Honvéd had enjoyed an immediate surge under the leadership of Russian manager Vladimir Latunov. At the half-way mark of the 2024/25 campaign, they were already just three points short of their tally in the entirety of the previous season. And they were sitting pretty in third in Hungarian Division I.
However, the new year began with a new Honvéd record sale as starlet Szabolcs Sima departed the club. The 19-year-old academy product winger had a minimum fee release clause of £2.9 million, which was seven-times more than the club’s record sale of £400,000. However, AC Milan came in for a £200,000 bid that Latunov negotiated, demanded at least £5 million and they came back with a ridiculous big of £5.3335 million up front, £27,000 per game for 10 games, £135,000 after one international appearance, 20% of next profit and a friendly. That’s a massive deal for a club like Honvéd. Indeed, that more than doubled the club’s bank balance to £10.25 million.
Latunov replaced Sima by heading back to his homeland to draft in a raft of young Russian attackers on loan. 18-year-old Dinamo Moscow prospect Yury Panteleev will slot into Sima’s role on the right, and looks an exciting player with great pace and determination and solid first-touch and dribbling. He’ll be supported by promising 20-year-old Honvéd academy product Renátó Ulbert and Ukrainian 18-year-old Ruslan Radchenko does the same on the left.
Back to Division I
Honvéd faced a tough ask on their return to league action as they travelled to fellow Budapest side MTK then hosted title challengers Fehérvár.
Strike sensation Sandro Luiz Pacheco Frega (aka Sandro Luiz) continued his amazing start to life in Hungary with the opener on 27 minutes of first game, only for MTK to immediately win a penalty that they ballooned over. But MTK got level just before the break and continued to dominate, then won another penalty on 51 minutes, which Conor Fleming saved! MTK continued to push and racked up 32 shots but Honvéd somehow survived for a point.
The second game was more of a struggle as Fehérvár went 2-0 up but 17-year-old left-winger János Sallai scored his first senior goal just before half-time. Latunov pushed for an equaliser but the visitors added a third and won 3-1 despite Honvéd having a 2.42 xG compared to the visitors’ 1.42.
Having performed well against two of the best teams in the league, Honvéd then faced bottom club Nyíregyhaza, who were basically already relegated with four points from 18 games. And a shock looked to be on the cards went the strugglers went ahead on 36 minutes. However, Honvéd went down the other end and Ulbert equalised with his first senior goal. They then ran riot through Andrei Honceriu, midfielder Daniel Gazdag’s first of the season, which won the league’s goal of the month, and Sandro Luiz to win 4-1. And that ensured Honvéd passed their points tally of last season with 14 games remaining!
Gazdag doubled his tally with a penalty to seal a 1-0 win at Diósgyor, which was followed by a huge game at home to leaders Ferencváros. Honvéd got off to a flyer as Sandro Luiz and the exciting Sallai scored inside 10 minutes. The visitors got one back and were dominating but Honvéd restored the two-goal lead as Honceriu finished off a superb counter-attack, to send them in 3-1 up at the break from just four shots! Nothing happened after the break except the visitors getting a dodgy penalty and Honvéd claimed a famous 3-2 win.
Sandro Luiz put in an inspired performance with a hat-trick that eventually downed Paks 4-2, which took him past 20 goals for the season. Not bad for a free transfer! Homegrown talents Ulbert and Sallai ran the show against local rivals Újpest, both scoring inside 18 minutes to tee up a 4-0 hammering. Club captain Gazdag scored and created one in this game, which takes the midfielder to four goals and 11 assists in his last 13 matches – following zero goals contributions in his first 12 games of the season.
Gazdag kept that up with an assist as Honceriu and Ulbert downed Debrecen 2-1. But a run of six successive wins ended with a crazy 3-3 draw against Kisvárda. But the team responded in style as they thumped reigning champions Puskás Akadémia 4-1 inspired by a Sandro Luiz hat-trick. That took Honvéd to eight games unbeaten but that streak ended with a poor performance and 2-0 loss at Mezokovesd.
Nevertheless, that left Honvéd sitting in second place in Division I with six games remaining. Ferencváros were a huge 15 points clear at the top and Honvéd were level with Fehérvár on 53 points, a similarly huge 12 points clear of fourth-place Mezokovesd and 15 ahead of Paks in fifth, which meant European qualification was basically guaranteed.
Final six games of the season
The season conclusion began with a 2-2 draw at home to MTK, on the same day that Fehérvár also only drew. And that teed up a big clash as Honvéd travelled to Sóstói Stadion in Székesfehérvár. The hosts played a strange 3-1-4-2 formation, and Honvéd seemed to taking advantage of that by getting the wingers in behind early on. Fehérvár soon took control, including the referee trying to give them a penalty despite Kosta Manev obviously winning the ball, which VAR spotted. The sides had 15 and 16 shots without reward but the game swung on a ridiculous own goal in the 86th minute as a Fehérvár defender booted the ball into his teammate’s backside and it bounced into his own net! And that 1-0 success secured Honvéd’s place in Europe next season.
That advantage was wasted by throwing away a 2-0 lead at strugglers Nyíregyhaza, but bounced from that with a 3-0 win over Diósygor with goals from all of the front four Honceriu, Sallai, Ulbert and Sandro Luiz. Fehérvár went and lost again 2-1 at Debrecen, which moved Honvéd four points clear.
And their slip up was crucial given Honvéd then had to go to Ferencváros, which the media dubbed an “impossible derby task.” But they went some way to defying that as Sandro Luiz put them ahead early only for Samuel Májor, Latunov’s former Galatasaray player who went on loan to Honvéd last season, to equalise on half-time. And the champions got fairly lucky to nick it 2-1 win with an 84th-minute winner. But that has to give Honvéd hope for the future.
That sent Honvéd into the final game of the season away to Paks one point clear of Fehérvár – although two away games to finish a season seems a little unfair. Paks, by the way, were favourites for the game, which says a lot about Latunov’s achievements. Paks came out of the blocks flying, scoring twice inside 21 minutes and Honvéd were rocked.
But the true nature of this team was proven by an amazing comeback. Sandro Luiz scored on 43 minutes before Ulbert drew them level two minutes later. Four minutes after the break, Sallai scored a sensational solo strike to seal a swift turnaround. Two goals were disallowed but that didn’t dishearten the visitors as Sallai and Sandro Luiz both wrapped up braces for a brilliant 5-2 away win to end the season! The attackers will get the plaudits but special mention has to go to 17-year-old goalkeeper Károly Májer, who made 13 saves and played an 8.2.
That ensured Honvéd wrapped up second place in Division I, which is its highest finish since winning the title in 2017. That apparently is only enough to qualify for the Europa Conference League along with third and fourth place, which seems a bit odd.
Honvéd’s total of 64 points was a new record points total for a side that didn’t win the title, which is an impressive achievement for a side expected to battle against relegation and only got 33 points last season! For reference, Puskás Akadémia won the league with 64 points last season. Their 68 goals for and 34 against were both second to runaway champions Ferencváros, who finished two points short of the all-time record of 85. Interestingly, third-place Fehérvár sacked their manager at the end of the season.
Strike sensation Sandro Luiz was the star man for Honvéd this season. Having signed on a free transfer in the summer, the Brazilian racked up 31 goals in 37 appearances and won the Hungarian Division I Top Goalscorer with 24 goals – five more than Ferencváros striker and fellow Brazilian Matheus.
His 21-year-old strike partner Honceriu also excelled with 22 goals, eight player of the match awards, 11 assists and an average rating of 7.62 in all competitions. That won him the fans’ player of the season and young player of the season awards. He also broke the league record for the highest average rating of 7.49, which won him the Hungarian Division I Player of the Year.
Several more young players excelled, including 17-year-old Sallai, who scored seven goals and got five assists. While 21-year-old Ulbert, who replaced the big sale of Sima, got six goals and seven assists at an average rtating of 7.45, which won him the Hungarian Division I Young Player of the Year award. While 17-year-old goalkeeper Májer became the club’s youngest-ever player aged 16 years and 345 days and impressed with a 7.12 average rating in eight games.
Midfielder Gazdag won the club and league goal of the season awards, alongside recording 14 assists in all competitions. While the team’s efforts won Latunov the Hungarian Division I Manager of the Year award.
Join us next time as Vladimir Latunov looks to build on an impressive first season in Hungary with Budapest Honvéd FC!