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UEFA candidate Csanyi seeks Hungary return to European elite

March 14, 2015

NYON, Switzerland (AP) — Long established as one of Hungary’s richest men, Sandor Csanyi looks to international football for his next challenge.

Csanyi is among 12 candidates for seven vacant seats on the UEFA executive committee led by President Michel Platini at elections this month.

“I think I can help but I won’t be sad if I won’t be elected because I have enough work,” Csanyi, who combines leading the Hungary football federation with running OTP Bank Group, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

The bank chairman and CEO seeks a second win at UEFA. Budapest was selected last September among 13 host cities for Platini’s pet project, the 2020 European Championship in 13 different countries.

A rebuilt national stadium will stage three group games and a Round-of-16 match. It will still carry the name of Hungary’s greatest player, Ferenc Puskas, and not a corporate sponsor.

“Puskas and the golden team is the basis of our history and football and we need to keep it,” Csanyi said of a stadium rebirth symbolic of Hungarian aims on and off the pitch.

Immortalized as the Mighty Magyars, a Puskas-inspired team unexpectedly lost the 1954 World Cup final to West Germany. More than 60 years later, the former Eastern Bloc nation is overdue a return to European football’s top table.

Hungary last played at a World Cup in 1986, reached the final stages of a European Championship in 1972 and last had a delegate on UEFA’s ruling committee in 1978.

Now, Hungary is third in its Euro 2016 qualifying group and qualified for FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup kicking off in May in New Zealand.

Csanyi sees his potential election to UEFA as a key part of the revival.

“I thought it would be a good recognition of our achievements and efforts in the last five years,” he said at UEFA headquarters.

Csanyi was asked “several times” in the past to lead the federation before accepting in 2010. That year, football-loving politician Viktor Orban was elected for a second time as Prime Minister.

“I always refused but in 2010 I saw a real chance that we can get enough support, financial support and regulation support from the government, to change the football,” Csanyi said.

In this “very favorable environment” corporations are granted tax breaks up to 70 percent to help fund sports projects.

“Every week in Hungary we open one or two or three pitches,” Csanyi said. “It’s important to get the money but very important to use it in an efficient way.”

Football in Hungary, like much of eastern Europe, was state-supported and suffered after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

“When the regime changed and a lot of companies were privatized, the new owners used the pitches to build the shopping centers, flats and houses,” Csanyi said. “There was a big drop in GDP and there was much less money.”

Finances are still tight, and Csanyi is in talks with the state-run betting operator to share revenue with clubs.

“The TV (rights) money and the betting money together will stabilize the first and second leagues,” he suggested.

Csanyi’s track record will be judged by 54 UEFA member federations at their election congress in Vienna on March 24.

If elected, Csanyi will work to introduce quotas on overseas players in domestic club squads. That policy has been supported by FIFA, but opposed by UEFA as a breach of European Union laws allowing free labor movement.

“What I see is that people follow much more the young Hungarian players,” he said. “If there is a lot of foreigners who stay at the club one year, two years it doesn’t attract people into the stadium.”

Still, some standout Under-20 players have already left the country: Krisztian Tamas to AC Milan, Zsolt Kalmar to RB Leipzig and Szabolcs Varga to Heerenveen.

Turning 62 on Friday, Csanyi is also ready to step up in world football.

“I don’t feel myself an old one,” he said. “It could bring more support in Hungary from the people if they would see that our achievements are recognized internationally.”

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