6-3 win at Wembley a year earlier, led by Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Czibor and Sandor Kocsis.
Since the beginning of this century, MTK Budapest have refocused on education after years in the shadows, fueled in recent years by a support program run by the Hungarian FA, which paid bonuses to clubs that placed junior players in their senior teams. The program now appears to be bearing fruit.
In June, Hungary, under Italian coach Marco Rossi, drew 1-1 with Germany - and not one but two victories against England: in mid-June, Hungary beat them first in Southampton (4-0) and then in Budapest (1-0). Gareth Southgate's team. The blatant outsider even leads the table in the Nations League group A3 – ahead of all the favourites: the DFB team, Italy and England. The graduates of the MTK Academy, named after another club legend (Karoly Sandor), were prominently represented in recent successes: goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and offensive power Dominik Szoboszlai from RB Leipzig - and Andras Schäfer.
The young left winger Zalan Vancsa, 17, was also in Hungary's squad. In Hungary they tell each other true miracles about Vancsa.