From the Handbook: Dominik Szoboszlai
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook: Volume I, our first printed Handbook, released in February 2019. The print version has now sold out, but you can find the digital edition avaialble for £3 here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
In this social media infatuated world which lusts for virality and craves hype, it does not take much for an individual to become a star. In Dominik Szoboszlai’s case, it took just two free-kicks.
After losing their initial group game to Israel, Hungary under-17’s had to beat Russia to keep qualification hopes alive for the summer’s Euros, yet with six minutes to go trailed 1-0 and looked bereft of ideas. Enter Dominik Szoboszlai.
He was already known by keen Hungarian football fans as an emerging a talent by March 2017. Just five months earlier, the then 16-year-old had played a starring role in helping both Hungary under-19’s and under-17’s reach the Elite Round of the Euro qualifiers.
At club level, he had scored 36 goals in 34 games over 2015/16 and 2016/17 for MTK Budapest under-16s and under-17s and Fonix-Gold FC under-17s and under-19s.
Dominik Szoboszlai was the first 2000-born player to make an appearance for Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga
His performance against Russia though, was something else. Stepping up for a free kick in the 74th minute, Szoboszlai nonchalantly yet emphatically whipped it to the top corner. Nine minutes later, three minutes into added time, with qualification on the line, he did it again. A star was born.
Three days later, the hype grew. With Hungary needing to beat Norway in the final group game, hope appeared to be dissipating as Kristian Kovacs cut in from the right-hand-side of the penalty box and slid a ball across to Szoboszlai.
With ten Norwegians stood between him and the goal, Szoboszlai opted to shoot. Struck perfectly, the ball exploded off his foot, nestling into the far-left corner; a postage stamp. It was a strike that would have eaten any goalkeeper at any level.
With that, the 18-year-old emerged as the name on every Hungarian football fans’ lips.
STYLE OF PLAY
Excellent technician with range of ball-striking skills
Strong defender when challenging body-to-body
Speed and agility
Clumsy when pressing
Hungary has not had a true footballing star for many a year. False dawns have come and gone all too recently in the shape of Balázs Dzsudzsák, Krisztián Németh, and László Kleinheisler; so, when a Hungarian talent appears there is a natural reflex to follow hype with scepticism. But Szoboszlai is making it mighty tough for even the most pessimistic Hungarians to remain sceptical.
Szoboszlai is an all-action central midfielder. Best as part of a midfield three, he almost plays similarly to Paul Pogba; tall, elegant, has quick feet, a magnificent ball striking ability, and is excellent at driving with the ball.
He lacks Pogba’s physicality for now, and it would be hyperbolic to say he is as good as Pogba was at 18, but he is not all that far off.
Since March 2017, Szoboszlai has played 48 games at senior level; 42 at Liefering in Austria’s second tier scoring 16 and assisting 11, and six for RB Salzburg scoring once and assisting once.
This season before the winter break in all competitions – nine 2. Liga games, four Austrian Bundesliga games and one OFB Cup game – Szoboszlai was averaging a goal or assist every 71 minutes. And, aesthetically, his goal repertoire is quite beautiful.
Left foot, right foot, placed finishes, curling finishes, thunder-bastards, chips; Szoboszlai at 18 has scored them all, and his goal and assist record is all the more impressive when you consider than he has spent much of that time with defensive duties to ponder too.
These defensive duties represent his biggest potential area for improvement. As said above, he does lack a little bit of physicality. If this is something that he can work on without damaging his vast technical ability, it could set him on the way to becoming something truly special.
Because he is so technically strong, and possesses all the attributes of a top attacking midfielder who plays with his head up, he can routinely beat his man on his left or right side in space or in tight areas, and he is always a threat with his bombastic shot.
He is not the type of player that can turn like Iniesta, and that is why his physicality needs to be improved in an attacking sense too.
If he can develop that part of his game, and find the upper body strength to hold off the opposing defender in a similar way to Pogba, whilst still being able to move away from them with quick feet, then he could become an unstoppable force.
His short time in senior football has shown he is more than capable. Now he just needs to take his game to the next level.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
From here, the route seems set out for him. The Red Bull system may be hated by purists, but one cannot deny its results in developing young footballers. Where else in world football do you have a clear progression path of consistent senior game time at three incremental, manageable levels?
Check out our features on two other talents from the Red Bull talent pipeline: Dayot Upamecano and Amadou Haidara
There has been talk of links to Juventus, Bayern Munich, and even Manchester City, but Szoboszlai would be foolish to move on too early.
Locking down a place at Red Bull Salzburg must remain his focus. Conquer that, then RB Leipzig would be the next port of call. Then he could be anything. However, he needs to avoid buying into his own hype. Hungarians have been guilty of it before. The aforementioned Dzsudzsák, Nemeth and Kleinheisler all peaked too soon, and their careers far from lived up to expectations.
Szoboszlai should take heed of that, and take heed from what his father and former coach said three weeks before his life changed in March 2017: “don’t change the world, change yourself. If you change yourself, you can change the world.”
Words many of us can learn from.