Tournament ambassador for Hungary Péter Gulácsi has fulfilled his promise in a journey that has taken him from Liverpool to Leipzig.
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Péter Gulácsi, Under-21 EURO tournament ambassador for Hungary, came to his nation's attention at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the goalkeeper has fulfilled that promise in a journey that has taken him from Liverpool to Leipzig.
Gulácsi was only 17 when Liverpool signed him, and although his time in England was marked mainly by lower-division loans, he has become a key part of Leipzig's growth to UEFA Champions League prominence. We track his rise.
• Gulácsi was part of Hungary’s squad at the 2006 UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Luxembourg, his one appearance in the 4-0 defeat of the hosts the day before his 16th birthday.
• Gulácsi, who had a taste of the senior squad in a May 2008 friendly against Croatia, helped Hungary to that July's U19 EURO semi-finals, including a 1-0 defeat of Spain, earning a trip to the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
• He played a crucial role as Hungary earned a bronze medal in Egypt, with two clean sheets in the group stage and starred in a pair of penalty shoot-out wins, saving three kicks in the third-place play-off against Costa Rica.
• By then Gulácsi was already first choice for the Hungary Under-21 side, and was to make 26 appearances, though never got to experience the U21 EURO finals.
• Gulácsi's senior Hungary debut came on 22 May 2014 against Denmark, and he went to UEFA EURO 2016 as understudy to Gábor Király.
• On Király’s retirement, Gulácsi took over as Hungary’s senior No1 and helped them to victory in the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifying play-offs, beating Bulgaria and Iceland. Co-hosts Hungary will play two of their group games in Budapest.
• Named Hungary's player of the year both by the MLSZ and media votes in 2018 and 2019.
• When he first joined local Budapest club BVSC aged five, Gulácsi's height meant he was soon put in goal.
• At 13, Gulácsi joined MTK Budapest's Sándor Károly Academy, and for the next four years worked his way through the ranks, when he started to be included in Hungary's national youth squads.
Liverpool and English loans
• In 2007, Gulácsi moved to Liverpool as part of their partnership with the Sándor Károly Academy. He made his debut for the reserves on 27 November of that year against Manchester City alongside compatriot Krisztián Németh.
• In September 2008, Gulácsi joined Liverpool’s first-team squad full time and was twice named on the bench in the English League Cup.
• Gulácsi moved on loan to third-tier Hereford United and made his league debut on 14 February 2009 against Cheltenham Town. Three days later he saved a penalty in a 2-0 defeat of Leeds United – Gulácsi's first two games were the first time the Bulls had won twice in a row all season and he remained Hereford’s first-choice keeper of the rest of the season.
• After several appearances for Liverpool’s first team in 2009 pre-season, Gulácsi agreed a new contract until 2013.
• However, although occasionally named as a substitute, he was behind Pepe Reina and Diego Cavalieri in the pecking order and never did appear for Liverpool’s first team in a competitive game, instead being loaned to third-tier Tranmere Rovers in 2009/10 and 2010/11 and Championship side Hull City the following season.
• In June 2013, Liverpool released Gulácsi and he joined Salzburg; the following month he made his first career top-flight appearance as he swiftly established himself as No1.
• He proved a success, winning the Austrian double in both of his Salzburg seasons before switching to ambitious Leipzig in the 2. Bundesliga.
• Although initially understudy to Fabio Coltorti, Gulácsi got his opportunity 33 minutes into the first game after the winter break, against Eintracht Braunschweig, when the Swiss keeper was injured. Gulácsi took his chance and immediately established himself as a starter as Leipzig finished second to win promotion to the top flight for the first time.
• Gulácsi only missed one Bundesliga game the following season as Leipzig finished second to earn a UEFA Champions League debut.
• He continued to impress in 2017/18, not only playing in the UEFA Champions League but also being named Kicker magazine’s goalkeeper of the first half of the Bundesliga season, based on their weekly ratings. He also signed a two-year contract extension, committing him until 2022.
• Gulácsi has proved crucial in keeping Leipzig in contention for the German title – in 2018/19 no team conceded less goals than Leipzig's 29.
• In 2019/20 Gulácsi and Leipzig team-mate Willi Orban became the first Hungarians to play in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League since the competition took that branding in 1992/93.
What he says
On his experience of youth final tournaments for Hungary
"By finishing in third place in the U19 EURO we qualified for the U-20 World Cup, and there we managed to get a sensational result by finishing third. It's been 11 years since then. To this day it's something we're very proud of, and this was only a youth tournament. Many people said that this team could go on to be successful with the Hungarian senior team as well. If not with the same players, this success went on to have repercussions in the Hungarian senior national team, with the team qualifying for two EUROs."”
On the U-20 World Cup bronze-medal match with Costa Rica in Egypt
"Thank God I managed to save three penalties, that was an unforgettable experience for me. Hosting an U21 tournament is very similar to a senior tournament – if we look at the stadiums it's almost like a senior tournament. In Egypt we were playing in full stadiums. There were more than 50,000 people there, so that was really like an introduction to senior football. Being able to experience this brought a lot to my career as well."
On succeeding Gábor Király for Hungary
"I’ve known Gábor Király for a very long time. It wasn't by chance that he was the first-choice goalkeeper for the Hungarian national team for so long. Obviously, for me to take his place one day was an open secret. Thankfully my club career worked out well, as back then I’d just got promoted to the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig. The thing is, these two events happened at the same time – I became the No1 goalkeeper in the German league for Leipzig and in the national squad. Since then we’ve had a great relationship, and both as a pro and as a person Gábor Király is a top guy. The fact that I was able to be there at the EURO with him – learning from him but also from other keepers – was great. I tried to take what he did and implement it in my game."
On qualifying for UEFA EURO 2020
"We probably took the longest path to get there, but this success has redeemed us and it will be a massive deal. We’ll play two games on home soil and hopefully in front of fans. It's simply an indescribable feeling.”
On Hungary co-hosting the 2021 U21 EURO
"I'm very proud because I’ve also taken part in several youth tournaments. I’ve not had the chance to play in a home tournament but I can imagine how it’ll be. This is a very good opportunity to see where we’re at and experience the pressure and the tense situations that go hand in hand with a big competition. For all the players participating it’ll be a huge experience for their futures, and I hope that we’ll be successful."
On a potential legacy for Hungary U21s
"In a youth tournament the question is always, is it better to be a good team or for some players to be able to progress to the senior team? I think at U21 level both are important. Being a good team is definitely important in terms of long-term goals. But it's equally important that the players who are good in the team move forward and develop step by step, and if this tournament helps them to get one step further, then the tournament has achieved its purpose."