‘Next Generation’ is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.
Every parent thinks they know what’s best for their child and that proved to be a key component of Dominik Szoboszlai’s development into the talented 19-year-old Hungarian midfielder who is expected to go on big things.
Zsolt Szoboszlai, himself a footballer once, was his son’s coach at Videoton until he was dismissed for refusing to bump a child up to a more advanced group, as their parent requested.
But by then, Zsolt had already acquired a strong grounding in youth coaching and development, honing specific philosophies along the way that emphasised ball work.
He and the fathers of two other young players formed their own club in the same town, Fehervar, calling their team Foenix-Gold FC, and 13 years on they are thriving.
According to Foenix-Gold, their ideals lie in humility, hard work and passion, and on their website they openly criticise the Hungarian Football Federation for the “quality of the training”, which “hinders the rise of Hungarian football”.
But such an attitude can seemingly be backed up by Foenix-Gold’s results, as shown by the younger Szoboszlai.
— FC Red Bull Salzburg EN (@FCRBS_en) March 17, 2019
Hungry for success
It’s a long time since Hungarian football had a potential future star on their hands. For a while, many thought Balazs Dzsudzsak was going to be that player.
While he has gone on to play more than 100 times for his country, after a promising spell with PSV he didn’t exactly light up major European leagues – spells with Anzhi Makhachkala, Dynamo Moscow and Bursaspor followed, before heading to the United Arab Emirates, representing Al Wahda, Ittihad Kalba and Al Ain.
Who’s to say it’ll be different with Szoboszlai? After all, he’s only 19 and a lot can change, but there are few better places to be as a young player than Salzburg’s impressive talent factory.
Additionally, his maturity and level-headedness is obvious, Zsolt’s methods seemingly rubbing off on him.
“I think it is not only about personality,” he tells Stats Perform.
“If you have talent, you need a good team and a good club behind you, so you can develop. If you don’t have these, then you can’t develop that fast. For me it is important to have a very good team and a good club behind me, with the feeling that they believe in me. That’s the most important thing.”
— FC Red Bull Salzburg EN (@FCRBS_en) March 20, 2019
Serie A clubs lurk
He may only be 19, but Szoboszlai’s next steps are already being discussed frequently in transfer gossip columns.
Even his own national team coach Marco Rossi has been getting in on it, claiming Szoboszlai and his agent confirmed to him offers from several Italian clubs – specifically Inter, Milan and Lazio.
Rossi thinks Szoboszlai could flourish with any of them, and while the teenager appears to acknowledge Milan are an option, he’s well aware Italy’s not his only possibility.
“I can’t say anything about that,” he replied when asked about Milan, who are reportedly ready to spend €30million on him. “If it’s going to happen, then so be it. In the end it is my decision.
“But I have more than just one opportunity. In the end I am going to choose the best one for me. I really like Serie A, but the Premier League or the German Bundesliga are also very good.”
It was against another Serie A club he enjoyed what he believes was a “turning point”, as he impressed in a Europa League clash with Napoli last March.
It was also proof in his mind that he’s ready to play that level on a regular basis
— FC Red Bull Salzburg (@RedBullSalzburg) March 14, 2019
On the right track
Although he has become prominent both at club level and with Hungary at a young age, Szoboszlai accepts it hasn’t all been easy, revealing his former coach Marco Rose had to have some “serious talks” with him.
“It wasn’t while I was playing in Liefering, but maybe six months later under Marco Rose there was that moment when I realised that I needed to wake up even though I was still 17 years old,” he recalls.
“But in the end it was about being a professional football player, so I had to watch out. Marco and I had not one serious talk, but several talks. We had been talking a lot.”
Nevertheless, by the end of Rose’s tenure – which ended with his departure for Borussia Monchengladbach last year – Szoboszlai was playing regularly for Salzburg, again highlighting impressive maturity to respond to his manager’s pep talks.
A creative talent with room to improve
Szoboszlai considers his playing style to be similar to that of Paul Pogba and Toni Kroos, and it’s possible to see shades of both in his mannerisms – he’s an elegant and effective passer, but also capable of the extravagant.
Despite not necessarily being in the starting XI every week, statistically Szoboszlai comes off very well when considered to similar midfielders in the Austrian Bundesliga.
His 46 chances created since the start of last season is some way behind Thomas Murg’s 111, but the latter has 28 more starts to his name and they both average 2.6 key passes per game.
Like Murg, other similarly forward-thinking midfielders such as Romano Schmid, Thomas Goiginger and Dominik Frieser are nowhere near Szoboszlai’s average of 54 passes per game, while the teenager also outstrips them all in virtually all distribution metrics – most comprehensively with respect to his 74 per cent accuracy in the final third.
His six passes per game into the box lags behind Murg’s nine, but it remains a solid effort given he generally takes up a deeper position.
And although certainly a capable dribbler, his 34 per cent success rate is worse than his aforementioned rivals, highlighting an area for improvement.
The only conclusion that can be made is that Szoboszlai’s progression is going impressively, but many will hope he takes great consideration over his next step – would another year at Salzburg be so detrimental?
— FC Red Bull Salzburg (@RedBullSalzburg) September 17, 2019
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