Szoboszlai – herald of a new golden age

by Bence Bocsak (@BenBocsak)

Often in life football wonderkids arrive out of nowhere and take the world stage by storm. Sometimes they crumble under the pressure and never fulfill their full potential. Other times, they are over-hyped and falsely expected to perform beyond their means. And, very rarely, they go on to trump peoples’ wildest expectations and achieve absolute football stardom. 

Hungarian Dominik Szoboszlai will hope to be among the latter in the promising football career which awaits him. While Szoboszlai’s name may be a newcomer onto the world stage, to Hungarians it has been a name which has been touted as the country’s saviour for the last few years. 

Szoboszlai’s fledgling career begun in the academies of Hungary. His father Zsolt Szoboszlai was an ex-footballer who was forced to retire after a brutal achilles injury. Zsolt would continue his career as a coach working with 6-7 year olds at one of Hungary’s biggest academies, Videoton, and then later Phoenix Gold FC.  

He would use the expertise and skill which he developed at the academies to nurture his son into the world of football. Senior Szoboszlai would train Dominik from the age of three to hone the talents of his son. 

In an interview to Hungarian paper Feol, senior Szoboszlai described how he had ‘worked with a lot of talented players, but his son truly stood out from the age of 5-6.’ 

It was Zsolt’s nurturing and astute eye for talent which helped Szoboszlai grow and develop. His father would train with Szoboszlai for hours and analyse his game to find areas in which the young player could improve. Szoboszlai himself credits much of his early success thus far to his father stating in an Interview with Nemzeti Sport this summer that, ‘without him, I would be nowhere.’ 

Szoboszlai would jump around Hungary’s major academies, he had a spell at his father’s club Phoenix Gold, before moving to Videoton, Ujpest and ultimately settling at MTK, Hungary’s biggest export of football talent. 

The youngster’s technique, pace and innate understanding of the game was quickly picked up a young football agent in the name of Matyas Eszterhazy who had just split with his partner and created his own agency. One of Eszterhazy’s first move was to convince Red Bull Salzburg to offer Szoboszlai a trial at the age of 16. 

Szoboszlai took the trial by storm and Salzburg quickly offered him a contract.

Szoboszlai moved to the ancient industrial city of Austria in 2016 once he had turned 16 years of age. He would spend much of the first season in Red Bull’s U18 side. 

It was in the spring of 2017 when Szoboszlai first broke into the scene in Hungary with a single moment of genius whilst playing for Hungary’s U17 side at an U17 European Championship qualifier. 

Hungary were playing against Norway and the game had been tied 0-0 with Hungary needing a win to qualify. The game was already two minutes into added time when Szoboszlai received a ball about five yards outside of the eighteen yard box. Szoboszlai deftly struck the ball first time and whipped into the back of the new with absolute precision. 

The strike was one of utter brilliance and it would send major hype waves around Hungary. 

It was the second last minute winner Szoboszlai had scored for the U17 side after an astutely placed free-kick against Russia in the prior Qualifying match. 

Szoboszlai quickly became a household name in Hungary and the latest young talent touted as the next superstar to lead Hungary back to its golden years. 

The early hype despite Szoboszlai putting in strong performances in the U17 European Championship which followed was much too premature. 

Back in the spring of 2017, Szoboszlai had not even established himself as a regular for Red Bull Salzburg’s 2nd team Liefering and was miles away from first team action. 

Thanks to his father’s guidance and nurturing, Szoboszlai kept his feet on the ground and continued his hard-work rather than letting the praise get to his head. 

The following season Szoboszlai would establish himself as a regular for Liefering making 33 appearances, netting 10 times and handing out 7 assists as well as scoring once and assisting six times for the club’s U19 side in the UEFA Youth League. 

At the end of the season Szoboszlai made his debut for Salzburg’s first team capping off an excellent campaign. 

Szoboszlai remained at Liefering at the beginning of the following season despite many high profile departures at Salzburg. On top of that a torn ligament kept him out of action for several weeks which compounded his disappointment.  

Szoboszlai kept his head down however and came back from his injury strong. He quickly picked up tremendous form managing scoring 6 times and handing out 4 assists in just 9 appearances for Liefering during the first half of the 2018/19 campaign. 

By March 2019, Salzburg manager Marco Rose could not ignore Szoboszlai’s impressive exploits and he handed the Hungarian his first start for the club. 

Szoboszlai did not disappoint and scored to help Red Bull secure a 2-0 victory against FC Wacker. 

The goal would help catapult Szoboszlai in the pecking order and Marco Rose would continue to give him more and more taste of first team football from thereon. 

Szoboszlai netted and assisted two goals in his third start for Salzburg merely a month later. 

He would also hand out an assist against Napoli on his Europa League debut. 

His fine run of form earned Szoboszlai his third call-up to Hungary’s senior side. 

In the two previous occasions Szoboszlai did not make it off the bench for Hungary. His first call-up included an especially cruel defeat to Andorra which Szoboszlai had to watch from the side-lines at just 17 years of age. 

Szoboszlai’s big moment came in March 2019. At just 18 years of age he made his debut for Hungary coming on as a substitute in a disappointing defeat to Slovakia. 

Merely three days later however he would start and star in a famous 2-1 victory against World Cup runners up Croatia. Szoboszlai faced off against FIFA World Player of the year Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic but the Hungarian showed maturity beyond his years and did not look out of place against two world class midfielders as he helped Hungary secure an impressive victory. 

All in all, Szoboszlai ended the second half of the year with 16 first team appearances in the league for Salzburg with 3 goals and 4 assists and securing the Austrian Bundesliga title. 

In the summer he featured in two victories for Hungary against Azerbaijan and Wales before impressing in pre-season for Red Bull Salzburg. 

Szoboszlai has begun the current 2019/20 campaign in strong form too. He currently has three goals and three assists in ten appearances for Salzburg in all competitions including a debut Champions League goal against Genk. 

Szoboszlai has also scored his first international goal for Hungary in September with a trademark free-kick goal against Slovakia. 

At still just 18 years of age, the Hungarian has the world at his feet. He has all the attributes to go right to the top. He is fast, with incredible football intelligence which enables him to cut through defences similar to the creativity of Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne. Meanwhile Szoboszlai’s pace and commanding stature at 6 foot 1 makes him a dominating physical presence which would help him settle in any of Europe’s major leagues. 

It is Szoboszlai’s shooting technique which makes him stand out from the rest however. His right foot is lethal and extremely accurate and it makes him potent from long distance. With already a plethora of impressive long range finishes Szoboszlai has Europe’s biggest club’s keeping a close eye on his development. 

Currently however, the Hungarian has no intention of leaving Salzburg. The Austrian side is one of Europe’s biggest breeding ground for young talent and thus a fine institution for Szoboszlai’s development. 

Szoboszlai will be hoping to impress in the Champions League against the current holders Liverpool on Wednesday when he faces off against some of the best players in the world.  

How far Szoboszlai will go is only down to him. With the right support system and his father’s guidance and counsel he has the right backbone. And if he continues his methodical training and development on the football pitch he will have a long and successful career in European football.