Dominik Szoboszlai may idolise Man United legend Cristiano Ronaldo and live down the road from City star Erling Haaland but the new £60m Liverpool star can’t wait to walk out at Anfield in Steven Gerrard’s No 8 shirt
- Dominik Szoboszlai and Erling Haaland played together while at RB Salzburg
- The Hungarian broke a running record at Salzburg to earn himself a new tattoo
- The Reds finished their pre-season campaign with a 3-1 win over Darmstadt
On Dominik Szoboszlai’s forearm is an inked reminder of the two people who inspired him the most as a young man. ‘God gives you talent, but if you don’t work hard and sacrifice a lot, it is nothing,’ reads the Hungarian’s tattoo.
It is a quote attributed to Steven Gerrard, who Szoboszlai idolised as a boy and will walk out at Stamford Bridge on Sunday sporting the iconic No 8 shirt that the Liverpool legend wore. A dig through the archives can’t find Gerrard saying said phrase, but the thought is there.
And the story behind the tattoo reveals a lot about the back-story of Liverpool’s new £60million man, who signed from RB Leipzig this summer and is tasked with spearheading Jurgen Klopp’s new-look team.
‘This is the Steven Gerrard one,’ Szoboszlai tells Mail Sport when asked broadly about his sleeve of tattoos, as if he knew we were only interested in that one. ‘When I was a young boy I watched a lot of games from a lot of teams, and to wear his No 8 is a pleasure.
‘I was just a teenager and I liked the message the tattoo gave me. So I had a bet with my dad. I always wanted a tattoo and he was like, “OK, find a sentence which you want”. And I said straight away, “I’ve got it, now let’s speak about the bet!”.’
Liverpool’s £60million new signing Dominik Szoboszlai is almost certain to feature at Stamford Bridge
Szoboszlai will wear Steven Gerrard’s iconic No 8 shirt and has a tattoo inspired by a quote he attributes to the Reds legend
That wager was when Szoboszlai was in the academy at Red Bull Salzburg. It involved a running test, for which his father Zsolt – who played in Austria’s lower leagues – told his teenage son that he would pay for his tattoo if he broke the running record.
‘And so I went there, broke the record, and got the tattoo!,’ says Szoboszlai, speaking on the 17th floor of the plush Ritz Carlton hotel in Singapore, where Liverpool stayed during their pre-season tour.
Behind the midfielder we can see the futuristic Marina Bay Sands building, plenty of other skyscrapers and the Formula One track, which brings us on to Szoboszlai’s next big love.
‘We are making these little bets all the time, I like cars,’ he adds. ‘Dad is always telling me I can get whatever car I want but first I have to achieve something. When I got to Leipzig, I got a car. When I got to Liverpool, I got a car!’
Within minutes of meeting the charismatic Hungarian, it is clear that his father was the driving force behind his successes, and it is a topic which the conversation continually returns to.
He also cites Cristiano Ronaldo alongside Gerrard as his footballing hero for his workrate and passion for football.
‘My dad was the biggest influence,’ says Szoboszlai. ‘We did everything together. Probably almost 90 per cent of people grew up always with their mum… but I was with my dad all day. I would see my mum in the morning then be with my dad all day.’
Szoboszlai grew up in the city of Szekesfehervar, which translates as ‘white castle’ and boasts royalty with the country’s first kings buried there. It is also the birthplace to Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Orban and its richest person Lorinc Meszaros.
Szoboszlai featured heavily for the Reds in pre-season including on their tour of Singapore
Szoboszlai cites Man United legend Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) as one of his football idols
In a house with no garden, Zsolt started coaching his son from age three. One regular drill in the Szoboszlai household involved a slalom course of plastic water bottles in the front room. ‘If the water was still inside, it was easier,’ says Szoboszlai. ‘If the bottle fell over, I had to start again.
‘I stayed dribbling until it didn’t fall over, I stayed trying until it was perfect. He made me play football with golf balls in my hands. It was to make sure I wouldn’t foul people, to grab the players’ shirts.
‘My dad did not want me to do that, to grow up fouling, so he put the golf balls in so I couldn’t. He did some crazy stuff!’
If admitting your idol is Manchester United legend Cristiano Ronaldo made some Liverpool fans feel uneasy, wait until you find out who Szoboszlai’s next-door neighbour and good pal is: Manchester City’s Erling Haaland.
The pair know each other well from their days in Salzburg and it was Haaland who helped calm any anxieties the Hungarian might have had ahead of moving to England. Szoboszlai now lives a couple of doors down from Haaland near Manchester.
‘We are still close, we still speak, we message and call each other a lot,’ he adds. ‘He helped me find a house in Manchester, he is on the same road. He told me he knows I am ready, he told me it is a crazy league but we all love it.
‘I knew he is an unbelievable player who puts a lot of work into his life. Of course he is a rival now but I am ready, that’s why I came here. I wanna see how it feels when we play them.’
It will certainly be interesting to see if Szoboszlai is still popping over to play Call of Duty with Haaland over a cuppa – or whatever weird concoction the Norwegian fitness freak sips on – during the Premier League season.
Szoboszlai, alongside £35m acquisition Alexis Mac Allister, will usher in a new era in Liverpool’s midfield, and both bring creative qualities the Reds perhaps lacked in recent years. The Hungarian is direct, has a venomous shot and is hard-working off the ball.
The name is pronounced so-boss-lie – don’t worry if you can’t spell it yet, neither can some kit staff, with the No 8 wearing a shirt that read ‘Szosboslai’ against Bayern Munich in Singapore. He is almost certain to start in the Reds’ midfield at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.
The Hungarian star will usher in a new era alongside Alexis Mac Allister (right) in midfield at Liverpool
Szoboszlai and Manchester City’s Erling Haaland (right) are great friends from their time at Salzburg
But it is his first game at Anfield a week later that the Hungarian is buzzing for. ‘I have played there with Salzburg – it was not good as we lost 4-3,’ he says. ‘But I felt the energy from the fans, they were quality. When I was at Anfield, I was just looking around like, “Where am I?”.’
Szoboszlai is enjoying the English countryside with his dog Milo and girlfriend Fanni Gecsek, a model who used to play tennis on the ITF circuit. He is a fan of video games but left his PlayStation in Leipzig, and he is a keen traveller.
But above all hobbies, Szoboszlai just loves having the ball at his feet, and is said to spend a lot of time perfecting his fizzed set-pieces. ‘I started shooting the ball around when I started to walk,’ he says.
‘There were times when it was hard (playing football). All my friends were going to parties, enjoying life, when I was waking up in the morning and training. Sometimes I wondered why I was doing this. But I will enjoy it now.’
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