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Callum Styles' unlikely path to Euro 2024 with Hungary… via Barnsley

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Callum Styles' unlikely path to Euro 2024 with Hungary… via Barnsley

Sitting down for a routine pre-match interview with the in-house media team at Barnsley a few years back, Callum Styles decided there was something he was going to drop into conversation.

It was, in the football reporter’s lexicon, a come-and-get-me plea.

But this one, in October 2020, was different. Rather than fluttering his eyelashes at suitors in the transfer market, Styles, a promising young English midfielder, wanted to make it known that he was eligible to play international football for Hungary or Ukraine — “just putting it out there,” he recalls to The Athletic, “and hoping something comes of it”.

For weeks, nothing did. “And then… you know how everything spreads these days with social media?” he says. “That’s basically how it was. It caught fire.”

The story was picked up by a sports website in Budapest. The Hungarian FA got in touch with Barnsley and was put in contact with Styles’ agent, who verified the story and gave more details of the player’s ancestry. Hungary started to monitor him — remotely at first, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions — and then, suitably impressed, started to explore further.

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Styles imagined the first step would be a call-up to Hungary’s under-21s. But once the various administrative hurdles were cleared, he was drafted straight into the senior squad, making his international debut against Serbia in Budapest in March 2022. Three months later, he was part of a Hungary team that thrashed England 4-0 in the Nations League — “a unique moment where you kind of have to pinch yourself afterwards and be like, ‘Wow, did that actually happen?’.”


Callum Styles vies with Conor Gallagher during Hungary’s win at Molineux (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Now 24, having spent the past season on loan to Sunderland, he has 22 caps for Hungary. Everything, he said, has worked out very nicely. He is firmly in contention to start their opening game against Switzerland in Cologne on Saturday, having overcome an injury scare in their final warm-up against Israel last Saturday (a 3-0 win).

He loves playing for Hungary. He cannot wait for the Euros. But he is not going to pretend he grew up eating goulash and listening to tales of Ferenc Puskas while Franz Liszt’s rhapsodies played in the background.

On the contrary, he grew up without knowing about any links to the country he is now proud to represent.

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Growing up in Middleton, Greater Manchester, Styles was aware that his mother’s parents, Jan and Magdolna, had originally been from somewhere in Eastern Europe. But he didn’t know where.

“As a kid, I didn’t really look at any of that,” he says. “I was just playing and enjoying life. You’re playing with your toys or you’re out with your friends. None of those conversations really happened until later.

“I always used to go round to my nan’s house because she only lived around the corner from my mum and dad. I would go around twice a week and she would always be cooking a chicken noodle soup. But she passed away when I was just at the end of primary school.”

He was a professional footballer in his late teens, making a strong impression in Barnsley’s first team, by the time he started to find out more about how Jan and Magdolna had moved to the UK from Ukraine and Hungary respectively “in their early twenties”. Details of Jan’s past in Ukraine were sketchy — “we couldn’t find his old passport” — but more was known of Magdolna.

Styles and his girlfriend wanted to visit Hungary during the international break in March 2020. But that plan was scuppered by the pandemic. By the time he finally made it to Budapest two years later, his first time on Hungarian soil, it was to join up with the national team.

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It was daunting at first, particularly since he could not speak a word of Hungarian (something he has since begun to rectify on Duolingo). But his new team-mates welcomed him from the start. They didn’t expect him to know the national anthem — he can sing it now — but were impressed when, during an initiation ceremony, he performed Candy Shop by 50 Cent.

He wasn’t the only player in the squad who had qualified via dual nationality; Hertha Berlin winger Palko Dardai was born in Germany, as the son of former Hungary international Pal Dardai, who played for and coached Hertha); RB Leipzig defender Willi Orban was born in Germany but had a Hungarian father; Le Havre full-back Loic Nego played for his native France from under-16 to under-20 level but became a Hungarian citizen after more than five years playing there; and Bournemouth full-back Milos Kerkez was born in Serbia but, like Styles, had a Hungarian grandmother.

“And our manager (Marco Rossi) is Italian,” Styles says. “He explained to me about the welcome he received even though he wasn’t Hungarian or having Hungarian roots. And a lot of the meetings are in English, which helped me a lot. The lads talk to me and they’re really welcoming.

“But just going to the country for the first time was a beautiful experience. Making my debut made it even better. Settling in was a lot easier than I thought it might be. I felt at home straight away.”

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For much of the recent past, a player discovering he was eligible to play for Hungary would still have had little or no chance of competing in a major tournament.

One of the giants of world football in the ‘Magical Magyars’ period of the 1950s and 1960s, Hungary’s appearance at the 1986 World Cup was their last in a major tournament for three decades.

But this will be their third consecutive European Championship. Qualification has been made easier by the competition’s expansion to 24 teams, but Hungary’s upturn in performance is undeniable. They won their qualifying group without losing a game. In total, they had gone 14 matches without defeat until they were beaten 2-1 by the Republic of Ireland in their penultimate warm-up game.

When UEFA launched its Nations League competition in 2018, Hungary were in the third tier with, among others, Estonia and Lithuania. In the most recent campaign, they finished second in a first-tier group, winning away to Germany (1-0) and beating England home (1-0) and away (4-0). Qualification for the Euros was secured with a stoppage-time equaliser in Bulgaria. They flew back to Budapest, headed into the city centre and partied all night — players and supporters alike. “Crazy,” Styles recalled.

“We’ve been doing so well as a team, improving game by game, year by year,” he says. “When we beat England, it was a bit like, ‘Wow’. The manager (Rossi) has changed a lot. There’s been a lot of progression since he started. I feel like we’re a good team.”

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The team’s star is Liverpool midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai. “He’s a world-class player, a leader,” Styles says. “In the camp, he’s quite chilled. But on the pitch, he brings that extra percentage, that X factor that you sometimes need when it’s a bit stale in the game and you need someone to create some magic and force a 1-0 win or whatever.

“But we’re a team. We’re not going to get carried away, but we should be quietly confident because we’ve shown we can go up against the top teams. Obviously, with the pressure of the Euros, those games can swing either way, but we’ve got a really good team. Hopefully we can progress.”

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Styles will be in the shop window in Germany, looking to build on a positive loan spell at Sunderland by securing a permanent transfer from Barnsley — who lost to Bolton Wanderers in the League One play-off semi-finals — this summer.

He enjoyed his time at Sunderland but is unsure of their plans as they are yet to appoint a new manager. If not Sunderland, then he hopes to be back in the Championship with another club.

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Callum Styles spent last season at Sunderland but his long-term future is uncertain (George Wood/Getty Images)

But club aspirations are on hold. “International football is what I’m focusing on: the Euros and doing my best for Hungary,” he says. “The rest will take care of itself.”

His parents, his girlfriend and several friends will also be travelling out to Germany. Are they all learning the national anthem? “They already know it,” he says. “We’ve been singing it.”

One of his aunts, who lives in Hungary, has been to some of the home matches but he is unsure whether she will be able to get to Germany. He hopes so. Either way, Styles is looking forward to the experience — on a deeper personal level as well as professionally.

A flag of convenience? Initially perhaps, but he has embraced his second nationality. When he pulls on the Hungary shirt, he thinks of his grandmother and wonders what she would have thought of him wearing her country’s colours.

“It’s special for my mum’s side of the family to see me representing our bloodline,” he says. “It’s an honour to play for Hungary. It’s in my DNA.”

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Two Canada Olympic staff members sent home after spying attempt on New Zealand soccer practice

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Two Canada Olympic staff members sent home after spying attempt on New Zealand soccer practice

NICE, France — The Olympic women’s soccer tournament is starting with some unexpected drama: a complaint from New Zealand’s Olympic Committee about an attempt at spying during a training session just before the Paris Games.

A drone was flown over a Ferns training session in Saint-Étienne, France, on Monday, New Zealand’s Olympic Committee (NZOC) said in a statement. Ferns staffers reported the drone to police, who detained the operator, a staff member for the Canadian team.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Olympic Committee said that a separate drone incident at New Zealand training on July 19 had come to light. As a result, Canada head coach Bev Priestman said she would remove herself from overseeing Thursday’s game against New Zealand. The COC added that Joseph Lombardi, an “unaccredited analyst,” and Jasmine Mander, a coach who oversees Lombardi, had been removed from the team and sent home. The committee said Canada Soccer staff would also undergo “mandatory ethics training.”

The COC’s initial statement Wednesday morning confirmed that Lombardi used a drone “to record the New Zealand women’s football team during practice.” The COC apologized to New Zealand’s players, federation and the International Olympic Committee, saying it was “shocked and disappointed.”

FIFA later confirmed on Wednesday its disciplinary committee had opened proceedings against Canada Soccer, Priestman, Mander and Lombardi. The incident represented a potential breach of FIFA and Olympic football’s fair play regulations.

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Priestman will not be on the sidelines for Canada’s game against New Zealand (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

“On behalf of our entire team, I first and foremost want to apologize to the players and staff at New Zealand Football and to the players on Team Canada,” Priestman later said. “This does not represent the values that our team stands for.

“I am ultimately responsible for conduct in our program. Accordingly, to emphasize our team’s commitment to integrity, I have decided to voluntarily withdraw from coaching the match on Thursday. In the spirit of accountability, I do this with the interests of both teams in mind and to ensure everyone feels that the sportsmanship of this game is upheld.”

A FIFA statement read: “The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has opened proceedings against Canada Soccer, Ms Beverly Priestman, Mr Joseph Lombardi and Ms Jasmine Mander due to the potential breach of article 13 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code and article 6.1 of the Regulations Olympic Football Tournaments Games of the XXXIII Olympiad Paris 2024 — final competition, following incidents involving a non-accredited member of the Canadian delegation at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, who is believed to have used a drone to record the New Zealand women’s football team.

“The matter will be submitted for the consideration of the Disciplinary Committee in the next days.”

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New Zealand Football CEO Andrew Pragnell issued a statement Thursday morning in New Zealand calling for “urgent action” to be taken to “address this integrity breach.”

“To hear now that the Canadian team had filmed secret footage of our team training at least twice is incredibly concerning and if not treated urgently could have wider implications for the integrity of the tournament,” Pragnell’s statement said.

“We note that there have been some admissions by the Canadian National Olympic Committee, and they have taken their own sanctions against the Canadian team, however, considering the seriousness of the situation, and the potential implications to the sporting integrity of the entire tournament, we have referred the matter to the FIFA Disciplinary Committee seeking urgent action,” the statement continued.

Drones have been a story across the Paris Games, with French prime minister Gabriel Attal saying Tuesday that an average of six drones per day have been intercepted at Olympic sites, mostly from tourists trying to capture footage of the spectacle.

The women’s soccer tournament begins play Thursday. Canada and New Zealand open action in Group A at 5 p.m. local/11 a.m. ET in Saint-Étienne, in a group with France and Colombia. Canada is currently ranked eighth in the world, according to FIFA, while New Zealand is ranked 28th.

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(Photo: Jean-Pierre Clatot / AFP via Getty)

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Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh uses odd birthing analogy to talk about first day of training camp

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Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh uses odd birthing analogy to talk about first day of training camp

The Jim Harbaugh Era has gotten off to an odd start in Los Angeles, as the new Chargers head coach had a weird way of categorizing the first day of training camp. 

Harbaugh, who returns to coach in the NFL after leading Michigan to a national title, spoke with reporters after the first full day of training camp on Wednesday, and he said it felt like “New Year’s Day.”

However, what he followed up with made things a bit awkward.

Jim Harbaugh of the Los Angeles Chargers at the podium before an NFL football practice at Hoag Performance Center on June 13, 2024 in Costa Mesa, California. (Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

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“It feels like being born. It feels like coming out of the womb, you know. It’s like you’re in there and it’s comfortable, it’s safe, and now ‘poof,’ you’re born,” Harbaugh said, via the New York Post. “The lights are on, It’s bright. You got chaos, people looking at you, people talking at you. It just feels good to have it happen.”

Certainly, an odd way to talk about returning to the pros, but Harbaugh’s eccentric characterization of his new Chargers post brings about all the optimism and joy that comes with the new addition to a family. 

Chargers fans rejoiced when Harbaugh signed a five-year contract with the Chargers, and Los Angeles made it worth his while to leave the Wolverines’ program with $16 million per season. 

Harbaugh was linked to the Chargers since Brandon Staley was fired after an absolute beatdown by the Las Vegas Raiders, 63-21, in December. After what he was able to do over nine seasons at Michigan — three Big Ten titles and his national championship last season — fans see this veteran addition at head coach as the perfect fit with a roster that’s still very talented. 

Jim Harbaugh points on field

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Jim Harbaugh instructs on the field during the first day of training camp at The Bolt. (Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterback Justin Herbert is locked in as the team’s franchise signal caller, and someone that Harbaugh can be creative with given his own quarterback background. But, while he’s building chemistry with his new head coach at camp, Herbert didn’t necessarily think about his first day in the way Harbaugh did. 

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“I’ll leave the analogies to him,” Herbert said, per ESPN. “He’s done a great job at creating those, so I’ll support whatever he says. We’re just out there playing football, and my job is to throw the ball, so that’s what I’m going to worry about.”

Herbert’s job is to throw, but things in Los Angeles may look pretty different with Greg Roman joining Harbaugh as offensive coordinator. Harbaugh’s teams at Michigan have been known to be run-heavy, and Roman reunites with Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, two running backs he worked with in Baltimore during his time with the Ravens. 

Jim Harbaugh speaks to media

Jim Harbaugh of the Los Angeles Chargers at the podium before an NFL football practice at Hoag Performance Center on June 13, 2024 in Costa Mesa, California. (Ric Tapia/Getty Images)

But no matter if they are running or throwing the ball, the Chargers will take wins either way. That’s the only thing Harbaugh and his squad care about. 

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Dodgers activate Tyler Glasnow, sign veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed

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Dodgers activate Tyler Glasnow, sign veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed

The Dodgers have yet to make any trades ahead of next Tuesday’s deadline.

But their roster got another notable shake-up Wednesday.

Before their game against the San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers activated pitcher Tyler Glasnow from the injured list, and signed and activated veteran shortstop Nick Ahmed.

In corresponding moves, shortstop Miguel Rojas was placed on the injured list with a flexor strain in his throwing arm. Pitcher Landon Knack was optioned, sent back to triple-A Oklahoma City despite his 3.07 ERA in nine outings this year. Reliever Ricky Vanasco was also designated for assignment to create room on the club’s 40-man roster for Ahmed.

Glasnow’s return was long expected, with the team’s right-handed ace returning as scheduled from back tightness he sustained before the All-Star break.

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Rojas’ placement on the injured list was also no surprise, after he was removed early from Sunday’s game with discomfort in his forearm.

While the team was initially optimistic that Rojas could avoid an IL stint, manager Dave Roberts said a medical scan this week showed the strain in Rojas’ arm. His timeline to return is unclear, but Roberts didn’t make the injury sound serious.

“I think it’s something that he’ll be able to bounce back from,” Roberts said.

In Rojas’ absence, the Dodgers signed Ahmed to a major-league deal Wednesday, inking the 11-year veteran and two-time Gold Glover two weeks after he was released by the Giants.

Roberts said Ahmed, a longtime member of the Arizona Diamondbacks who batted .232 in 52 games with the Giants this year, would serve as the Dodgers’ primary shortstop in Rojas’ absence — or, at least, until Mookie Betts returns in the next couple of weeks from his broken hand.

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“Got a call late last night, and came to terms pretty quickly,” Ahmed said of signing with the Dodgers. “Pretty obvious choice, just playing against these guys for a long time. Having the opportunity to compete and win a championship is something I want.”

The odd man out in Wednesday’s flurry of moves was Knack, the rookie right-hander who seemed to be establishing himself in the Dodgers rotation after a five-inning, one-run start Tuesday night.

Knack, however, became the casualty of a roster crunch. He had minor-league options. He was also the most recent member of the Dodgers rotation to pitch — which, with a couple off-days on the schedule in the next week, left his next potential start date unclear.

Instead, the Dodgers decided to send Knack down and preserve their bullpen depth, something that could be important the next two nights as Glasnow and Clayton Kershaw make their first starts back from the injured list.

“It was one of those timing situations for Landon,” Roberts said. “But I can’t say enough about what he did for our ball club.”

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Buehler’s next steps

Walker Buehler said he will begin a rehab assignment with triple-A Oklahoma City on Friday. It will be his first live game action since going on the injured list last month with a hip injury.

Buehler is expected to make two rehab starts, Roberts said, before rejoining the Dodgers rotation next month.

Before going on the IL, Buehler had struggled in his return from a second Tommy John surgery, going 1-4 with a 5.84 ERA in eight starts.

Hurt having Tommy John

In other injury news Wednesday, the team announced that prospect Kyle Hurt is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery next week, ending his 2024 campaign and probably sidelining him for most of 2025 as well.

A USC product acquired in a 2021 trade with the Miami Marlins, Hurt had emerged as one of the top pitchers in the Dodgers’ farm system, earning the club’s minor league pitcher of the year award last year while leading all minor-league pitchers with 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

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Hurt made his MLB debut with one outing last September, then opened this season in the Dodgers’ bullpen, giving up two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings over three appearances.

He missed a couple of months earlier this year with a shoulder injury, but had been back pitching for Oklahoma City for a month before exiting an outing on July 4 with an apparent arm injury.

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