The Hungarian Kid: Just who is Dominik Szoboszlai, the player all of Europe wants
Dominik Szoboszlai is one of the most sought-after players in Europe. The 20-year-old just led his team to Euro 2020 and is expected to move on from RB Salzburg either in January or next summer. Pete Sharland profiles the rising star.
Dominik Szoboszlai of Hungary speaks to the media after the UEFA EURO 2020 Play-Off Final between Hungary and Iceland
Szoboszlai glided away from one Iceland player, then skipped by another with a subtle change of pace and body shape. Nothing dramatic but it was more than enough to provide him with the space he needed. He then unleashed a firm shot into the bottom corner of Hannes Halldorsson’s net, not spectacular but perfectly unstoppable. It was Szoboszlai’s third goal for his country and was easily his most important. Hungary, who are one of the hosts for next year’s multi-country tournament, will now also be playing. It won’t be an easy task for them – they are in the dreaded Group of Death along with France, Portugal and Germany – but having Szoboszlai gives them a puncher’s chance.
For you see there’s an argument to be made that Szoboszlai might just be the most important player to come out of Hungary this millennium. Zoltan Gera (and possibly Gabor Kiraly or Balazs Dzsudzsak) could arguably make a claim to this honour but Szoboszlai could be a different level of special. He will pick up the mantle that these legends laid down, that culminated when they qualified for Euro 2016. Szoboszlai might be the man to take Hungary back to the World Cup for the first time 1986. He might be the one who fulfils the promise that exists within a nation with such illustrious footballing history.
He’s also almost certainly going to be one of the most sought-after players in the January transfer market, if Red Bull Salzburg decide to cash in on their prodigious talent.
Premier League side Arsenal have been heavily linked to the attacking midfielder and seem to be the front-runners of the English sides but don’t count out Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United. After taking Szoboszlai’s former team-mate Erling Haaland expect Borussia Dortmund to be players for his signature as well as RB Leipzig of course whilst in Italy AC Milan are reported to be big fans. Plus to cap things off AS’s front cover on Friday says that he is now one of Real Madrid’s top targets. That’s quite a list.
Given that Szobszlai is just 20 years old and will reportedly only cost around €25 million thanks to a generous release clause you can see why most are expecting such a frantic bidding war. It’s so rare you get young talents who are already established at such a low price. To go with over 50 Austrian Bundesliga appearances Szoboszlai has 13 European matches and 11 Hungary caps to his name.
But what sort of player will the winner of his signature be getting? Describing a young player as versatile always feels like a cop-out, particularly because it’s never good for their development to be shifted around the pitch, but Szoboszlai certainly won’t be wedded to one position.
Dominik Szoboszlai (Mitte) von RB Salzburg spielt womöglich schon ab dem kommenden Winter für RB Leipzig
Image credit: Getty Images
“He initially arrived at Liefering, Salzburg’s reserves, and was very carefully introduced in the first team.
“Everyone expected an explosive progress from him, but it didn’t really happen – it was obvious that he’s a huge talent, but he took his time adapting to the Bundesliga and to the requirements of the current coaching team.
“His breakthrough happened this year, when the Austrian league returned from lockdown – 7 goals and 10 assists in 10 games was quite something.
“Red Bull Salzburg are mostly playing in two formations, 4-2-2-2 and 4-4-2 diamond, and he is either a left attacking midfielder in the former or a left-sided central midfielder in the latter, with occasional appearances at AM.
“Given his natural qualities, he can be a pretty good ten in a classical 4-2-3-1, but his perfect use of free space would go to waste out wide. He likes to drag the ball from deeper positions to the ones that become dangerous if a shot is taken or a key pass is given.”
Watching him he gives off such an effortless quality, it’s easy to see him playing as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3 or as a ten as Konovalova suggests. He’s brilliant technically and seems to glide past players ease. His range of passing is impressive and he takes a mean set-piece.
Konovalova likens him to Kevin De Bruyne in the early stages of the Belgian’s career, saying he has the “same amount of creativity, perhaps some chaotic energy outbursts, and a perfect recognition of free spaces.”
He’s not the most consistent goal threat but it’s interesting to watch how many of the goals he does score come from outside of the box and, specifically, go into the bottom corner rather than the top corner. Goalkeepers and their coaches will always tell you that it’s harder to keep out the lower shots that go into the corner but how often do you see a player specifically aiming for that? You know who does? De Bruyne.
As for where he can improve, Konovalova thinks there’s an obvious place, one that plagues most younger players.
Erling Haaland of Salzburg and Dominik Szoboszlai of Salzburg celebrates their victory after the UEFA Champions League match between RB Salzburg and KRC Genk at Red Bull Arena on September 17, 2019 in Salzburg, Austria
Image credit: Getty Images
“Stability. He can shine in one game and then have a few very bleak ones in a row – and it’s very unpredictable, so it’s pretty hard to rely on him on day X, because you never know if it’s his good day or not.
“If he manages to fix this – there has been significant progress with that this season, but he still lacks predictability – he’ll have everything to become a world-class player.”
So where would he fit best? Somewhere where he is going to play, that’s the key. It’s what played into Haaland’s decision and you would hope it will be the biggest factor for Szoboszlai. Arsenal seem like a perfect option for him in that regard as well as RB Leipzig. Dortmund might be slightly trickier for him with Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney, Mo Dahoud and Jude Bellingham already at the club but the advantage there would be that is a club that has regularly demonstrated they will always play the best player regardless of age or experience. Like Haaland, he seems destined to end up at one of the biggest clubs in the world, but he doesn’t have to rush, he can afford to take his time.
Wherever he goes, as long as he’s given his chance, you can be certain that you are going to be seeing a lot more of Dominik Szoboszlai. This is a special young man and his story is just beginning.