It’s fair to say that the next few months could be career-defining for Willi Orban. The Hungary captain might be injured right now and estimated to be out until April, but he will be cheering on his teammates both at club and international level. Orban led his country to a very respectable 12 points in Euro 2020 qualifying, scoring two goals along the way, and that was enough to secure his nation a berth in the play-offs.
There, they will meet Bulgaria in the first semi-final on March 26, with the winner going on to meet the victor of Romania and Iceland in the final of the Path A route to the European Championships.
And what a prize awaits the Hungarians. Not only would this be a rare major tournament appearance, but they would also be placed in Group F alongside world champions France, the ever-dangerous Germany and reigning European champions Portugal, whose star Cristiano Ronaldo and co will be staying on St Margaret Island during the tournament.
The icing on the cake? Hungary would be playing their matches at the Puskás Aréna in Budapest if they can navigate their way to the finals, where they would be looking to emulate the eponymous Hungarian hero, whose life story is set to be made into a musical.
The 27-year-old will be a frustrated observer on the sidelines, with his knee injury keeping him sidelined for the next few weeks, and he will be desperate to get back into the team that he has chosen to represent.
Born in Germany to a Hungarian father and a Polish mother, Orban was able to choose to represent any of these three nations, but he felt a real affinity to his paternal roots and so nothing would make him prouder than to lead his country into battle in Budapest at the summer.
So what are the chances of the defender having his dreams fulfilled? Well, Hungary are fancied by many pundits to get past Bulgaria in the first playoff game, and as of February 12 the latest Euro 2020 betting odds from Betway have them as 5/4 favorites to do exactly that.
They would go into the subsequent final against Romania or Iceland as the underdog, but if nothing else this Hungarian team has shown tremendous character to get to this point. They beat World Cup finalists Croatia in their second group game during the qualification process, as well as defeating former European Championship semi-finalists Wales at the Groupama Stadium as well.
The concern is injuries, not just to Orban but to veteran defender Tamás Kádár and the exciting Zsolt Kalmar. However, there is still plenty of quality in this Hungary team, and they will be hoping to hour their stricken captain by reaching the European Championship finals for only the second time in the past 48 years.
When he’s not representing his country, Willi Orban is giving his all to his ‘day job’ – marshaling the defense of RB Leipzig, the team hoping to end Bayern Munich’s monopoly of the German Bundesliga title. There he joins good friend Peter Gulácsi, who was recently nominated in the Hungarian Sportspeople of the Year Awards.
The outfit currently sit just one point behind the reigning champions at the top of the table, and they were arguably the best team in the 0-0 draw with Bayern on February 9.
The Munich club have won the German title for the past seven years in a row, while Leipzig are still seeking their first top-flight triumph – but having only been formed in 2009.
Most people erroneously think that the ‘RB’ in their name stands for Red Bull, but it actually refers to Rasenball Sport because the rules in Germany prevent sports teams from openly being sponsored by a commercial entity.
But Leipzig are part of the global Red Bull football franchise, which also includes Red Bull Salzburg – who have produced a number of fine young talents such as Erling Braut Haaland – and the New York Red Bulls, who have enjoyed plenty of success in America’s Major League Soccer.
There are those who are vocal opponents of the perceived ‘commercialization’ of football by brands like Red Bull, but they haven’t simply bought their way to success – they have purchased talented young players and developed them further.
One player who fits that category is Orban, who Leipzig signed from FC Kaiserslautern for a paltry €2.5 million.
He has since risen to the rank of captain, and while his teammates will miss the inspirational leader as he recovers from injury, Orban will be watching on and hoping that both his RB Leipzig and Hungary colleagues will be celebrating this springtime.