Vilmos Vanczak watches the World Cup final from his home in Hungary and wishes Lionel Messi well.
If the Argentinian legend lifts football’s biggest prize in Qatar on Sunday, Vanchuck will do a little bit of credit with his tongue pressed firmly to his cheek and a smile on his face.
“I always laugh at what he did for his international career,” says Vanczak, now 39, a former Hungarian international.
“Maybe I started his career! I love that we got together at some point in history because he’s a great player. That’s a big thing for me.”
The former defender has had an impressive career of his own that includes over 400 senior club games in Hungary, Switzerland and Belgium (including nine years with FC Sion) as well as 79 caps and four goals for his country. was enjoying
But he will always be remembered, especially in Argentina, for his small but unforgettable role in the beginning of one of the most famous international careers of all time.
In August 2005, when Argentina traveled to Budapest for a friendly at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium, Vanczak was a 22-year-old Ujpest player who made few appearances in his home country.
The Argentine squad included a young forward who had made several appearances in La Liga the previous season and had started making waves at Barcelona.
Messi has arrived in Hungary geared up for his international debut in Argentina.
“I heard before the game that there was a young player who could be very famous, a big talent, and that was Messi,” Vanchuk said. athletic.
“I knew the Argentinian team was very strong, but everyone was talking about him being a big player, so I wanted to see him.”
A crowd of about 25,000 in Vanczak, Hungary and Budapest got their wish, but it didn’t last long.
With his team leading 2-1, Messi bowed in international competition when he substituted for Lisandro Lopez in the 63rd minute. Less than two minutes later, he dribbled past Vanzac, who instinctively grabbed Messi’s baggy shirt.
The 18-year-old flung his arms around and tried to escape, but grabbed Vanchuck by the throat and received a red card from German referee Markus Merck. It was his nightmare international debut.
“He passed me with the ball. I wanted to stop him, so I pulled his jersey back,” Vanczak says.
“I don’t think he meant to hit me with his elbow, but he meant to run away and touched my throat with his elbow. But I didn’t expect him to give me a red card. It’s just was friendly!
Messi debut for Argentina
August 17, 2005, against Hungary in Budapest.
Sergio Lopez follow-up and notes at the hotel.After he calmed down a bit due to the unfair red card they gave him pic.twitter.com/d7oFGPFUIR
— Victor Tuzicinnader (@victortuchi) August 17, 2021
Yet, despite being less than two minutes on the pitch, Messi did enough to convince his Hungarian opponent that the hype was well-founded.
“He was petite and didn’t really have muscles,” recalls Vanczak. “The jersey was huge for him, but even in those few minutes, when he got on the ball, I knew he was a great player.
“He was amazing. He only played a minute or so and only got a pass or two, but when he touched the ball he was great.”
A depressed Messi was escorted off the field by teammates and coaches and kept away from the crime scene.
Vanchuck has never met the Paris Saint-Germain superstar again, but he must never be allowed to forget his role in international football’s infamous debut.
“A lot of people came to the stadium for Messi,” he laughs. “They wanted to see him, so after the game a lot of people were like, ‘Why did he get a red card because of you? We wanted to see him!
“But it was just a joke. It wasn’t serious, but a lot of people were coming to see him.
“I was a little surprised to see the red card. However, the referee decided so and received a yellow card for pulling his jersey back.
“I haven’t seen him since, but I was always checking in on his career. In that history, we’ve always been together and that’s a big thing for me. So I’m watching him.” And I always think about this.”
As Messi took world football by storm, Vanchuck’s admiration for the young opponent of the day only increased with each passing year.
The Hungarian, who is currently helping develop the next generation of talent for his country as assistant manager to Hungary U21’s Zoltan Gera, will be cheering Argentina on tomorrow’s clash with France.
And when asked his thoughts on the long-running Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo dispute, he has no mixed feelings.
“I always pick Messi,” he says. “Messi is a natural player. He is a man from another planet.
“Ronaldo is a worker. He works hard, trains hard, does everything for himself and his career, but when it comes to Messi, I always think he’s not human.
“I love the way he touches the ball, the way he receives information, the way he always knows where he needs to keep the ball.
“I feel lucky to be in the same era as this player. I hope he wins. I want it for him because he deserves it.”
“He’s accomplished everything in his career and I would be very happy if he won this trophy. For me, he’s the best ever.”
(Photo above: Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)