From Vasas to Liverpool : Ádám Bogdán Interview

Ádám Bogdán in action for Hibs. Photo: SNS.

Ádám Bogdán has enjoyed a career that has seen him realise his dreams of representing his country and playing in the Premier League.

In an exclusive interview Pulse caught up with Ádám before last months Edinburgh derby to discuss his journey and give an honest insight into the life of a pro footballer.

Here he discusses his story of being scouted by Bolton, dealing with pressure and making mistakes, working alongside some of the game’s superstars at Liverpool and his latest challenge in Edinburgh with Hibernian.

First of all, tough luck on Saturday against Celtic. It was a great game for the neutral at least! How are you and the rest of the team feeling following the defeat?

Yeah, I don’t know if it was really hard luck. We were actually pretty lucky with a couple situations with them hitting the post a couple of times so it could’ve been worse. We could’ve scored more but I think for the neutral it must have been pretty good. From a goalkeeping point of view I think I prefer the games where there are less opportunities for the opponents!

How was it playing at Celtic Park for the first time in your career?

It was a special atmosphere. They always tell you it’s special to play there. As soon as there was a goal or something going on you can feel the power of the stadium behind the Celtic team. It was a great experience and we enjoyed it – apart from the four goals!

Could you tell us a little about your early background in Hungary?

It was a pretty normal childhood. I always played football and always as a goalkeeper. I also played a lot of handball when I was younger and I always mention it because it’s actually a very different feeling to being in goal. In goal you have all the responsibilities of getting prepared and everything is about limiting errors and not playing freely. Whereas playing handball as a kid was amazing. At the very beginning, I think I was 9, I was doing the two sports together but after a while you have to make a decision and I chose football.

What exactly made you chose football over handball?

Well at that time, and still today actually, most of the handball is played in the countryside or in the big cities in the countryside at least so not many teams are from Budapest. Whereas, in football there were more opportunities to play on a bigger stage in Budapest.

And how did your early career pan out once you’d decided to commit to football?

I started with a team called II District and I played there for a year before I went to Vasas SC where I stayed for 10 years. From there I went on loan to a team called Vécsés, which was okay at the time. During my time at Vécsés I managed to play a few games for the Hungarian under-21 team and did well enough to earn a trial at Bolton.

Do you remember the day you found out Bolton were interested in seeing you play?

I always set my sights on playing in the Premier League, that was always my aim. Especially since 2004 because when players like Gábor Király and Zoltán Gera signed for West Brom and Crystal Palace they started to show the English games on TV in Hungary when before they were not shown anywhere. After Kiraly and Gera went to England I thought to myself what is stopping me from doing the same. And so therefore when I heard from my agent there was a chance with Bolton I was like oh wow this is amazing. I had also always been favourable to Bolton because that season they finished in the top six. I had seen a lot of their highlights because they were doing so well and even before that I had always really liked Jussi Jaaskelainen actually! The funny thing is even when I was in Hungary as a younger kid I really liked him. Sometimes I would even pretend to be like him, you know in training just for a little bit of fun! He was there at the trial too which was great because when I saw him I thought wow, this is the real thing.

How was the trial experience?

Well I had three or four days of training and then the goalkeeper coach said yeah they want you as long you can agree terms and I was absolutely buzzing. After I joined it was all I ever wanted really – you know it gave me the platform to get fitter and better.

Looking back, how did you find your first year at Bolton?

My first year at Bolton in 2007 was probably the hardest year of my life in terms of training. It was incredible. I think the intensity of the training for the goalkeeper coach, Fred Barber, was one of the highest in England. He had the reputation of working the goalies the hardest at the time. It would have been hard for me to get used to the tempo and intensity of training at any English club but he wanted to break me, to get all the bad habits out of me.

You mentioned you had been a fan of Jussi Jaaskelainen before you moved to England. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with him at Bolton? Did he help you settle into the club at all?

Well not in a nice, taking you under the wing kind of classic fairy-tale way, but at the same time the biggest help for me was to see how professional he was and how much he worked and demanded. Looking back now his biggest help was acting as a role model by just doing what he was doing. When I got there I thought there was no way I can reach that level but then I thought to myself this guy came from Finland ten years ago, I’m from Hungary, what’s the difference? So I thought if I do all the things he is doing there’s a good chance I can do it as well.

It took a few years for you to become the number 1 at Bolton. Was there a defining moment when you realised being the first choice goalkeeper was achievable?

Well I mean it was very hard. In that first year there was absolutely no chance. I don’t even remember making one save in the first game I played that year! The ball was so fast, everything was new for me and my head was so full of information I forgot to do even the things I knew I could do. You think ‘oh he’s not going to shoot from there’ and he hits it and it’s a goal. And then you want to over compensate, cover too much of your near post for example and then they shoot towards the other side. But I was travelling with the first team in my first year as a kind of third choice goalkeeper so I was able to experience a lot of things. Then in my second year when Ian Walker left the club I officially became third choice.

Did you improve in your second season as you were given more playing opportunities?

Well, I played in a couple of pre season friendlies to start with. And then I was getting much stronger physically. So when I came to England I weighed something like 83kg but that year I was going up to 86, to 87, getting more muscle all the time and getting used to the speed of the game.

Because you were a young guy when you arrived in England, right?

Yeah exactly, well I was 19 so I wasn’t really that young but I was a late developer anyway so it took a while to get the strength. But the third year was the one where I started to play more pre season and cup games when Owen Coyle came to the club. It wasn’t until the third or fourth year when I started thinking right, I can do as much as Jaaskelainen, and occasionally I can do better than him.

Can you tell us about your premier league debut when it finally came in 2010?

So, you also need luck to get to where you want to be. It sounds horrible but you need something like a sending off or an injury and that happened when Jaaskelainen got sent off against Birmingham in 2010. That was one of the biggest days for me. I mean it wasn’t really a sending off either, it was hardly a slap – maybe another referee wouldn’t have noticed. But I got my luck and I was in. I was just thinking this is the Premier League; this is what I’ve worked for my whole life. I was so nervous but thank god the sending off was near the end of the first half so I could calm my nerves during half time. In the end we drew 2-2 which was a good result and I remember making a good one-v-one save against Cameron Jerome so I came out of the game feeling pretty good. And then I got to play against Arsenal away in the next game while Jaaskelainen was suspended.

How did it feel going from being on the bench initially against Birmingham one week to getting your first start against Arsenal at the Emirates the next?

Well we lost the game 4-1 I think… It felt like we did good but some times the other team is just better. They were so strong. But I made a couple of good saves and to play in the emirates was just incredible.

Do you remember what was going through your head during these defining moments early in your career? How did you cope with playing in front of 60,000 people against Arsenal?

It’s harder to remember now! But it was important to concentrate on things like sleeping, eating and training well and imagining the situations before you face them. I would remind myself a lot that this is what I had worked for my whole life so I tried not to be nervous and to just enjoy the moment. I don’t think that back then I really had the psychological tools to think ‘well you feel nervous right now, how do you deal with this? What should I think about or not think about?’ At the time I was only having good experience so it was basically the time to just go out and enjoy it. Of course there was a lot of pressure on doing well to establish yourself as a recognised player but I think it went pretty well.

You went on to make a couple more premier league appearances that year but it was the next year during the 2011/2012 season that you became more of a regular in the team. What felt different in this breakthrough season for you?

I mean I was getting better in pre season, better in trainings and maintaining a good kind of level. I think Jaaskelainen was injured and I had the chance to play against Chelsea which I hadn’t done before. So I thought, perfect, I get to play in this game before we go on international break and I felt if I played well I would have a good chance to keep my place. Then first shot I faced I mistimed it and it went in from Sturridge and we got beat 5-1 at home. And I was gone… it was my first bad experience in football.

As a goalkeeper your mistakes are scrutinised more than other players because there is more at stake in goal. How did you handle making big mistakes back then and how do you now?

Well I didn’t know anything about dealing with mistakes before that because that was the first. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy for someone who’s honest and can hold his hands up and say yeah I messed up. It depends on your personality. Some people look into themselves when they mess up or after every goal. Some goalkeepers ask what their defenders were doing when they let a goal in, and try to deflect it. That’s a really good ability to have for a goalkeeper! But for somebody like me it’s not easy. Speaking now I’m different but that was the first shock because I knew what a big opportunity that game was for me.

How did it go moving on from that moment?

After that Jussi came back into the team for a while but my opportunity came again against Everton because Jussi got injured again. So I played the game and we won 2-1. But that was the game when Tim Howard scored from his goal against me…

I wanted to ask about this one but I didn’t know how you’d take it so I’m happy you brought it up!

No, no it’s fine! I don’t think about it anymore. It was so windy and I just remember laying on the ground thinking did that really just happen after getting my opportunity again?! But if you asked me what was the turning point in my career, that was definitely one of them. Afterwards I thought, that was nothing to do with me! I was in a good position in my opinion and I think that would have happened to most other people in that situation so I was able to get on with it and do my job. I managed to do that, we won the game 2-1 and I had a good game after that. I played a couple games in the cup after that and we won and from then on I stayed in the team for the season and ended up winning the player of the season award.

So, you won an impressive individual award that season but Bolton were relegated that year. Did it feel like a successful season overall for you and how was your experience of relegation?

Yeah… we got relegated on the last say of the season against Stoke so everything was very bittersweet for me then. It wasn’t my nicest day to be recognised as player of the season because we got relegated on the same day we had the awards evening. Obviously it was very strange. Owen Coyle was a very positive guy, and he always believed that we would stay up so we would be celebrating on the awards night after the final game. And then we drew the second last game against West Brom having been winning 2-0 and then we knew we had to go away to Stoke, win the game and then hope Man City beat QPR, which they did but we only managed to draw. I would still say to get relegated was the hardest moment in my career to take. Especially with Bolton because they are still one of my favourite clubs to this day.

How did playing in the Championship compare with the Premier League for you?

At times it was actually similar. But you could say there was slightly less quality at times. I think it took a little bit of time really for the whole team to adjust to the league and going from fighting relegation in the premier league to being one of the favourites in the Championship. At first you think, well, this might be a little bit easier but you soon realise the Championship is harder. It’s tough playing every Saturday and on Tuesdays and then being expected to win most of the games. Everyone wanted to beat us because we just came down. We did alright, I mean we almost made it. We were flying in the last 15 games of the season, we were coming up and up. In the last week of the season we were in the top 6 and then we couldn’t beat Blackpool at home. We drew 2-2 and missed so many chances, which meant we just missed out on the play offs. But I think if we made the play offs we would have had a very good chance at promotion. After that season everything started to gradually get worse and worse and I started to get injuries. In the end I went to Liverpool and I think that showed me that I had still done alright at Bolton.

Is Bolton a special club for you looking back on your time there?

Oh yes, the most special club, for sure. There is no doubt. It’s still my favourite stadium. I go back occasionally and feel home there. I can still walk into the reception and say hello. I really feel at ease there and think of the stadium as my home stadium! I still look out for their results now. But I was always very ambitious and at the time I didn’t think it was going in the right direction there for me so it was the right time to move.

So, was it a hard decision to leave Bolton when Liverpool came calling?

Of course it was hard in a way that at the end of that season my contract was finished. I was offered a new contract but I knew that I had options because I had a good season, a couple of games especially when I was pretty good. I wanted to have a shot in the Premier League again. Obviously I didn’t think it was going to be Liverpool, but as soon as I heard about their interest I thought I had to yes because you’re not going to have opportunities to play for a huge club all the time. It was still hard to leave Bolton because I’m quite a loyal guy – I’ve never really had many clubs and I like to feel home and feel like part of a family.

Obviously you’re still a Liverpool player but you’ve mostly been on loan since you signed for them. Have you made significant relationships with anyone at the club and do you stay in touch with anybody in particular now you’re away?

Yeah, I stay in touch with the staff and a couple of the physios pretty often. Also with the goalkeeping coach and the goalkeepers, Simon Mignolet and the young, Polish goalkeeper, Kamil Grabara. Not many of the players, but the goalkeepers and the staff I worked with on a daily basis. I really loved being at Melwood, it’s a special place and the people are so nice. When you think it’s a club full of superstars but it’s really a tight family in Melwood, so I really enjoyed that part. I really wanted to play and I said I can’t be the third choice. Being on the bench is a different story because then you can play but I couldn’t be third choice. So I said after the first season that I wanted to go on loan and Wigan wanted me so I said okay, let’s go and play there. But unfortunately it didn’t turn out to be great because I got injured there.

Can you tell us a bit more about the injury you picked up at Wigan? Do you think it could have been a more successful spell for you there had you not been injured?

I wanted to play and Wigan were the ones who wanted me! I said to myself, ‘Adam, you want to play and here is Wigan. You don’t need to move house, or get a plane there’, Looking back everyone was great at Wigan – they had a tight group there and the people liked me. But it was just not what I needed deep down in my heart. I think I wanted a different challenge maybe somewhere in Europe or in a different country and now I finally have that.

Am I right in saying it was your ACL you injured at Wigan? What is it like as a footballer dealing with such a serious injury?

Well first of all when I got injured it was over absolutely nothing… It was basically one wrong step off the ball because I had a bad touch so I had to stumble off the ball and my ACL was just gone. I thought I had just done my cartilage or something but then the next day my knee just looked awful and then I re-watched the incident and thought, this has to more, it just looked so awkward on the replay. But I thought okay fine, I’ve had injuries before and I’ll come back bigger. When I woke up I had a reaction to one of the painkillers and my heart was beating so bad the next day. Three days later I had so much pain and it didn’t really go away for about ten days. I could hardly walk.

Well you’ve got that opportunity in a different country now that you’ve moved to Hibernian!How’re you finding your new club and living in Edinburgh?

Ah I mean it’s a love! I mean the first day we got to Scotland it was a perfect summer’s day,which apparently is rare here! But we had a lovely summer. The team is such a great bunch of lads, a very tight group with no egos and everyone is on the same page. I love the city. I was always looking for something similar or close to Budapest and that sort of style of living – being in a capital and to have all the culture, theatre, art and exhibitions etc. I feel like home here. I needed a place after a bad injury where someone would trust me again and that person was Neil [Lennon].

Obviously you’ve worked with Neil Lennon before at Bolton. Would you say he was the biggest reason you decided to go to Hibs in the end?

Yeah, definitely.At first I didn’t have too many options after being out for so long injured but then Neil called and he said, “Adam, you know what I think of you and I know what kind of person you are. You’re going to love Edinburgh too.” So I said I would think about it with my wife, you know because we have a three-year-old daughter too. Then two days later I called him back and told him I was coming.And from the first day here it’s just been really good. I know Neil’s style of play of course from before and I know the style of football in Scotland pretty well too from my time in England.

So far, how similar would you say Scottish football is to English football?

Ooh that’s a tough one… well I would say there were some differences at Liverpool but maybe that was just because of the type of club Liverpool is. But the idea of fighting for every second ball is the same in the classic type of style of football. And I love it. I think the football suits me. So it didn’t really feel like moving to a new country at all because I already had seen a similar style of football. I wanted to live somewhere I enjoyed, somewhere I appreciated and where I can use my past experience to help the team. So far for the team it looks like it is working and we are all hoping it carries on for longer.

Having watched a few Hibs games this year, one thing I noticed is how exciting it is to watch the attacking style of football Neil Lennon has the team playing. And obviously you had a run of four clean sheets in a row before the Celtic game too, so how good is the vibe in the squad at the moment?

The idea of Lenny is very positive. He wants to entertain and play attacking football so many times it will be successful and we will win games because we will produce more chances than the other team. Obviously when we played against Celtic our positive approach also meant we left a few gaps for them to attack and those kind of teams create lots of chances too. But I think our style is our characteristic and for the fans and neutrals they love seeing Hibs playing at the moment because we are not boring for sure.

Celtic last week,your first game against Hearts this week. How’re you feeling going into your first experience of the Edinburgh derby?

Of course I know how important the game is for the city and for the club and the fans. It’s more exciting too because Hearts are having a good season and they seem to keep winning but I think we can produce some amazing football. I’m hoping we can go back to a tighter way at the back as a whole team and limit their chances but I’m positive we can produce enough chances to get a good result over there.

I thought we could end on a few quick-fire questions… who was your footballing idol growing up?

Peter Schmeichel.

Best player you’ve played with?

Wow, that’s a tough one… I think Daniel Sturridge but if I could say one more I would say Roberto Firmino too.

Best you’ve played against? I’m expecting a striker here for some reason…

People might say different but I would say Robin Van Persie when he played at Arsenal before he went to Man United. He was unbelievable, especially the season before he moved to United. I also played against Drogba too so either him or Van Persie I think.

Most underrated player you’ve played either with or against?

Again, I would say Firmino because he should be rated even higher.

Best friend in football?

Ooh, well I have my friends from football but they’re mostly from Hungary so I would say maybe Lajos Hegedüs. He used to play for MTK Budapest and now he plays for Puskás, he’s a goalkeeper.

You sound like you like to keep football, family and social life fairly separate?Yeah, I think it’s natural really. I never really went out with the football players so much even when I was younger. I had my friends, but most of them are not from football.

And finally, not to be too personal but I wanted to ask what you thought of the stereotype that generally footballers aren’t the most intelligent…

Well, it’s true isn’t it? Stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason… No, but jokes aside like in everything you have people who are super intelligent but I’d say most of them are probably goalkeepers!

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