The Hungarian town of Sopron is famous for its red wine, Kékfrankos, and its high concentration of dentists, reputedly the most per capita in Europe. Since mid-October it has had something else to be proud of: legendary Italian striker Beppe Signori’s decision to sign for local side FC Sopron has made the small town on the Austrian border the talk of Hungarian football.
"Hungary is a country with great football tradition," Signori told uefa.com. "But I decided to come here because I know the club's owner, Máriusz Vízer, very well. He asked me if I wanted to come and help his side grow. He had an important project in mind and I decided to accept his call. This is a long-term project and there are several promising young players. I hope to help them with my experience."
Vízer, an Austria-based Romanian businessman and president of the European Judo Union, has pulled off quite a coup. Signori's sublime left foot is still capable of thrilling a crowd, just as it did in seasons past for Bologna FC, S.S. Lazio and Italy. He played 344 Serie A matches, scoring an astonishing 188 goals, and added seven more in 37 appearances for his country. Bologna fans still worship him. Sopron's small band of supporters are learning why.
Physically the 37-year-old is not as sharp as when helping Italy reach the 1994 FIFA World Cup final, or when finishing as Serie A's top scorer for the third time in 1996, but he has lost none of his ability. He hit the bar twice on his debut, leading Sopron to a victory against Vasas SC on 22 October. In his second game Signori scored two spectacular left-footed goals as Sopron defeated Zalaegerszegi TE 5-1 in the Hungarian Cup. "Signori: Bravissimo!" ran sports paper Nemzeti Sport's front page headline the next day. A goal and another victory against Pécsi MFC followed soon after.
'Play to win'
Signori is enjoying himself, assuming a leading role in a young team. "There isn't the same pressure here to achieve results. You always play to win, but it's not the end of the world, like in Italy, if you don't. The speed of the game is different as well. You have more time to think about what to do when you get the ball, so you can try more difficult and beautiful things."
Signori left Bologna in 2004, since when he has played for Al Arabi in Qatar and at Greece's Iraklis FC. New surroundings have breathed new life into his career. "
I had a wonderful time at Bologna and decided the Rossoblù had to be my last team in Italy. I think travelling while playing football is very important. I like to get to know new cultures, different mentalities and new languages. They are all important factors of being a human being."
Sopron is known as the "Town of Fidelity", after its people voted in 1921 to become part of Hungary rather than Austria following the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War. Signori, in contrast, has made his home across the frontier. "I must learn a lot about Hungary. Sopron is just on the Austrian border and I have spent a lot of time in Austria so far. The first impressions were very good. Sopron is a very nice and calm town, there's no stress here and we can work in the best possible way."
Sopron has no footballing tradition to speak of. Basketball is the leading sport and last season's 5-1 victory against Ferencvárosi TC in the Hungarian Cup final was considered a miracle. Sopron have been revitalised by Signori and Vízer, who saved the club after their main backers pulled out at the end of last season. Sopron were still celebrating their greatest achievement, winning the Hungarian Cup for the first time, when the news broke. Vízer stabilised Sopron but could not prevent their first experience of the UEFA Cup from ending at the first hurdle. Since then he has brought in former Romania international Tibor Selymes as coach and results are improving. Thanks in no small part to Signori.
Rumours suggest the Italian may stay at Sopron beyond the end of his contract in June, perhaps as technical director. For the moment though, his thoughts are on just one thing. "I will go on playing as long as I'm enjoying it and for as long as my body allows me to. However I think the physiological aspect is most important. If you like what you do and still feel the same passion, you don't have to stop. Only when I realise something has changed in that respect will I consider retiring." Sopron hope that is not for a long time yet.
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