22 year old András Schäfer has already had a brief stint in Serie A and the midfielder is finally blooming into the early promise he showed back home.
On a damp muddy pitch at Dorog, András Schäfer had tears trickling down his face.
Located on the outskirts of Hungary, this was a million miles from the glittering Puskas Arena which awaits him at Euro 2020.
But the 700 strong Dorog crowd with their drums and jeers made the Buzánszky Jenő Stadium into a cauldron.
Their incessant jeers were enough to secure Dorog a smash-and-grab 2-1 victory.
And Schäfer collapsed at the final whistle unable to hold back the emotions.
MTK Budapest did not belong in Hungary’s second tier.
The 23 time winners of Hungary’s top flight vowed to climb back without defeat when they went down.
18 year old Schäfer was more keen than anyone to deliver on the promise.
And he felt the weight of that come crushing down.
Not supposed to play
Suffering from asthma and deemed too frail by many at Szombathely Haladás if it were not for a hawk-eyed MTK Budapest scout, András Schäfer may have not have ended up in football.
At 15, the club from the capital, lured Schäfer to their illustrious Sándor Károly academy.
The academy has produced stars like RB Leipzig’s Péter Gulácsi, Anderlecht legend, Roland Juhász or former Liverpool wonderkid, Krisztián Németh.
MTK’s academy complex is located in Agárd, a small village blanketed by towering mountains and lake Velence.
It is a state of the art where players live in dorms and fit their education around a football concentrated schedule.
But even so, scouts from Hungary’s U15, U16 and U17 international teams all overlooked Schäfer.
Despite the fact that from the age of 17 he trained regularly with MTK’s first team.
He even made his debut in the top flight.
His two substitute cameos in NB1 offered a rare shimmering light in a campaign which doomed MTK to relegation.
András Schäfer used relegation as an opportunity to cement his place in the first team.
In total nine first team players left the club including former Liverpool trialist Bálint Vogyicska whose departure paved the way for Schäfer to make a mark.
Under Tamás Feczkó, a young and coach who guided Balmazújváros to their first ever promotion to Hungary’s top flight the year prior, Schäfer blossomed.
Then an 18 year old, Feczkó’s free flowing attackign football suited the young man.
Normally deployed as a left midfielder, Schäfer showed his versatility playing in central midfield roles as a number ten and as a box-to-box type midfielder.
He ended the campaign with 6 goals and 4 assists in 34 games, and despite a few disappointing results earned MTK a promotion back to Hungary’s top flight.
In the summer of 2018, Hungarian giants Ferencváros came calling but they were deterred by MTK’s asking price.
A remarkable rise
At the Haladás Sportkomplexum, against the club who Schäfer left for MTK, he scored his first NB1 goal.
A tidy finish past the legend Gábor Király.
Years later Király was one of the first to congratulate his fellow Szombathely native after Schäfer’s first international goal against Cyprus.
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15 games in Hungary’s top flight, and just six months was enough to convince, Serie A giants Genoa to sanction a €1 million move.
But his time in Italy was marred by constant managerial changes and the step-up from the second tier of Hungary to Italy’s top flight may have come a tad too soon.
“The last year was very difficult. Maybe the step-up from the Hungarian league to the Italian was too big. I did everything I could to play (in training) but I did not succeed. I leave without regrets. Of course it’s not how I wanted things to go, but this is how life goes. Now I need to find the right path again and I am sure I can get back to (Serie A) again.”András Schäfer via Nemzeti Sport 2020
Schäfer made zero appearances for Genoa’s first team and was loaned out to DAC in Slovakia’s Fortuna Liga a year after his sensational move.
The right step
The move to DAC has helped to rebuild Schäfer’s reputation.
In his first six months at the club, he proved his versatility by playing virtually everywhere.
As an LM, RM, RB, CDM, CM and a CAM.
In every role he thrived and it was no surprise when the Slovakian outfit made his move permanent in the summer of 2020.
This time for a figure rumoured to be around £360k according to Transfermarkt.
Making a mark
In his second season, Schäfer has settled into more of a holding/box-to-box midfield role at DAC who led the league for much of the season.
‘I’m a box to box midfielder, I love to run, defend, and be aggressive on the pitch which is one of my biggest strengths I think,’ he told DAC’s official website.
His defensive abilities have definitely stood out in the 2020/21 campaign.
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He averaged 9.01 defensive duels per 90, and won 58.48% of them via Wyscout (the second highest for U23 CMs in the Fortuna Liga).
Schäfer who used to be small at youth level, has had a considerable growth spurt since and now stands at 180cm.
His extra height has made him fairly good in the air too.
Schäfer has the best success rate for aerial duels out of his fellow central midfielders this season with 66.67% averaging 3.26 duels per game.
He reads the game well too and made the most possession-adjusted interceptions with 9.1 per 90 for his position in the league.
Meaning he can break-up play on a consistent basis and is excellent at regaining possession.
He makes a total of 11.35 recoveries per 90 too which is higher than the average for his position and highlights his abundance of energy. Schäfer possess a tireless engine, and he covers a lot of ground.
His box-to-box qualities are highlighted by his ability on the ball.
He averages 3.34 dribbles per 90 and has a 59.04% duel success rate. This is the 5th highest for U23 CMs who average at least 3 dribbles per 90.
He makes 1.85 progressive runs which ranks him in the top five U23 midfielders in the league.
The qualitive of his passing is excellent too. Schäfer plays with his head up and averages 12.23 forward passes per 90 completing 78.28%.
For midfielders who average at least 12 forward passes per 90 in the league Schäfer has the second best success rate out of anyone. This is also the best for U23 players.
With 6.56 passes to the opposition’s final third, Schäfer’s pass completion of 80.98% is also the best out of any midfielder in the Fortuna Liga.
The only area he lacks in is productivity in the final third when it comes to scoring goals and creating assists.
Though he has played largely as a holding midfielder this season so there hasn’t been many opportunities to roam forward.
His range of goals in Hungary and the national team prove he can be productive in this area too.
Euro 2020: Moment to shine
Without Dominik Szoboszlai and Zsolt Kalmár, the third midfield position is up for grabs in Hungary’s starting eleven.
Schäfer’s cameo against Cyprus laid the perfect audition for Marco Rossi to indicate he can fill their shoes.
The 22 year old scored a thumping strike and won a penalty thanks to clever footwork.
His energy and defensive capabilities could be vital with Hungary set to come up against some of the best midfielders in the world.
Schäfer’s ability to progress the ball with accuracy in transitions could also be Hungary’s secret weapon.
He completed 95% of his passes against Cyprus and 5 out of 6 in the final third.
With Hungary likely to venture forward in rare counters against Portugal, Germany and France, precision could be the key.
His versatility and multitude of strengths means Rossi can rely on him to make the step-up.
And Hungary’s Italian headcoach may just throw him in at the deep end.
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