Varga tunes in to red corner

TONIGHT’S UEFA Cup tie between Aberdeen and Hertha Berlin is hardly a glamour clash to captivate television viewers across Europe.

It is strange, then, to think a 57-year-old Hungarian will tune into the match on satellite TV from his homeland, hoping to be swept back in time, to better days, by a wave of nostalgia.

For Aberdeen supporters of a certain age, Zoltan Varga needs no introduction. Those who were too young - or indeed not even born - can only listen with a sense of envy of tales of the days when the Hungarian, blessed with sublime skills, lit up Pittodrie with a series of performances that still earn him tributes as the best Dons player supporters have ever seen.

Varga’s natural talent and seemingly unique approach - he rarely touched the ball during a match warm-up, preferring to stretch instead - was not so much a shock to Scottish football as a pleasant surprise, particularly if you were an Aberdeen fan.

Though he was around for less than a year, he achieved the status of Pittodrie legend. In a way, he was a player who should not have ended up in Scotland, and his brief stay - he scored 15 goals in only 31 games for Aberdeen - hints at why he ended up at Pittodrie.

Varga was enjoying a successful career with Hertha Berlin in 1972 when he was caught up in a bribery scandal, and was banned from German football for two years. Joining Aberdeen allowed him to continue his career, and he was effectively in exile until it was acceptable for him to return.

Jimmy Bonthrone, the then Aberdeen manager, signed him for 40,000, and reaped rich rewards for a year, before Varga was allowed to return to Berlin, en route to Amsterdam. "If football were a wine, then here was the vintage champagne," writes Jack Webster in his centenary history of Aberdeen FC.

The Hungarian played his last game for Aberdeen in a 2-1 victory away to Morton in April 1973, a pivotal point in the club’s history because it also marked the debut of a certain Willie Miller. Varga speaks fondly of his old club, and tonight he will be in the red corner as two of his former teams battle it out.

"I saw the first leg of the AberdeenvBerlin game on television, and it was a very good feeling to be watching Aberdeen again," said Varga yesterday. "Hertha looked the better team. It didn’t seem like Aberdeen had a lot of talent, but their players were very young.

"It was so nice to see my old Pittodrie surroundings, and the stadium looked very much the same. The second leg is on television and my friends in Hungary can get German channels, so I will definitely be watching. I hope Aberdeen win, of course."

Varga has not been involved in football for a year after being sacked from a series of coaching jobs at clubs in Hungary. The former Ferencvaros manager talks about his search for employment with a deep sense of frustration.

"Life is bad for me at the moment because for the last year I have had no job," said Varga, who divorced his wife ten years ago, lives away from his two daughters and son and is now "alone". He lives in Munich but is this week staying with friends in Hungary, distributing his cv to clubs.

"I have been asking for work in Germany and Hungary, but it is very difficult. A mafia exists in Hungarian football at the moment and it is not easy to find work. Even coming to coach in Scotland sounds like a very nice idea, but no-one is calling or asking for me."

VARGA has not returned to Scotland since the Seventies - he came close when his Ferencvaros team played Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup in the 1996-97 season - but the country still occupies a place in his heart.

He is one of only 25 players included in a limited edition painting to mark Aberdeen’s forthcoming centenary celebrations - something that he knew nothing about.

"A painting? Of me? That sounds very beautiful," says Varga, who left Aberdeen to rejoin Hertha in 1973, signing for Ajax just four days later as a replacement for Johan Cruyff, before moving on to Borussia Dortmund in Germany and then Gent in Belgium.

"Playing in Scotland was such a very nice time for me and I will never forget the year that I spent in Aberdeen. But for my family it was better that my career took me on to Holland, Germany, and then Belgium.

"I left Berlin with nothing in my pocket, and there was not much to be earned playing for Aberdeen. I had to move on to Amsterdam to look after my family and signing for Ajax was the big step my career needed."

Varga’s knowledge of the current state of Scottish football is sketchy. He looks for the Aberdeen result every week, but admits he doesn’t know who the manager is and he can’t name any players.

He asks for his contact details to be passed on to Aberdeen so he can be involved in the club’s centenary celebrations, then avoids saying goodbye - there have been too many of those in recent years - and instead hopes Aberdeen can provide some happiness during a difficult time in his life.

Bearing in mind the number of times he thrilled the crowds in the north-east and throughout Scotland, a reunion would be fitting.

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