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Former Wolves defender Gabor Gyepes now runs a restaurant with his wife Diana in Budapest – the DG Terrace Café – barely a stone’s throw from the Puskas Arena, which has hosted several fixtures during Euro 2020.

That has certainly been good for business, particularly with the promising situation with Covid in Hungary allowing near full attendances at the stadium and a particular buzz when the home nation were in action during the group stages.

“It has been very busy on the matchdays, like Armageddon,” says Gyepes with a laugh.

“It is our family business which we have been running for nearly four-and-a-half years now, and is only a few hundred metres from the stadium.

“And people in Hungary love football more than any other sport, they are crazy about it.

“It isn’t just about Covid and that we can have big crowds that people were excited but also because it is a fairly new stadium which was being used in a big tournament for the first time.

“Even the fans who didn’t have tickets wanted to feel the atmosphere and they came to the restaurant where they could watch the game on the television but also hear the crowd in the stadium.

“Against France, when Hungary scored, the fans had the flares with all the different colours going off outside the restaurant, just like in the stadium.

“It was very lively, but I think the team deserved all the celebrations for how well they did.

“They were in the ‘Group of Death’, but produced good performances and left everything on the field and we are all really proud of how they have done.”

Those fans who were flocking the DG Terrace Cafe to see Hungary draw with France before repeating the feat against Germany in Munich were once cheering Gyepes on in the red, white and green.

The centre back earned 26 caps for his country across seven years, scoring once, against Switzerland.

Gabor Gyepes, Hungary (Photo by Barrington Coombs – PA Images via Getty Images)

It was in the summer of 2005, midway through the Glenn Hoddle tenure, that Gyepes, already boasting a burgeoning reputation after living the dream of breaking through at his home town club Ferencvaros, joined Wolves, initially on loan.

In the youth ranks with Ferencvaros he had occupied all positions except goalkeeper, scoring 20 goals at Under-19 level as a striker before moving back to midfield in the reserves and eventually, due to injuries, centre back in the first team.

“We played with three central defenders which is now a popular line-up but wasn’t so much back then when it was the days of 4-4-2,” Gyepes recalls.

“I played on the left hand side of the back three, and it was only when I moved to Wolves that I became part of a central two.”

Success was never far away with Ferencvaros and Gyepes was part of a team which won two league titles, two domestic cups and a Super Cup as well as featuring in the UEFA Cup and Champions League qualifiers.

Those forays into Europe included a first experience of featuring on British soil with a win over two legs against a Millwall squad including Graham Stack, Kevin Muscat, Darren Ward and Andy Marshall.

Gyepes readily admits he wasn’t over-familiar with Wolves prior to making the move to Molineux.  That famous England/Hungary rivalry, Wolves and Honved, Billy Wright’s friendship with Ferenc Puskas were only a memory from many, many years before.

So too the two legs of the 1972 UEFA Cup semi-final, including Phil Parkes’s two penalty saves and Steve Daley’s early goal.

It actually ended up proving a fairly quickfire move across Europe for Gyepes, who was actually sitting comfortably on the coach heading for a second leg Champions League qualifier with MTZ-RIPA in Belarus when the loan switch suddenly materialised.

“As my home club, it was a dream come true to play for Ferencvaros at a professional level, and it helped me make it into the national team,” he explains.

“But moving to England was always an ambition, to try and push myself and challenge myself.

“Nowadays there is more money in Hungarian football and not so much difference in wages within teams so players are happy and comfortable to stay.

“It wasn’t like that back then, but for me it was also about really wanting to test myself.

“I had read a lot about English football and knew more about the Premier League than the Championship, but I knew it was a tough division with lots of games but also many good players, and international players.

“I had a different offer to go to Russia, but when Wolves came in that was always going to be my first choice.

“It was strange when it happened because I was on the coach on the way to the airport as we were about to get on the plane to head to Belarus.

“The Chief Executive came to find me and told me I had to get off, as a club wanted to sign me, so it all turned into a bit of a rush!”

Gyepes’ Wolves adventure was unfortunately to go the way of so many during that era, through absolutely no fault of his own.

Hoddle was the manager and, for Gyepes, there was plenty of promise and potential, as he forced his way into the side alongside Joleon Lescott – and stayed there.

Strong, direct, confident, his game appeared perfectly suited to the style of football and, at 24 years of age, he was keen to learn. There was undoubtedly, also, much more to come.

Sadly though, Gyepes would suffer a serious injury towards the back end of that 2005/06 season, which not only effectively ended his stay at Molineux, but could also have threatened his entire career.

“Glenn Hoddle was a really smart coach,” Gyepes outlines.

“I remember the first game after I arrived was Southampton away, and while it was too early for me to play, Glenn asked me to go with the team, to sit in the stand and watch to help me settle in.

“I really liked Glenn, he was the first really professional coach in my life in how he dealt with me.

“If he wasn’t happy with my performance in training or a game, he would take me to one side and tell me what I needed to do or tell me that I had to give more.

“There was no sitting back, and that was different to Hungary, where if you had a good game you could almost have a week off afterwards!

“It made me more professional, not just someone who liked to play football, but someone that took it really seriously and wanted to improve.

“It was different at Ferencvaros where you lived in a big bubble and no one could really touch you – at Wolves you were one of 25 players and sometimes had to fight just to get on the bench.”

Gyepes did indeed settle well, helped particularly by the likes of Mark Kennedy and Seyi Olofinjana, and then the later arrival of compatriot and former Ferencvaros team-mate Denes Rosa.

The Hungarian duo would head to restaurants with team-mate Vio Ganea, who they had played against when the striker was at Stuttgart, or Gyepes would stay home to watch films and read newspapers to brush up on what was already a reasonable grasp of English.

“It wasn’t as difficult for me to settle in a different country and a different culture as I thought it might be,” he explains.

“I didn’t make big friendships, but Olof and Mark Kennedy helped me a lot, and then I felt like a big brother when Denes arrived!

“What was good is that the people I met in Wolverhampton were always so friendly and positive.

“In Hungary sometimes I think we say that the glass is half empty and not half full but in England I always felt it was almost full.

“It was like, ‘o-k, nothing is a problem, we can do everything here’, and yes the weather is sometimes not great but rain is just rain isn’t it?”

Gyepes’s glass was generally more than half full on the pitch at Wolves, particularly alongside Lescott during what turned out to be Hoddle’s only full season at the helm.

Wolves finished seventh, one place but eight points adrift of the play-offs, after drawing 19 of their 46 matches.

“I knew straightaway as soon as I played alongside Joleon how good he was,” says Gyepes.

“And I knew that it was going to be his last year in the second division (Championship) if Wolves didn’t go up.

“He was too good to stay in that division.

“He was big, strong, quick – he had everything that a defender needs to have – and was left-footed as well, quite rare in a centre back.

“He was such a good player and I felt very comfortable next to him.

“For the team, we just couldn’t get to the play-offs, even though we had some very good players and some international players.

“I remember the one time we had a meeting and we had a video analyst who put on the board that in two games, we had produced between 30 and 40 shots.

“But we had only scored one goal, and got only one point from those games.

“I think that was why we just couldn’t make it a good season – we played some good football and some attacking football but couldn’t get the goals.

“Sometimes in football you might not have many shots but still win the game but we just didn’t take our chances.

“And of course, for me the biggest loss that season was my injury.”

It was the final weekend in March when Wolves welcomed relegation-threatened Sheffield Wednesday to Molineux with high hopes of picking up some momentum in their play-off push.

But the disappointment of a surprise 3-1 defeat was compounded by the loss of Gyepes to a serious knee injury barely seconds before the final whistle.

“It was all my fault,” he readily admits.

“It happened on the halfway line in the 93rdminute when we were losing.

“For Sheffield Wednesday’s second goal I had made a mistake, not a huge one but a mistake, and we had conceded.

“I was so desperate to turn things around but it didn’t happen and I lost my focus and I lost my head.

“I should have let it go, and maybe I would have been dropped for the next game, but I wouldn’t have missed two years because of going in for that challenge.

“It is really sad because up until then I had really been enjoying it at Wolves, feeling positive and comfortable with good players and good people around the club.”

Gyepes was stretchered off in agony, and, equally agonisingly, it would prove his last appearance on the hallowed turf.

A promising Wolves career so swiftly cut short, and while he made one comeback appearance for the reserves, his Molineux race was run.

Unfortunately it would also end with no shortage of acrimony as, while his surgery went well, Gyepes wasn’t pleased with the treatment which followed from the medical team at the time and, in particular, suggestions that at the age of 25, he might never play again.

Always keen to stand up for what he believed in, there would also be a disagreement with Hoddle’s successor Mick McCarthy about the denial of some rehabilitation time back home during his recovery which resulted in Gyepes refusing to the shake the manager’s hand when returning to Molineux with Cardiff a couple of years later.

And therein lies the rub because, happily, Gyepes did actually return to action, defying those predictions that his career could have been over.

It was in no small part due to a different member of the Wolves backroom staff and twice caretaker manager, Stuart Gray.

“I was only 25 so in no way was going to accept that the football was finished, but I remember the club not allowing me to go to different specialists to get different opinions,” Gyepes argues.

“They said I could go if I wasn’t a Wolves player, so we came to an agreement to end my contract.

“It was nearly two years after the injury that Stuart Gray, one of the guys from England I really liked, got back in touch and signed me for Northampton.

“Stuart had been assistant to Glenn, and he gave me a chance.

“It was a huge risk to sign me given how long I had been out, so I have to say a huge thanks to him.

“Without that I would probably just have gone back to play in Hungary.

“Whenever I saw Stuart come up on the television in his work as assistant at Fulham I always tell my wife or whoever is sitting next to me that this guy is one of my favourites in England – someone I will really like and respect!”

That return to action, and return to form, earned Gyepes another crack at life in the Championship with Cardiff City after being signed by former Wolves boss Dave Jones.

Although in and out of the team he chalked up 74 appearances for the Bluebirds, chipping in with five goals, before rounding off his career in England with a season with Portsmouth.

“I enjoyed it at Cardiff, they knew my medical record and they looked after me,” he recalls.

“Mark Kennedy was there who had been good to me at Wolves, Lee Naylor signed and Seyi Olofinjana – it was like I was playing for Wolves again but in different colours!”

There remains that nagging feeling about just what might have been had Gyepes not picked up that injury at Wolves, where his career might otherwise have taken him, but amid any disappointment comes the realisation that it would have been very tough to graduate to a higher level.

“This is one of the lessons I think I learned about English football, that sometimes you can feel like a can of coke in a store,” he says.

“You are there and then you can be taken or thrown away and the next one comes along to replace you.

“That’s football, and you have to understand and accept it.

“If you are good enough and you are lucky then you might stay at a club for a very long time or get up to the Premier League.

“Or maybe you just end up being one of 25 in a squad and this is your way.

“Maybe I could have made it to the Premier League but I think it would have been hard, because when I watch the games, it is on a different level.

“Players at that level are different – they think differently, they are different mentally and physically, and it would have been a big step.”

The next step after England for Gyepes was certainly not to give up on football.

He returned to play in Hungary, had a spell in Malaysia and, even now, is still turning out for Viadukt SE-Biatorbágy in the fourth division.

“It is an amateur league but I’d say more organised and professional than what we might call the Sunday League,” Gyepes insists.

“I love football, and I love to play, and physically I am still ok so I am happy to keep going!”

Even though it hasn’t quite come to an end yet, there is still time to reflect on a career which saw Gyepes enjoy going toe to toe with some of the world’s best.

In cup games with Wolves and Cardiff, European outings with Ferencvaros and those international caps with Hungary, the strikers in opposition included the likes of Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and – in Gyepes’s words – the ‘badass’ that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Some huge challenges in that high-calibre collection, but one of those illustrious names stands out slightly more than others.

“Ronaldo – he is my favourite player,” says Gyepes.

“He was the only player in my life I wanted to change my shirt with – and I did it!

“The way it happened he was a real gentleman, because it wasn’t like normal swapping shirts after a game.

“It was an international game and we were walking in after the first half and I was next to him and asked if we could change at half time?

“He said he couldn’t, but that he would do it after the game.

“At full time we all went back into the dressing room, and our masseur was the one who collected the jerseys of any players who were trying to swap with the other team.

“I gave my jersey to him and said that I had already spoken to Ronaldo – the negotiation was already done!

“He came back a few minutes later with only one Portugal shirt and it was Ronaldo’s, he had remembered.

“It was funny, because at the time my wife and my mother-in-law didn’t really follow Ronaldo, but as soon as I had the shirt, they wanted to smell it and told me that we definitely weren’t going to wash it!

“My son really loves the jersey too, and he loves Ronaldo as well.

“I remember when he was only two, I had the Ronaldo book for my birthday and he opened it up and was looking inside – he must have been interested in finding out about the best player!”

Continuing the Ronaldo connection, Gyepes’s son Andrej, aged nine, was actually a mascot at the Euro 2020 group game between Hungary and Portugal at the Puskas Arena, when the iconic forward notched in a late brace in a 3-0 win.

“He is Ronaldo, he is always going to score goals,” was Gyepes response to the game.

“My son was one of the mascots and he loved it although couldn’t meet any players because of the Covid regulations.

“He did get about 15 to 20 yards away from Ronaldo when he was on the pitch and has been off to the barber to get the logo CR7 shaved into his head!

“He was very happy and it was a very good memory for him.”

Andrejis a keen player himself, already on the books at Ferencvaros and with aspirations of following in Dad’s footsteps from what is a very sporting family.

Gyepes’ wife Diana is a former national figure skating champion and their daughter Kira, aged 11, an excellent tennis player.

“We will see how it goes with the kids with whether there is a chance of going professional in the future but for us it is just nice to enjoy sport and be active,” says Gyepes.

“It makes for a good busy life with managing the restaurant, all the sports and still trying to play a bit of football – there is loads to do!”

On top of that Gyepes actually turned 40 last weekend, although there were some celebrations back home in Budapest he was treating it as ‘just another birthday’ and not the whole ‘life begins’ extravaganza!

With one successful career behind him, a new one now in progress and a happy and fulfilling family life, there probably isn’t really anything else he would have wanted to mark the special occasion.

After all, what do you give the guy who already has a shirt from Cristiano Ronaldo?