Patson Daka


Joe Donnohue

May 18, 2021

Patson Daka playing for Red Bull Salzburg

This profile was originally published in Volume VI of the Scouted Football Handbook, available to buy here

Who is Patson Daka?

Patson Daka initially joined the FC Red Bull Salzburg project in January 2017 and was immediately loaned to satellite club FC Liefering after attracting attention at Zambian second tier side, Kafue Celtics.

That year would be particularly fruitful for Daka. First he was named Player of the Tournament and joint-top scorer at the 2017 Under-20 African Cup of Nations where Zambia were crowned champions, before then scoring decisive goals for Salzburg’s under-19 side in the semi-final and final of the UEFA Youth League – his second junior title in as many months.

The 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup followed, as Daka played a starring role. At the tournament, Zambia topped their group, beating Portugal and Germany en-route to an extra-time quarter-final defeat to Italy. While the youngster’s performances captured the imagination of many, Salzburg had been the quickest. The club’s efforts to discover the best young talents in Africa had seen them beat other clubs to the Zambian’s signature month’s earlier.

Daka’s rise from that point onwards has been gradual, traversing the Austrian second division with Liefering, before graduating to the Salzburg first team over the past 18 months.

The Zambian has adapted well to playing in the Austrian Bundesliga, but is still getting to grips with Champions League football. His style is perhaps too one-dimensional, limiting him as he attempts to compete with some of the world’s best defenders. His performances against Kalidou Koulibaly and Virgil van Dijk were discouraging but not worrying. In saying that, 17 goals in 1,162 league minutes this season is an exceptional platform to build on.

Patson Daka's Style of Play

There are several key and striking components to Patson Daka’s style. The first are his speed and agility. Over short distances, Daka’s acceleration can be devastating, tearing past seemingly flat-footed defenders with an air of grace in his long strides. 

Daka has a set of very distinctive physical attributes and his accelerative prowess is just one among a plentiful repertoire. As with players who are typically fast and mobile, Daka is also very athletic, bordering on acrobatic at times; he celebrates many of his goals with a flip.

However, it’s not just celebratory theatrics where he utilises his mobility – Daka is smart in how he uses his athleticism to his advantage. It makes him a very adept poacher, pouncing on loose balls, reacting quicker than anyone in congested areas. In doing so, he is capable of creating something for himself out of nothing.

When he has more time on his hands – particularly going through on goal – Daka is at his very best. He has tremendous knowledge of when to time his diagonal runs across defenders and latch onto a through-ball. Once he has taken the pass in his stride, it is game over for his opponent; he is no slouch when the opportunity arises to bear down one-on-one with a goalkeeper. 

In all competitions this season, the Zambian international has scored 20 times, 17 of which have been in the Austrian Bundesliga – a fact somewhat glossed over given the dominance of former team-mate Erling Haaland. Daka has managed two hat-tricks and three braces this season, which is good going considering he has played second fiddle to the Norwegian for much of the campaign. 

His finishing is of a good standard, and if not for top goalkeeping, he would have more than the solitary Champions League goal to his name. It is often instinctive, his athleticism helping him swing a leg at awkwardly bouncing balls that many of his counterparts would scuff. 

Daka has three main types of finishes: firstly, a burst of acceleration creates a sizeable separation, which he then finishes in a composed manner; second is the acrobatic, scruffy looking finish where he manages to get enough contact on the ball in or around the six-yard box. Third is the simplest and most commonly recurring strike of his goalscoring set-menu. 

It comes when Daka finds himself in the middle of the box, supported by a midfield runner or strike partner out wide, who cuts it back or across for the Zambian to dispatch at close range. The finish itself is a foregone conclusion; he is a good ball-striker, crucially with both feet, and connects well with his shots.

Like Haaland, Daka could be described by casual observers as a player who relies on scoring tap-ins. He does, and lots of them, but that is owing to his intelligent penalty box movement and Salzburg’s obscenely attacking approach. 

His diagonal running across the face of defences paints a vivid picture of a player who knows how to maximise his core attributes through sharp, decisive movements. Salzburg’s approach is a concern for Daka’s long-term goals tally, however. 

He relies on midfield runners breaking through from deep into the box to cut it across or frequently getting into advanced positions where they can play him in behind. This is a fairly unique situation at Salzburg that would not be replicated so easily in other leagues. His lack conventional physicality could also hamper him in outside of the Austrian Bundesliga.

In terms of chance creation, Daka posts good numbers but it is possible they are inflated by Salzburg’s approach and the number of friendly bodies around him in attacking phases. 

When bringing others into play, he is good enough at holding up the ball, but can be suspect of rushing his first touch with his back to goal as he tries to swivel and break into stride in the same motion.

Forecasting Patson Daka's Future Prospects

The best of Salzburg’s prodigies move onto bigger European leagues and Daka should be no different; 20 goals in all competitions is difficult to ignore. 

The Zambian has the fundamentals of a striker who will score goals wherever he plays, so long as the team’s style is complementary to his own. He finishes well, has good speed and shifts his weight adeptly onto either foot, which will become more important as he progresses in more difficult competitions and finds he has less time to set himself for shots. 

But Daka’s aptitude for a solo striking role is in question as he appears too lightweight to be battling for scraps in a role like that carried out by Dominic Calvert-Lewin at Everton. His diagonal movement and instinctive finishing are his best attributes; he must join a team who will accentuate them.

Underpinning Daka’s successes are some elite physical attributes, such as his explosive acceleration, as well as his superb finishing and all-round composure in the penalty box. He does a lot of his best work off the ball or with few touches. He loves use his speed to latch onto balls played into space. He pins defenders back with his movement. And he likes to finish instinctively with one or two touches.

Patson Daka struggles in duels and is not great at beating players one-on-one.