The Football Academy of Seklerland is the first big investment of the Football Academy Network funded by the Hungarian government, which is planning to build establishments in the neighboring countries bearing ethnic Hungarians. Up until now the cost of the Sekler Football Academy reached 3.7 billion forints (equaling 11,5 million euros). Its professional team plays in the third national league, though the aim was to play in the second league. In contrast, Sepsi OSK is the team enjoying the praises: put together out of nothing, they managed to climb up to the first league, and thus received 2 billion forints in order to build a stadium. Lőrinc Mészáros, a childhood friend of Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán who has seen astonishing business success, is behind both projects.

Since 2013 a total of 22,5 billion forints (70 million euros) were transferred by the Hungarian government to football academies of neighboring countries. Stadiums and football pitches are spreading at high speed in Transylvania (Romania), the Historical Upper Hungary (Slovakia), Vojvodina (Serbia), Zakarpattya (Ukraine), Prekmurje (Slovenia), and Croatia. Among the supported teams and projects several are successful, but several show signs of being not more than mere unsuccessful attempts.

The money comes via the Hungarian Football Federation and the Bethlen Gábor Fund. Almost everywhere there is a connection with the Puskás Football Academy, with Lőrinc Mészáros as the main figure behind it. Our series supported by the IJ4EU European Investigative Fund examines these investments.

The two page long application sent by the president of the Csíkszereda Football Club, Zoltán Szondy was registered on the 12th of June, 2013. The letter in which he asks for 200 million forints for founding the Sekler Football Academy went through the administration of the Bethlen Gábor Fund, a fund set up for the financing of Hungarian communities living outside the borders of Hungary, as smootly as hot knife through butter and consequently, has been positively evaluated on the exact same day. On the 18th of May 2018, less than a week after having received it, the committee of the Bethlen Gábor Fund (contract and budget plan here) decided to support it.

Zoltán Szondy addressed his request to Zsuzsanna Répás, the Deputy State Secretary in charge of Hungarian minorities living outside the borders of the Republic of Hungary. His tigh-lipped request refers to several important pieces of information about the project, such as the content of the June 2013 agreement made between the local council of Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc) and the Ferenc Puskás Academy of Felcsút, presided by Lőrinc Mészáros.

Ábel a gyepen: a magyar kormány virágoztatja fel a székely focit?

A Székelyföldi Labdarúgó Akadémia a magyar kormány határon túli fociakadémia-hálózatának első nagy beruházása. Az eddig 3,7 milliárd forintba (11,5 millió euró) kerülő akadémia felnőtt csapata a román bajnokság harmadik ligájában játszik, noha a második liga volt a cél. Hozzájuk képest a Sepsi OSK a bezzegcsapat: a semmiből létrehozott klub hat év alatt az első ligába jutott, majd 2 milliárd forintot kapott stadionépítésre.

The future academy is to be operated jointly: the local council of Csíkszereda has created an association which provides the club with a grass strip and an artificial turf, a sports hall and several smaller pitches. The Puskás Ferenc Academy will provide the professional content of the training program.

The request letter also reveals that the Sekler Football Academy is a network comprising several Sekler towns that would function as subcenters: these are Székelyudvarhely, Sepsiszentgyörgy, Barót and Gyergyószentmiklós, with the local councils providing land or an already existing infrastructure suitable for building a football pitch.

When two people with similar ideas meet

The children with special talent would continue their training in Csíkszereda, where they would be able to improve their skills by participating in the Romanian junior championship. The request also stresses that due to the preferential naturalization of Hungarians in Seklerland, “the children with special talent could participate in the Hungarian national football team, joining junior players of the same age group”.

“Two people with similar ideas have met: prior to the 2010 election, the Hungarian prime minister, still as an opposition politician planned to connect Seklerland to Hungarian soccer. I had the same idea” – said Zoltán Szondy, replying to Átlátszó Erdély’s question about the beginnings.

How did these two ideas come together? “I wrote a study about the idea and the study has reached the Puskás Academy” – said Szondy, adding that they had started coordination with Ferencváros Football Club, but the professional director, József Tajti later joined the Puskás Academy and took the plans with him (meanwhile Tajti has become the professional director of the Carpathian Basin Academic System, where besides Romania, he is responsible of the training of junior players in Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia – editorial comment).

The support given to the football club registered as association (with the official name: Asociaţia Futball Klub Csíkszereda/Association Csíkszereda Football Club) is found consistently among the series of funding decisions made by the committee of the Bethlen Gábor Fund: up until 2016 the Bethlen Gábor Fund has granted 1.8 billion forints (5.5 million euros) for the functioning of the academy, and in 2014 the Hungarian Football Federation also gave a support of 1.8 billion forints (5.5 million euros).

Providing accomodation in Csíkszereda and building more football pitches

This money was used to cover operation costs and to carry out investments in infrastructure. In Csíkszereda, at the stadium on Stadion street 3, a new artificial turf pitch was built by the contractor (City Group Corporation SRL) for 330 thousand euros. They also built a new grandstand replacing the old one in ruins. The constructor also built the Márton Áron Talent Support Center, which provides accommodation for 200 youngsters training at the Sekler Football Academy, as well as for other high school students coming from neighboring towns and villages.

The land for the accommodation facility was provided by the city council, but another piece of land had to be acquired for 9.4 million forints in order to be able to start building the grandstand and the accommodation facility. According to the media, the investment reached 1.4 billion forints (4.5 million euros). The bulk of the costs was covered by the Hungarian state, the remaining amount is the donation of Lőrinc Mészáros. The value of the construction contract signed with ING Service SRL is of 8 million lei (1.7 million euros) including VAT.

The Orban government spent billions on Hungarian football clubs in Serbia, Romania and Slovakia

The Hungarian government is financially supporting soccer wherever it can: new stadiums are being built across the country. Besides professional soccer, there is a huge amount of money spent on junior teams and training the new generations of soccer players as well.

At Székelyudvarhely an artificial turf pitch was built on a land provided free of costs by the local council – the constructor again is the City Group Corporation SRL, the costs equal that of the Csíkszereda pitch: 330 thousand euros. The construction contracts are available here.

Apart from the above mentioned establishments in 2018, artificial turf pitches with lighting system and grandstand were also built in Nyárádszereda (Miercurea Nirajului) and Kézdivásárhely (Târgu Secuiesc), and the center in Csíkszereda benefited of another grass training pitch, located outside the city. The 2019 plan is to build lighting system for the center pitch in Csíkszereda.

In an interview given at the end of 2017 Szondy also talked about the plans of expanding the Csíkszereda center with a new grandstand capable of hosting 1000 spectators and an annexed building. Answering our questions the president mentioned that they are indeed working on the plans of the new grandstand, but unless FK Csíkszereda advances to the second league, it would end up being quite useless and they are not into lobbying for starting the construction.

The main buildings of the Sekler Football Academy: the new center pitch in Csíkszereda along with the new grandstand and the Márton Áron Talent Support Center. Photo: Zoltán Sipos

They are contracting players from the region

Zoltán Szondy doesn’t really have any background in football: he became known as a journalist and as member of the city council, when in the early 2000s faced the businessman István Csibi feared by everyone in Csíkszereda. Those who know him agree that he is rather a politician than a pragmatic sports professional.

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At the beginning, the goal of the senior team was to play in the second league, but they haven’t succeeded yet. The FK Csíkszereda has failed to show results and even such successes as winning the eight-finals against in the Romanian Championship against Dinamo, a team from Bucharest, cannot compensate for their lack of progress.

This might hurt their feelings as the other young team, the Sepsi OSK, supported as well by the Hungarian Government reached the first league in just a couple of years. According to Zoltán Szondy, Sepsi OSK and FK Csíkszereda adopted different strategies: “the Sepsi OSK contracted very good players from all over the place and their strategy bore results. FK Csíkszereda contracted ethnic Hungarians from the region in order to complete the number of junior football players at their football club.

We started our training in 2013 and the first age group we trained at the academy was born in 2000, they are now 18 years old. Currently six of them are part of the professional senior team, but it is difficult to advance to the next league with 18 year old children. Of course, we would like them to advance to the higher leagues, but we need to wait 3-4 years until we have several players in their twenties. FK Csíkszereda’s senior team is supported by the local council, the team is not funded by the Hungarian Government.”

Why is the center at Csíkszereda?

The idea to create the center of Seklerland’s Football Academy in Csíkszereda is a political decision rather than a professional one. Probably it is the result of the lobby of the mayor of Csíkszereda, Róbert Ráduly and that of Zoltán Szondy, rather than of a thorough evaluation of the possibilities and needs” said the sports professional to Átlátszó Erdély, who wanted to keep his/her anonymity.

In Csíkszereda everything is about hockey, every other sport is chosen by those who are not good enough at playing hockey” said our source, according to whom the academy could have been established in any other Sekler city, be it Sepsiszentgyörgy or Székelyudvarhely.

The professional staff of the Puskás Academy paid visits to Seklerland, held meetings with different representatives and made the decision that Csíkszereda would be the best location, taking into account the support offered by the local council” explained Zoltán Szondy, adding that Csíkszereda seemed ideal also due to its central location, that it is at a distance of 40-60 minutes from all Sekler cities.

Drone footage of the center in Csíkszereda. Photo: Atlatszo.hu/Gergely Pápai

Would we like Hungarian players or good players?

The view adopted by the Academy, according to which training is provided primarily for Hungarian children from Romania does not necessarily lead to good sports results: the pool of children one can choose from is a fairly important factor. It is not the same to select from the half million Hungarian children of the region or from the several million Romanian children of the neighboring counties, our source said, who also added that the same reasoning was applied to the professional team: nationality is more important than results.

Speaking of the pool of children one can choose from: the county of Hargita and Kovászna have 600 thousand inhabitants, but Iceland, with only 300 thousand inhabitants managed to qualify for the European Championships replied the president of the club. Szondy also elaborated on why they were making selection based on nationality: „For us it is important that the language of trainings is Hungarian, as we define ourselves as a Hungarian Club. We have sub-centers in Southern Transylvania where Romanian children are in majority.”

At the beginning we had several coaches from Hungary, but none of them was the real deal. „The problem is not with the program, but with the fact that the coaches from Hungary didn’t respect it”, our source said, according to whom it is no coincidence that the current coach of FK Csíkszereda is Valentin Suciu, the coach who managed to catapult Sepsi OSK to the first league.

It is not our goal to send children by the dozens to the Puskás Academy

Currently 4-4500 children are training at the Sekler Football Academy. The fluctuation among the young is very high, so, it is very difficult to say exact numbers. In the case of the U16-U19 teams 83 children are playing and residing at the center in Csíkszereda.

„Up to now 6 children went to the Puskás Academy. Nor our, nor the goal of the Puskás Academy is to send children their way and send them away from Transylvania. The truly talented children can choose to play at Puskás, where they can evolve more rapidly than at a third league team as the one in Csíkszereda, explained Szondy, stressing that one child per year is given the chance to continue playing at Puskás.

The Romanian teams are also reaching out to them, but not too often. Steaua wanted one of our 16 year olds, but he rejected the offer. Steaua has shown interest in another child with Romanian nationality, but he has chosen to play at Puskás. Bologna, Verona and first league Romanian teams also reached out, but none of their offers were serious.”

Hungarian government spent billions on football academies in Slovenia, Ukraine and Croatia

The Hungarian government is financially supporting soccer wherever it can: new stadiums are being built across the country. Besides professional soccer, there is a huge amount of money spent on junior teams and training the new generations of soccer players as well.

Sepsi OSK: the Sekler success story

Sepsi OSK, founded in 2011 is the opposite of FK Csíkszereda. The difference between them is due to the club’s leadership: Sepsi OSK’s view is pragmatic, learns from errors, and their professionals have a skilled managerial approach. Their enthusiasm and professionalism brought results for the team. Their supporters, the Sekler Legion, are also well organized, says our anonymous source. He also added that the Sepsi OSK is accepted by the Romanian football: proved by the fact that at the Gala of the Romanian Football, László Diószegi was awarded the prize of club manager of the year.

László Diószegi, the owner of the Diószegi bakery founded the Sepsi OSK in 2011 together with Dávid Kertész. As Diószegi himself has said in an interview, the idea of founding the football team came when following a surgery he was forced to stay in bed for two months.

„I called my friend, Dávid Kertész and I said to him: Dávid, the city doesn’t have a football team. Let’s found one! And we did” Diószegi recalled.

They don’t want coaches from Hungary

The association literally started from zero: in 2011 they started out in the fifth national league, the so-called “charriot championship” and from there, during the past 6 years they climbed their way up to the first league of the national championship. “We didn’t even dare to think of the first league. We were hoping to reach the second league” said the businessman.

Even though the mayor of Sepsiszentgyörgy (Sfântu Gheorghe), Árpád Antal is one of Fidesz’s most loyal Transylvanian allies, and among the club’s sponsors we find companies from Hungary such as OTP, MOL or Gyermelyi, the club’s activity is independent of politics.

As long as the club has good results, the sponsors won’t interfere with the fday to day decisions. There is a tacit agreement: they are not allowing coaches or advisors from Hungary” said one of our sources, who is familiar with Romanian football. The head coach was Valentin Suciu, his guidance Sepsi OSK skyrocketed to the first league. After him the next head coach was Eugen Neagoe.

The Hungarian investor passes unnoticed

While Seklerland has all eyes on the Sepsi OSK football club, the founding of the Sepsi OSK SA, the joint stock company with a similar name in 2017 passes unnoticed. To have a company behind the club is default setting in the professional league.

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The Sepsi OSK SA is only partly owned by Sepsi OSK sports association. 51% of shares is owned by Hodut Rom SRL, the Romanian subsidiary of the Hungarian Hódmezővásárhelyi Útépítő Kft.

The owner of Hódút Kft. road construction company is Károly Varga, the former business partner of the president of the Felcsút Football Academy, Lőrinc Mészáros.

The Hodut Rom SRL is also running pensions and according to their 2017 annual balance it had a turnover of 68 thousand euros and a 1.3 million euros debt, with a fixed capital (probably real estate) of 1.8 million euros.

We don’t know why a Romanian subsidiary of a Hungarian construction company running pensions is interested in football: Dávid Kertész, the manager of Sepsi OSK did not reply to our questions.

But even though a government decree of on 20th of December, 2016 allocated 1 billion forints (3 million euros) for the Sepsiszentgyörgy Sports Academy, the Hungarian Football Academy did not sign a contract with the Sepsi OSK Sports Club. Instead, they waited until the 7th of April, 2017, when the Sepsi OSK SA company was registered. The ink has barely dried on the registration documents when on the 12th of April they have signed the grant contract.

The old stadium in Sepsiszentgyörgy with the new lights. Photo: Zoltán Sipos

Hungarian investment and Slovakian reflectors in the Romanian state held stadium

According to the contract, Sepsi OSK SA is committing to the renewal of the city stadium: as Sepsi OSK is playing in the first league since 2017, it was necessary to have a heated lawn as well as night time lighting. The tests of the 400 thousand euro worth lighting system have been carried out in July 2018.

Nor the Sepsi OSK, nor the Hungarian state was keen on investing in this old facility: the city stadium located in the Szemerja neighborhood of Sepsiszentgyörgy is owned by the state and is operated by the Romanian Ministry of Youth and Sports. But at the end of November 2018, following a second attempt, the local council has adopted the decree which stipulates that the facility’s ownership will be transferred to the local council. For now they are waiting for the approval of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Why was such an investment required? “The new club needed a grace period in order to be able to start the works on the night lighting and on the pitch heating system” – said the director of the club, Samu Csinta in June, 2018.

„We are no longer considered newcomers in the field, so for the next championship season we need to make the necessary investments. Even if there were options for heating the pitch, we had to solve the night time lighting. This is how the state will end up receiving a lighting equipment from the Sepsi OSK (as far as we know, an old night time lighting sytem has been received from Dunaszerdahely – editorial note). We do it hoping that the ownership of the stadium will soon be transferred and it will finally be owned by the city council, so the invested money will have reached a good destination”, said Csinta, before the ownership transfer took place.

Mészáros’s name was already circulating at the time of planning

The contract signed with the Hungarian Football Academy reveals that of the 1 billion forint support approximately 150 million forints were destined for operation, and the remaining 850 million for investment and equipment. The Sepsi OSK committed to operating an office, to extend its administrative staff and professional assets, and prepare the building of a stadium capable of hosting 5-6 thousand spectators at the outskirts of the city (the number of seats later was extended to 7 thousand – editorial comment).

It is still not known what will the destiny be of the Sepsi OSK stadium: though the contract with the Hungarian Football Federation expires at the end of 2018, in November the Hungarian engineering company close to Lőrinc Mészáros has not even carried out the plans of the facility.

When at the end of November we visited the site, two training pitches were completed, and only the preparatory earth works of the stadium have been executed, thus the authorization for the execution of the stadium with a seating capacity of 7 thousand will most certainly be postponed until next year. If the contract with the Hungarian Football Federation will be extended.

Lőrinc Mészáros’s name has been circulating since the beginning: the responsible of the plans is the Fejér Tervező és Mérnökiroda Kft. This company has ties with Lőrinc Mészáros’s children.

The planning is delayed

The budget allocated for engineering services is 10 million forints, but it seems that for some reason, the planning has been delayed: in an interview given on the 7Th of June, 2018, Samu Csinta, optimistically said that the whole design pack will be ready within days.

When we visited Sepsiszentgyörgy in November, the manager of Sepsi OSK SA, Dávid Kertész said that the designs weren’t ready yet. We bumped into him by accident: we were there to see the pitches when Kertész showed up and in a conversation lasting for a couple of minutes revealed a couple of details of the investment.

We asked him about who will build the stadium. According to Kertész, it is not yet known who the contractor will be, but this decision will be taken in Hungary.

On the 29th of November, when we asked for an interview over the phone, Kertész made us understand that he cannot answer our questions. The questions were sent to him over email can be seen here.

The site of the new stadium in November 2018. Photo: Zoltán Sipos

The lot is the property of the Hungarian investor

The complex made up of center pitch and several training pitches will be located at the North-Eastern area outside of the city on the lot next to the Sepsi Arena. The lots totaling 98 thousand square meters are owned by Hodut Rom SRL and will be rented out to Sepsi OSK SA for an indefinite period. We couldn’t find out know how much the rental costs would be: the documents we received from the Hungarian Football Federation did not include the annex containing the details of the rental fee.

On the 23rd of March, 2018 another million was added to the one received on the spring of 2017 by Sepsi OSK SA. As in the case of the first financial support, a government decree guarantees the financial support for the Hungarian Football Federation.

As 2017 was about qualifying the lot as suitable for hosting sport activities, with designing the stadium and with obtaining the requested authorizations, 2018 should have been about implementation. But not much implementing has been done: by the end of 2018 only the training pitches were executed, some digging had been done, but the ground work hasn’t been started yet. This might cause problems, as both grant contracts end on the 31st of December, 2018 and no payments can be covered after this time frame.

Translation: Etelka Tamás

Featured image: Lőrinc Mészáros, the president of the Puskás Ferenc Football Academy, Tünde Szabó, the state secretary responsible for sports of the Ministry of Human Capacities, as well as Zoltán Szondy, the director of the Csíkszereda Football Club inaugurate the Márton Áron Talent Support Center in September 2016. Photo: pfla.hu

This investigation was financially supported with a grant from the IJ4EU fund.