It has been a journey from the Bulls to the Bulls for Peter Gulacsi, who started at Hereford United and became a true star at RB Leipzig.
Now, after the Hungarian goalkeeper helped his team reach the Champions League semi-finals, it is somewhat amusing to remember his first months as a professional footballer.
He was signed by Liverpool from MTK Budapest back in 2007, when he was a 17-year-old youngster who hadn't even made a first-team debut in his homeland. After excelling for the reserves, Gulacsi was looking for some real playing time, and it actually proved to be a brilliant idea to send him to the worst club imaginable.
At that stage Hereford were in total disarray at the foot of League One. On the verge of bankruptcy and managed in disastrous fashion, they signed Gulacsi as their fifth goalkeeper of the season in January 2009. Craig Simpson was terrible, Charlton loanee Darren Randolph refused to play, while another two keepers signed on loan – Matt Murray and Chris Weale – were almost immediately injured.
Gulacsi had to step in and do the job in the most difficult circumstances imaginable, and wasn’t helped by the fact that no less than three Hereford centre-backs were injured during the first half of his debut.
"The games were a bit like a training session because I had almost 20 shots to save in every game. It was dealing with chances all the time," Gulasci later recalled in an interview to Hereford Times, but he never complained. He was glad to be kept busy, even though the team couldn't stop losing and finished rock bottom, on their way to relegation.
That experience was invaluable for the future, but the keeper couldn't have imagined where that future led for one simple reason: RB Leipzig were officially established in May 2009, after the Hungarian's loan spell at Hereford had ended.
The Red Bulls are disliked throughout Germany because they are seen as a commercial project which doesn't have any roots, and endangers the very soul of football in the country. Those feelings are understandable and partly correct, but one can't ignore the fact that RB Leipzig's strategy is positive in the extreme.
Given their boundless financial resources, they could have gone around buying established stars like Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City. And yet, they haven't sign a single big name in their history. They are looking for modest, somewhat anonymous youngsters who fit into their style, and manage to keep them.
Gulacsi is a magnificent example of that vision. His potential was obvious, and Liverpool scouts were quick to acknowledge it, but he was a complete unknown even to the Anfield faithful.
Having been sent on loan to Tranmere and Hull after his adventure at Hereford, he also sat on the Liverpool bench in 30 Premier League games, but didn't take part in any of them. No-one noticed when he left for RB Salzburg on a free transfer in 2013, while Simon Mignolet was signed from Sunderland. In retrospect, that looks like a glaring mistake by the Reds.
Peter is the best goalkeeper in the league.Julian Nagelsmann
Mignolet is obviously a very decent goalkeeper, but the Hungarian proved to be better in the long run. He proved himself during two good seasons in the Austrian league, and Red Bull management knew that he was ready for a bigger challenge come 2015, sending him to Leipzig, who were still in the second division at the time.
In fact, Gulasci had to wait for half a season before getting a chance to play again. He was sent off in the Austrian Cup final in his last game for Salzburg, and thus suspended for four games in Germany. The veteran Swiss custodian Fabio Coltorti, who played for Leipzig since 2012, continue to play superbly, and the newcomer was forced to sit on the bench.
The pair developed a healthy rivalry during that period but also became the best of friends. Gulacsi was eager to displace Coltorti, yet learn from him at the same time, and regarded him as a mentor. It speaks volumes about his personality that he even initially refused to take the No. 1 jersey after the Swiss had retired.
"I didn't feel comfortable about it. I didn't want his number right away," he said. Eventually, he changed his mind out of respect to his friend, because he didn't want a reserve keeper to get the shirt. "I know it is in good hands now," Coltorti himself remarked.
It most definitely was – and still is. Gulacsi's position as a starter has been rock solid ever since Leipzig won promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016. The Hungarian likes to keep low profile in the press, never considering leaving the club that gave him everything, but that doesn't diminish his importance.
Gulacsi is a top goalkeeper in every possible sense. His reflexes on the line are quick, he is excellent at dealing with crosses, his passing is precise and his footwork would make him suitable for Pep Guardiola teams. He might not be as busy as in his Hereford days, but the statistics are remarkable nevertheless.
Last season, for example, Gulacsi had the most clean sheets (16) and lowest goals conceded per game ratio (0.8). This term he is top again, alongside Manuel Neuer, with eight Bundesliga clean sheets and one goal conceded per game.
Leipzig's young squad needs a leader and Gulacsi gives advice to his inexperienced centre-backs, helping them to prove themselves on the biggest stage. When needed, he is capable of producing world class saves, too. Giovanni Lo Celso might have thought he had scored for Tottenham in the first leg of their Round of 16, but the Hungarian had other ideas – that was one of the best moments of the tournament so far.
Other stars could be willing to try something new at the age of 30, but Gulacsi is a quiet and very likeable person. His family, which includes two cats rescued from a Liverpool shelter almost a decade ago, feels extremely well in the city of Leipzig.
The Hungarian has become one of the symbols of the club, and fans were absolutely delighted when he signed a new contract until 2023 in September. "I want to win trophies", he claims – but he wants to do it with the Red Bulls.
Could it happen this season? It might sound impossible given they face the might of PSG, but not for someone who single-handedly stopped chance-after-chance in Hereford before climbing to the top.