[Right Banner] An Interview with Istvan Salloi
Interviewed by David Frenkiel

[Right Banner]

[Salloi and wife]
First I'd like to know how you spell your first name.
I S T V A N (Prounounced Ishtvan)
Why are you called Stefan then?
When I arrived here I told people my name was Istvan no one could say it. Then I tried stephen they didn't know this name either, so I tried the German 'Stefan' and they said OK.

Istvan and Sheila Salloi
upon their arrival
in Israel. Photo ©
1994 Hagit Katav
How did you get started on football?
Actually it is a big tradition in my family. My grandfather and his two brothers played football. My grandfather was not so famous but my father played in the first division and was in the second national team, so ever since I remembe myself I have wanted to be a football player. My father even told me he would break my legs to prevent me from playing because he wasn't so good and his career was not so great so he did not enjoy it, but I did everything to play football.

When you were young - a teenager - was your primary goal success, or did you enjoy the game, the competition and the athletic side?
No, I always wanted to win and did not care how good I was; I just wanted to be a national player and a top scorer . I always had big dreams which I could never reach but if you get halfway it's OK - that's how I think about it.

When did you start to play for a club?
I was 10 years old - that was the legal limit, so I had to wait till I could go. I played in a very small city and I was too good for them. When I was 15 I changed schools and went to a big city and a big club - Videoton. Believe me - you don't want to know how the name of the city is pronounced. I went there and for the first time I met a lot of good players. I was far from being the best, and it was difficult for me. between the ages of 15-18 I played with the young team, and then I joined the adult team. For half a year I played and could not even get into the 16. So I trained a lot, but then the coach would let the others play and tell me to go home. It was difficult and until now I don't understand why I didn't stop playing - I think I was too determined to play football. I did not even think about it - I just did my work and trained. of course looking back now I know I had a lot of luck. I played my first game at the age of 19.

Did you stay in Videoton all that time?

Yes. in videoton I was considered a very talented player, but we have an expression in Hungarian - "talented forever", which describes a person who is talented but never becomes a big player. so I was good but never good enough to be recognized . Then I had to change my club because I went to the army. In the new team we played a lot of pre-season games and they said they had no place for me in the midfield, so they made me a striker. One of the coaches told me then - "If you are a striker, don't give a pass even to your mother when you're in the 16 zone". I thought about it and said OK, and began to do it, and to think only about goals. When I started playing football in the small town I was a striker, and scored about 50 goals each year. Then they made me a mid-fielder in Videoton, and during the army service I became a striker again and started to learn how to score goals. Then when I got back to Videoton I met with my old coach and he told me he would teach me how to score goals. After training he would stay with me another half hour and show me what to do, for example if I go against the goal keeper or how to jump for a cross, and I really learned - it was like going to school. Some players have talent, like Ronen Harazy - so I never see him exercise this; but I had to learn it. That was the main point of my career. I was getting good, and when I was 26 years old I was Player of the Year in Hungary. so there were a lot of difficulties but I wanted to be a football player and I did it and I made the national team and I almost reached everything I wanted.

Have you ever won a title in Hungary?
No, I played for a big club but not big enough. In Hungary the main football is in Budapest. We were second a few times but never first. After I was player of the year I went to Kispest Honved but we had bad luck and came out second in both the championship and in the cup, and after that I came to Jerusalem.

Weren't you injured at that time?
Yes. When I was Player of the Year I had many offers, the most serious one from Bordeaux, and their manager came to see me, but unfortunately I tore a muscle in my thigh during a sprint. it was the first big injury in my career and I was out for four months. I went to Kispest hoping to go abroad but then I had a second injury, similar but in the calf, and missed another 4 months. Then I got back in shape and the only serious offer was from Israel. First they tested me in Maccabi Tel Aviv and Grant (Maccabi TA's coach - D.F.) told me that I was a good player but that he did not need Someone in my position. Then Jerusalem said that if Maccabi did not need me they would take me. I came down here with my wife to see how the situation was, because the information we had in Hungary was worrying and after seeing the place we decided to stay - fortunately.

I'd like to talk a little about your private life. With many football players being superstarts, I find it interesting that many of them get married at an early age. With your popularity, didn't you consider leading a looser lifestyle?
No, not if you find the real woman for you. Actually I had problems with friends because of this - they said I was too serious. Ever since I came to Israel I was interested in monuments and churches and things that are related to Christianity and even to the Jewish religion ; I don't like discotheques, I don't like the music there, I prefer rock music.

How easy was it to get accustomed to a new country?
Well, first I make more money here than I could in Hungary. Also, we like the lifestyle here in Israel. In Hungary you rarely see people on the street after 6 o'clock in the evening, - they're all home watching TV. Here you can go out and have fun - I enjoy dressing up in a suit and tie. We also enjoy discovering things about the history of the Jewish people and ever since I came here it was interesting for me to learn things about new people and new habits, like the Shabat and Sukot. We also travel a lot in Israel. At first we missed home very much but this summer we went home and as I got out of the airport I told my wife I already missed Israel.

How does your wife manage?
She likes it here as well. we came here three years ago alone and now we have two small children - 16 months old and 3 months old. Maybe it's something in the air.

Does she work?
No, she's been pregnant ever since we came here... also we are very close and in the beginning here, when it was difficult, we were together most of the time and she came to games and even to practices. My wife is very close to me and she is my best friend, and I want her next to me. I'm home most of the mornings so if she would work we would not be with each other a large part of the day.

Image: Istvan Salloi and Laslo Cseh in Beitar Uniform

I want to ask you about the Laslo Cseh - Pisont affair from last year. It came as sort of a surprise - did it really happen overnight?
Salloi and Laslo Cseh
in the beginning of
the 1995/96 season.
Photo © 1995
Shlomo Wolkovitz
No; Beitar asked me about Hungarian players and I gave them 3 names - Laslo Cseh, Istvan Pisont and Bela Illish whom I wanted very much . Illish played in Europe, Pisont was injured so Cseh was the only one left . when he was not a success and the coach did not like him they asked about Pisont again and I told them he was OK and they invited him.

Are you socially involved with him here?
Yes, we go out together.

What about other Hungarian players?
We're in touch. If there are birthdays we get together, and if we have news from Hungary we tell each other.

What are your plans for the future?
I want to stay in football but I mostly want to be a manager like Avram levy - arrange everything about the team. That, and eventually be president of a club. I also think about coaching but in coaching you have to change cities and countries and schools for the kids and I don't think it is too good for the family.

You have broad interests in life, but the image of the Israeli football player is not quite like that. How do you get along with other players?
That's the image all over the world. I don't want to compliment myself but I can find an interest in almost any person. I talk to rich people about business, I'm interested in the internet - I always keep my eyes open.

You said all you cared about was winning. Is it true, then, that you don't have a lot of satisfaction from the game itself, and that you don't even enjoy some of the games?
Yes, look, for me football is not a passion, it is a job, sometimes like going to the factory. some games are like this.

Let's say you have a month off; don't you find yourself playing football?
No, no, that's a golden rule.

But it is a game, not only a profession.
Yes, it is a pity but I cannot play football for fun. I tried to play with 50 year olds and I found myself playing like in real games, hitting people and things like that. I cannot change myself and they don't understand what I'm doing - I see them leading 2:1 so I want to win and I don't care how - I push and kick and do the same things I do in real games and it is not good. Even if play with children I glitch - I don't care, I want to win. So instead I play tennis with my wife who is a very good player. In tennis a net separates you from the opponent so you cannot do them damage like I do in football. I also like water sports.

Going back to the coach who trained you to be a striker, have you seen this kind of training in Israel?
No, that kind of practice is very rare for a coach. That coach would ask me what I thought about the training and I would tell him honestly what I thought helped and what I thought was not useful. He listened and sometimes did things that I suggested. When I had a problem scoring goals we would think about the things I needed to improve. Here if I tell the coach what I think I should work on he thinks I'm criticizing him.

Do you think this is specific to coaches in Israel?
No, not only here, this is the situation in Hungary as well. That coach was special.

If you look at football players in Israel, you see players making the same mistakes over and over again for years. It seems to me that football players here learn most of their repertoire until the ages of 16-18, and then replicate the same things for the rest of their career. Do you agree to this view?
Yes, there is almost no individual training here. However, I think the player's talent is from birth, so you grow up with a talent. Then players get to the first team and the big stars don't want to listen anymore. As for the training, the same situation exists in Hungary, most coaches do not get much money and they are not too professional. Another problem is that the same coaches go round and round, so the system does not change.

Haven't you ever suggested that they upgrade the practices here?
Actually I have a big mouth and I often make "balagan" (Hebrew for 'a mess' - d.f.) for myself. I did suggest some things and it happened many times that the coach would say that I spoke like a coach but that I was just a player.

Is it a question of ego then?
Yes, every coach wants to show that he is the boss. I know I don't want to criticize the coach - just to help even if we're not of the same opinion, but it does not work

Now, let's move on to team practice; In your experience, do coaches practice specific tactics and maneuvers on the field or is most of the game a function of improvisation?
The coaches have ideas but as I see it they cannot pass them to the players because some players do whatever they want on the field.

last year I saw some moves in Beitar that seemed to be practiced, like the corner that went to Abuxis on the edge of the 16 box, or the short corner to Ohana who would head the ball to the other side of the goal.
Yes we practiced this all the time. But then these things disappeared. I don't know; We have good players in Beitar but we don't play like a team. This is why I think it will be difficult for us to be champions. Sometimes all the players are 'kaput' and then you need a system that can work if there is a problem with the stars. but if one or two of the stars are good that's enough for Beitar to win a game.

You have this view of Beitar, and a lot of people outside the team seem to share it. How is it that a team as important as Beitar does not correct this situation? OK, so you can't talk to Eli Cohen - can't you talk to other players about theses problems?
Yes, but why should they take my advice- they think they are better than me. It is not the business of one player to tell other players to do more defense or to do less dribbling ...

[Salloi dribbling] Do you try to pick up things when you watch football on TV?
Salloi in the UEFA cup
game vs. Floriana Malta
in the summer of '96
photo ©1996 Dani Maron
Yes. My main game is to score goals so I watch all the goals in Euro football and see the situations and solutions and I try it in training to see if it works for me. it does not always work because many times I do what I'm used to for example, if the ball is moving in direction a and I come from the opposite direction I'll always try to shoot in direction b because the goal keeper should be moving in the direction of the ball. Sometimes, however, the goal keeper is lazy and stays in his place and then he can catch the ball. [Tactic diagram] So this is my philosophy - I know what I do in each position.

That's TV. Now, in real life, is it customary for players to try to pick up things from each other? For example, Zohar and his free kicks.
Well it's a talent you're born with. You cannot teach what Itzik Zohar has. You can improve things but you will never kick like him. I spoke to Harazy about scoring goals and he said he thought I was a bit hurried in the 16 box, and that I should be more relaxed . but I'm too old to change completely. you learn these things at childhood. for example I had a coach who tried to teach me to start a sprint with small steps but I did not listen and until today my starts are slow but I get faster a after a few meters. Istvan Pisont or Berkowitz, on the other hand, start with small steps and go like a bullet. but you cannot learn this at an older age. Some players know things I don't but I know things they don't. my strong point is that I am very aggressive in front of the goal, I never wait or hesitate. I go through the goal keeper even if I'm injured or cause injury - all I care about is the goal.