Dominik Szoboszlai can be one of the best midfielders in the WORLD… from father feud to footballing greatness at Anfield as the Hungarian is tipped to follow in Jude Bellingham’s generation
- Midfielder, 22, was scouted by Salzburg in 2017 and joined reserve team at 16
- Liverpool signed the Hungarian international from RB Leipzig for £60million fee
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Two of the most defining moments of Dominik Szoboszlai’s footballing life have started with a tense disagreement. Back in 2007, his father and coach Zsolt had a fallout with local academy Fehervar and quit his role there, taking his young son with him.
Rather than search for a new academy to pitch Dominik’s ability, Szoboszlai Sr created a new one from scratch called Fonix Gold. It went against the grain of footballing norms in Hungary with wacky coaching methods and allowed Liverpool’s No 8 to train day in, day out.
It was here that Szoboszlai’s father took complete control of his footballing life. Players trained with golf balls in their hands to discourage tugging at shirts and were forced to wear coloured headbands rather than bibs to force them to get their head up when scanning for passes.
‘Dom’s dad’s academy has mythical status now,’ says Hungarian football expert Bence Bocsak. ‘His team Fonix Gold, which had very quirky ideas and went against the grain, now has three senior players in the national team, Kevin Csoboth and Bendeguz Bolla.’
The education at Fonix Gold in the industrial city of Székesfehérvár, about an hour from Budapest, helped Szoboszlai thrive under the tutelage of his obsessive father. It was here that he was scouted by Red Bull Salzburg and took the ambitious step to move to Austria.
At 22, Dominik Szoboszlai already dons the captain’s armband for the Hungarian national team
A month and a half into the new term, the midfielder already ranks third-highest for chances
The midfielder’s accuracy and prowess both on and off the ball have quickly won him fans
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‘I met Dominik in 2017 when we promoted him from the academy to play professional football in the Austrian second division at the age of 16,’ explains Fabio Ingolitsch, who was manager of Salzburg’s reserve team FC Liefering.
‘He was incredibly talented, already had enormous technical qualities and a good feeling for dangerous spaces. Despite his young age, he was physically able to keep up with the game and with his repetitive sprinting he fitted in perfectly.
‘We used to joke in the coaching team that we had to do quite a lot wrong for him not to become a world-class player! But what I appreciated most about him was his obsession to get better. He practised free-kicks, corners, finishing every day before and after training or on days off.
‘For him, football was always the only thing that mattered. This mentality has taken him all the way to the top because he is simply a boy who wants to play football, no matter when or against who, Dominik is ready and never afraid.’
Szoboszlai was also making waves on an international stage, when he scored a crucial goal against Erling Haaland’s Norway in an Under 17s match. His journey has closely mirrored Manchester City star Haaland, and the pair now live on the same street near Manchester.
Though Haaland and Szoboszlai eventually struck up a lethal partnership in Salzburg’s first team, it wasn’t always plain sailing there for the Hungarian – and this brings us on to the second disagreement that can be seen as a turning point in the 22-year-old’s career.
‘He had a bit of a clash with Marco Rose (Salzburg boss at the time) where he came close to leaving after the manager told him to work harder,’ adds Bocsak. He later told a documentary that he was almost boarding a plane to Turin to quit Salzburg and sign for Juventus.
Szoboszlai has drawn comparisons to Steven Gerrard after his stunning goal against Leicester
Szoboszlai has made good on the promise shown at RB Leipzig, which doesn’t have the best track record for players transitioning to the Premier League
‘Then Dominik said, ‘No, it’s not right, it’s too early… I’m going to fight for my place in Salzburg’. He seized that as the turning point in his career, rekindled his relationship, knuckled down and the rest is history.’
The year of 2020 was also pertinent for Szoboszlai due to the off-period during the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdown. During this year, he worked with Shane Tusup, a personal trainer who has helped many Olympians to gold medals and other successes.
Once he returned, Szoboszlai was said to be like a ‘beast’ in training. And as national team goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, who was the last Hungarian to play for Liverpool, points out, playing well for Salzburg will get you a move to the German Bundesliga.
‘He’s one of the catalysts to why we’re doing so well at Hungary,’ says Bogdan, who also played more than 100 games for Bolton. ‘His work ethic shows examples to everybody, he’s massive for us as a country.
‘If you do well at Salzburg you go to Leipzig, then from that you go to one of the top clubs in Europe. The way he was managed, the way the journey was thought through, it was top class. Thanks a lot to his dad! Dom is a top boy.
‘He loves playing anything competitively, whether it’s card games or whatever. His ceiling is already really high, there’s no Hungarian apart from Ferenc Puskas and Laszlo Kubala who has played like this for a top, top club like Liverpool consistently.’
Just mentioning Szoboszlai’s name in the same sentence as those two Mighty Magyars – Kubala is considered alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona and the great Puskas is a Real Madrid icon – is strong. Hungary boss Marco Rossi has compared the midfielder to Andrea Pirlo.
Szoboszlai has a phrase he attributes to Steven Gerrard tattooed on his left forearm
Szoboszlai benefitted from the coaching programmes at both RB Salzburg and Leipzig
Rossi’s side have not lost any of the 10 matches since Szoboszlai, who turns 23 next week, has been captain of Hungary. Those close to the player have told Mail Sport he is a good leader and a vibrant character in the dressing room. His personality has made him idolised in Hungary.
‘We’ve had wonderkids but that’s all we’ve really had,’ says Bocsak. ‘We like to imagine they will end up becoming world class but few of them do. Szobo is the exception. In the win against Serbia in Budapest last week, thousands of kids were begging for his shirt.
‘There was a moment when he gave his boots away and the kid was sobbing and crying. He’s quite down to earth, though that causes a few headaches to Hungarian media as he will just swear in his interviews. We haven’t seen it as much at Liverpool yet.
‘Against Serbia he said one of his tough-tackling team-mates Attila Fiola is the kind of player where even if his mother was the opponent he’d kick her head in! He can be a Liverpool legend, one of the best midfielders in the world. This generation is (Jude) Bellingham and then Dom.’
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
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