Marco Rossi, a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa at Budapest Honvéd

Andrassy Ut is a long boulevard linking Budapest centre with the majestic Heroes’ Square. Halfway to it, we entered Pippo Giambertone’s pizzeria, where amidst Juventus’ flags and relics sat Marco Rossi, manager of Hungarian side Honvéd, currently runner-up in the national top-flight. “Mister, you shouldn’t be there! You played for Torino!” He smiled back.

That’s true, I grew up with my grandfather telling me about Puskas and the Granata myth, but when I played in the Torino youth academy I used to go to the Stadio Comunale to watch both [Juventus and Torino].”

 The italian owner, a keen Bianconeri supporter, is the responsible for the black and white colours.

It’s been quite a while since Rossi used to spend his Sunday afternoons sitting in the standings of Stadio Comunale, and he has since toured many cities: Genoa, Brescia, Frankfurt, Mexico City and Piacenza. After that, he coached Lumezzane, Pro Patria, Spezia, Scafatese, Cavese and, eventually, Budapest Honvéd, a side he steered just few weeks ago top of Nemzeti Bajnoksag, the Hungarian top-flight, before falling to the second place, where they currently sit, one point behind leaders Videoton.

He shares the experience with some Italian fellows, Cosimo Inguscio and Giovanni Costantino, who are part of his staff and with whom Rossi has a close relationship. Everything started at these very tables in the summer of 2011.

I came to visit Pippo, who is a good friend since we met in Frankfurt. That night I met Fabio Cordella, the then-Honvéd director of football. We had a chat and he set me up with the club and owner George Hemingway (known as Gyorgy Szabo),”

Rossi told. He’s then officially appointed in the summer of 2012, making quite an impact on his new team.

We finished third in the first season, a feat Honvéd hadn’t reached since 1993 when they were champions. In 2014, I resigned leaving the club eighth with a few games left, but I was called back the following season.”

However, the main achievement the Italian did at the helm of the club was leading a relegation-doomed Honvéd to an unexpected safety during his second spell.

During the winter break, Honvéd only had 13 points from 17 matches, despite changing four different managers — relegation seemed inevitable. That was our biggest achievement, even more than the third place or the current title-fight. This season we have good players who allow us to compete with the likes of Videoton and Ferencváros, while two years ago we were in a desperate situation, we had little we could rely on.”

That squad featured King and Holender, who had little playing-time back then but have emerged as key elements this year.

That season was crucial — we understood which players identified themselves with the club, which helps them to be more motivated. We moved some of them to the first team, people we didn’t even know to have in our squad.”

Having played at the highest levels, just as Rossi did, can also help.

For instance, we didn’t have the habit of going on a retreat before our home games, and it doesn’t even happen with the away matches. We just do it when the bus trip takes more than two hours but we’ve introduced it only after some years, because travelling three hours on a match day got us tired. For Honvéd, this was normal.”

Attention to details and obsession for the game. With a quick look to Marco Rossi’s curriculum, you immediately realise that during his playing career he worked with the “LocoBielsa.

I met him in 1995, after his spells at Newell’s and Atlas de Guadalajara. He came at América, the most important team in Mexico. People already called him “loco”, crazy, because he was so obsessed, almost paranoid, with his attention to detail. He had a private office in the América sports centre and he would watch football games on VHS night and day.”

And this is a habit Rossi seems to have taken up, as he watched four matches, live and on TV, the day before the interview.

As for the tactical aspects, I hope I have learnt something from him [Marcelo Bielsa]. For sure, I’m a maniac as much as he is. After games, I can’t sleep due to the adrenaline, so I generally watch two or three matches of our next opponent to prepare the work for the week.”

After all, being up-to-date is crucial if you are to be part of a ever-changing sport like football.

In recent years football has become quicker and intense, José Mourinho anticipated it seven or eight years ago. He said players needed to be faster in transition and this is something we work on every day, alongside tactics for specific situations both when defending and attacking. The intensity in the two phases of play is a key to modern football.”

But what is keeping such a dedicated coach away from his native country?

Honestly, I think there is no room for me in Italy, I’m planning to spend all my career abroad. In Italy there is no attention towards coaches who work outside of the country, except for those ones managing at the top of the most important leagues. Obviously Italian football is at a higher level, but what matters is a winning mentality. If you can win in Lega Pro or Serie D (Italian third and fourth tier), you can also do it in higher tiers.”

Unfortunately, his spells with Italian teams have been marked by off-the-field problems.

I’ve always worked in places where I had to face a delicate financial situation or I had to escape relegation. The only season I had a better team, with Spezia, we finished runner-up in Serie D and played the national play-off before eventually getting promoted due to repêchage. Elsewhere, I only found shameful situations. It’s not something I regret, I’m just aware of it.”

The same awareness that, alongside a lack of perspective, pushed him abroad.

I’ll make an example: when I coached Lumezzane in Serie C (former Italian third tier, now renamed Lega Pro), we managed to avoid relegation despite a difficult situation — that same season, Maurizio Sarri was the boss of Sangiovannese, while Massimiliano Allegri coached Spal. Against the latter, we won 4-0 in the Coppa Italia (4-1, actually) in a clash where I fielded many youngsters. Yet, I’ve never received a call to manage in the Serie B, not even the chance to get there with a Lega Pro side.”

Just few hours after shaking hands, Honvéd started the last stage of the league in the best way by beating city rival Ferencváros 2-1. A crucial victory that will further ignite Marco Rossi side’s hopes to compete for the title, which could well be decided by the clash against current leader Videoton.

Cover photo ©MTI
Marco Rossi’s close-up ©Nemzeti Sport
Budapest Honvéd celebrating Marco Rossi ©