Ádám Szalai retired as the national team's captain in the Nations League match against Italy (Photo: Reuters)


After the 1-0 win against Germany in the Nations League, the question that fans are really interested in is who Ádám Szalai's successor will be. The team captain, who scored a back-heel goal, put the armband around Dominik Szoboszlai's arm in a spectacular gesture when he was substituted in Leipzig. And the speculation has been ongoing ever since then: could the experienced footballer's gesture have been a sign of things to come? RB Leipzig's midfielder is 21 years old, perhaps young for such an honor, but there is an argument for him to be chosen. His role in the team is clear: he is a respected and well-liked squad member. His “promotion” could be a good decision from a pedagogical point of view: the responsibility that comes with the armband could make him even more serious and humble. The self-confidence that is natural among professionals, which may seem arrogant from the outside, can be considered rather irritating in Hungary only. In addition, the playmaker has made a lot of progress mentally, and the position of team captain could further enhance his development. He could be a captain now, but he will be one for sure in the years to come.


  We asked Tamás Dénes, a recent Szepesi Prize-winning journalist, sports historian, and former editor-in-chief of our newspaper, about the history of the team captain's title, its changing function, and the first appearance of the armband. “Many people have tried to find out when team captains started wearing armbands and where the idea came from. I've done a lot of research on Soviet football in the past, and they have been wearing armbands since 1954. I even have pictures of it. I think the armband was compulsory for the Italians from the 1949-1950 season, but then it was dropped. Igor Netto, the captain of the Soviet team, wore it for the first time in a major tournament, in the final four of the 1960 Nations Cup. It was these two countries, the Soviet Union and Italy, that were leaders in the armband. Italian captains wore them in the first half of the 1960s, and I think the breakthrough came at the 1966 World Cup in England where more than half the captains wore armbands. The situation is the strangest with the Hungarians: Ferenc Sipos wore the distinctive mark against the Portuguese, but not against the Brazilians, the Soviets, or the Bulgarians. Nevertheless, from the mid-1970s, the wearing of the armband became generally accepted in Hungary and England, both for national teams and clubs. I might add that, at first, many people wore the armband on their right arm. In the 1960s, there were already examples of people wearing them, and György Moldova even included the white armband in his book ‘The Unbeatable Eleven.' However, for a long time, it was not customary for us to wear it. Even without the armband, team captains played a huge role in the heyday of football. Practically they played the game, decided everything on the pitch that affected the team, and sometimes even led training sessions. Obviously, this also changed for us in the twenties, and in the topflight, they became not only the fitness coach but also the coach who had the power to decide on tactical matters. But even from then on, the role of the team captains was much more than just someone who changed flags and shook hands. They were the opinion leaders on the pitch, and, not incidentally, they were officially allowed to talk to the referee. It is very interesting that in 1970, for this reason, the wearing of armbands was made compulsory in our county championships. It was even stipulated that they had to be five centimeters wide and color white – because MLSZ considered that too many players were arguing with the referee, who, on the other hand, had to know who actually was allowed to..." Z. B.
But... Next to Dominik Szoboszlai, or more precisely behind him on the pitch, is Péter Gulácsi, who is ten years ahead of him in age. He is intelligent, calm, and experienced, and could be the team captain with the authority he has; he is also the team captain for his club. However, his goalkeeper position is a disadvantage. Many people think a captain is needed at every point on the pitch: in a conflict near the opponent's goal, and the captain, respected by the opponent and the referee, could help solve the conflicts with the referee. But if he is a hundred meters away from the action... Oliver Kahn, Gianluigi Buffon, Samir Handanović have all given weight to the position of team captain as goalkeepers, but it is still a valid argument that a midfielder who can gently put pressure on the referee and constantly 'hum' into his ear would be ideal for the job. Based on the position, Ádám Nagy and András Schäfer would be a fit. The former has 65 caps, he is the “intellectual” of the dressing room, and others listen to his words. The latter player has suddenly become a very popular figure among his teammates and the fans, and his attitude to the game predestines him to be one: he lives and dies for the team, he's everywhere, and if necessary, he'll go toe-to-toe with the big boys. He was one of the last to join this team, so maybe that's his only drawback, but only for the time being.

If the indispensability of the performance on the pitch were the deciding factor, Willi Orbán would be wearing the armband with the letter C on it. He is the pillar of the defense line, he leads and organizes the team play from the back. If he isn't there, the team is much more vulnerable, and the NL series proved that he could be a starter for any opponent. Even though the English language is widely spoken, and the Leipzig defender is on speaking terms with everyone, it would be a bit strange to have a captain who doesn't speak Hungarian.



Throughout the history of our national team, unforgettable stories of many iconic team captains have been preserved, and we will recall some of them now.

The 1920s' great star of defense, Károly Fogl II of Újpest was the captain of the national team at one time and was legendary for his extremely strong, cartilage-crushing handshake. Thus, after the handshake at the beginning of the match, he often gave the opposing team captain cold feet, and he also had a habit of congratulating the referee – with a manly handshake, of course – after a decision. We suspect that he particularly liked to use this form of congratulation after a bad decision for his team...

Ferenc Puskás, the captain of the Golden Team, was strong in a different way: his prominent role made him basically untouchable even by senior political leaders, and he often used his influence to his teammates' advantage. For example, left-winger Zoltán Czibor clashed with the State Protection Authority officers at the famous EMKE nightclub in 1955, during the darkest period of the dictatorship), and Puskás probably saved him from prison at best, proving his teammate's indispensability to political leaders. It was hard for him to come to terms with the fact that he could not save, even with his excellent connections, Sándor Szűcs, Újpest's national team player in 1951, from the gallows. After Ferenc Puskás was injured in the 1954 World Cup group match against Germany, József Bozsik was captain of the Golden Team in the quarterfinal against Brazil. He was immediately sent off when, in the 65th minute, Nílton Santos first kicked him badly and then tackled him. József Bozsik raised his hands defensively, according to the official Hungarian viewpoint, but both were sent off for fighting. He got away with a ban from the semifinal against Uruguay; however, because under the “gentlemen's agreement” at the time, FIFA left it up to the Hungarian Football (MLSZ) Federation to decide whether to ban its suspended captain – and MLSZ would have been a fool to do so...

Miklós Páncsics, the captain of the 1972 Olympic team, was also a knight of honor. At the Munich Games, an unusual feature of the football tournament's competition rules was that in the event of a draw in the bronze medal match and the final, the matches would not be replayed, but instead, both teams got awarded the gold and bronze medals. (The penalty shoot-out was not introduced until 1976). The Soviet Union and the GDR played a draw in the “mini final.”) Hungary and Poland played the final. According to Lajos Kű's recollection, Poland was keen to negotiate: "They were already pointing at the players' exit with their arms crossed," the legendary footballer recalled to Hungary's FourFourTwo in 2016. “There were even some who verbally asked for a pact, referring to the great Polish-Hungarian friendship. We held a quick emergency meeting, but team captain Miklós Páncsics was adamant that a draw was not possible, we would defeat them and that that's it." Of course, the Hungarian national team lost 2-1...

Just before the 1978 World Cup, a scandal forced Lajos Baróti to change the team captain. Before the flight to Argentina, the team played a preparation match against England in London, and not only did they lose 4-1, but team captain László Fazekas' wife and András Törőcsik's fiancée were caught shoplifting in Harrods. After the embarrassing incident, Lajos Baróti took the armband from László Fazekas and gave it to Zoltán Kereki. It was a move the Újpest legend found difficult to bear. Hungary finished the group stage with three defeats. The following year, in 1979, a lot of fuss caused a storm around team captain Tibor Nyilasi in the 80th minute of the Austria-Hungary (3-1) preparation match when head coach Károly Lakat replaced Tibor Nyilasi with Károly Csapó. During his walking out, "Nyíl" took off the armband and threw it to András Tóth to wear it, but he couldn't catch it. Jenő Knézy, who was commentating on the match on television, interpreted this gesture as a disrespectful throwing of the armband by the team captain, which was immediately denied by everyone involved, so even MLSZ had to react. Z. B. 


It is an interesting question who decides. Marco Rossi, the national team captain, has previously indicated that he is the one who decides, and he is not the only coach who reserves the right to do so. It is important to have a dominant personality on the pitch to represent him among the others. However, at the press conference after the 0-2 loss to Italy, he said that the role of a leader cannot be bought, and that the squad recognizes the best captain. But perhaps it was more like praising Ádám Szalai when asked about Balázs Dzsudzsák's farewell match. In any case, these two statements are not consistent with each other. Many people swear that the dressing room choses the best captain, but the decision on this matter also rests with the head coach.


Dominik Szoboszlai (left) has also been a Hungarian national team captain (Photo: Attila Török)


On Nemzeti Sport Online, the readers could also vote on the topic: Péter Gulácsi won 42.2% of the votes, Willi Orbán came in second (17.1%) while Dominik Szoboszlai finished third (16.7%).

There have been many groundbreaking team captains who were outstanding in one way or another in international football, too. Didier Deschamps, who won the World Cup with the French national team as a player and then as head coach, is one of them. He captained the team in the 1998 World Cup final 3-0 win over Brazil, but first wore the armband two years earlier, in a preparation match against Germany in 1996. He led the team to the final four at the 1996 European Championship, and two years later, France reached the top in front of their home crowd. Notable recent captains include former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who won the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2008 and 2012 with Spain. He was the captain in all three tournaments, as he was at the 2014 World Cup. Sergio Ramos, who was captain at the 2016 Europeans, is another emblematic figure for the Spanish national team. Cristiano Ronaldo isn't the first person we think of as the captain of the Portuguese national team, although he has held the honor since 2008, and probably many of you remember him cheering on his teammates from the sidelines after his injury in the 2016 European Championship victorious final against France. Lionel Messi is also a leader with an armband for the national team, and last year, he finally won a major tournament (Copa America) with Argentina. As for the groundbreaking captains, Johan Cruyff, who led the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final, should be mentioned as well. The winning team, West Germany's captain was Franz Beckenbauer, who won the European Championship with the national team two years earlier in 1972, and was a true leader on and off the pitch, as was Lothar Matthäus later. And, of course, Diego Maradona, who, with a little exaggeration, single-handedly won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina, was also a great personality. Á.S.  

Translated by Vanda Orosz