For all their reported differences of opinion, West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace and recently-departed manager Gary Megson did manage to collaborate to good effect – as when successfully prising versatile Hungarian international Zoltan Gera away from Ferencvaros for £1.5million in the summer.

Gera was one of the architects of Ferencvaros’ League and Cup double last season, and his refined technique is just what newly-promoted West Brom need. Under Megson, the team were always a solid and uncompromising unit, but they will require much more finesse and creativity if their stay in the Premiership is to last longer than a season.

Hungary has not produced such a talent as Gera since the days of Ferencvaros midfield ace Tibor Nyilasi in the late 1970s and early 80s. He has perfect balance, quick feet,
can tie defenders in knots with his dribbling ability, is an unerringly accurate passer and crosser, breaks intelligently into the opposition box and delivers a stinging shot with a minimum of back-lift.

“Wherever Zoltan lines up, he can hurt defences with his skills and activity,” says Hungary coach Lothar Matthaus, who had no hesitation in making Gera his captain after taking over last December. “He’s inventive, has a great touch and fizzes around the pitch.”

Gera is a model professional, but he did not always cut such an exemplary figure. As an adolescent he reacted to his parents’ divorce by committing a catalogue of misdemeanours – skipping school, smoking, drinking and taking drugs. However, Gera then cleaned up his act, with football serving to give his life much-needed purpose.

After first impressing at the Harkany club in the famous southern Hungarian spa town, he moved back to his hometown of Pecs, a south-western industrial city, where he burst to prominence as a 17-year-old with the local top-flight side in the 1999-00 season.

Cries of “Szipus Gera” (“Gera lives with drugs”) from opposing fans haunted him for quite some time. But he remains convinced that openness about his narcotic past is the only way to deal with the issue.

“I want young people who take soft drugs to know that it’s possible to beat it, as I did,” says Gera. “There are thousands of worthwhile pursuits they can turn to in their lives instead. I hope I can be a role model.”

Club West Bromwich Albion (Eng)
Country Hungary
Born April 22, 1979, in Pecs
Previous clubs Harkany, Pecs, Ferencvaros
International debut February 2002, v Switzerland
International caps 26 (6 gls)
Honours Hungarian League 2001, 2004; Hungarian Cup 2003, 2004

This profile originally apppeared in the December 2004 issue of World Soccer