He’s friends with Erling Haaland, indebted to Borussia Mönchengladbach coach Marco Rose and is set to bolster RB Leipzig’s already formidable attacking options - but what else is there to know about Hungary international midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai? bundesliga.com fills in the gaps...
1) Football in the family
Szoboszlai’s dad, Zsolt, used to be a professional footballer, so there is clearly something in the water in their hometown of Szekesfehervar. Dominik started playing from a young age, even foregoing other toys, such was his love of the game. “I never had any Lego are anything like that, the only thing I was interested in was a football,” he told Four Four Two.
His father took it upon himself to be his coach, and in 2007 he even formed his own youth team, Akademie Fönix Gold FC, in order to be able to properly oversee his son’s development.
“He would carry on training me whenever the team’s training sessions finished,” Szoboszlai said. “I’ve always done more than everyone else.”
And it paid off. “He always had the ambition to become a coach, so we started to work together when I was three,” he told Goal. “Except for one year, he was my coach until I joined the Red Bull Academy. He was and still is a huge inspiration and idol for me.
“My father was the key factor in my development. The [huge number of] hours he has spent practising and advising me are impossible to forget.”
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2) Friends with Haaland
Szoboszlai is, by his own admission, “very good friends” with Dortmund striker Haaland thanks to the 12 months they spent together at Salzburg in 2019. The duo, alongside Takumi Minamino, formed a formidable attacking trident, and given Szoboszlai’s love of making and taking goals – the right-footer scored 12 and provided 18 assists in 40 games last season – it is hardly surprising he and the BVB hitman get along so well.
“He often told me what I needed to do and how to do it best, like a leader,” Szoboszlai said of Haaland, three months his senior, in a recent interview with kicker.
“I miss him. We’re still in touch. If I have time then I pay him a flying visit, or vice versa. We’ve stayed in contact. I just hoped that he would have a good start in Dortmund and show what he is capable of. He’s definitely done that.”
3) Set-piece specialist
“In terms of technique, I don’t think I’m too bad,” Szoboszlai told kicker with heavy understatement when asked about his ability. Comfortable on the left wing or more centrally as an attacking playemaker, he previously described himself as “a very versatile player who can shoot well and thread the final pass through,” he went on to add another of his stand-out qualities: “Free-kicks and set-pieces in general are among my strengths.”
The numbers certainly back him up: 14 of his 44 assists as a professional have come from dead-ball situations. His former coach in the Hungary U21s, Michael Boris, who worked with a 16-year-old Szoboszlai in that age category, says that has always been the case.
“He knows exactly what he’s capable of,” he told Goal. “Not in an arrogant way; even in his younger years he always had a very realistic view of his ability. That was very impressive.
"In the 21s we had a lot of players who were already playing in the top-flight with senior teams. But whenever we got a free-kick, and despite being younger than everyone else, Dominik just grabbed the ball as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and he’d take it.”
4) Tattoo reminder, thankful to Rose
While Szoboszlai’s skill, vision and ease on the ball are evident for all to see, he also possesses another vital attribute for any young player looking to make it to the top: hard work and determination.
That has not always been the case, though, and he is grateful to current Gladbach coach Marco Rose for instilling those qualities in him.
The playmaker joined Salzburg’s youth academy as a 16-year-old in 2017, and after a successful season at the club’s feeder team FC Liefering in the Austrian second division, scoring 16 goals in 42 appearances, he felt he was ready to make the breakthrough into the first team. Things didn’t quite pan out that way, however - stymied development Szoboszlai admits “was my fault. I’d played for Liefring in the second division and when I joined the pros I thought I could just continue doing what I’d been doing,” he said.
“I thought that the way I’d played until then was definitely good enough for the first division.”
Rose, who was in charge at Salzburg from 2017 to 2019 before joining Gladbach, had other ideas, however, and made sure the attacker knew he could not coast along if he was to make it to the top: “Marco’s a different kind of person, but if he hadn’t shown me that I needed change, and change my attitude, then I probably wouldn’t be here now.”
Indeed, so important was that lesson to Szoboszlai that he had a permanent reminder tattooed on his left arm: “Talent is given by God. But without determination and sacrifice, it's worth nothing”.
5) Turning point against Napoli
Yet even then it was a gradual process to transform from a raw youngster into a regular match-winner at senior level. Szoboszlai made 16 appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga in 2018/19, nine of which came as a substitute, while he played the full 90 minutes just four times.
There was, however, a clear ‘before and after’ moment in his career: 14 March 2019. Rose gave Szoboszlai his UEFA Europa League debut in the last 16 second leg at home to a strong Napoli side coached by Carlo Ancelotti. Szoboszlai seized his moment and was the best player on the pitch, picking up an assist in a 3-1 triumph.
“The coach gave me a chance against Napoli and I was able to show that I was ready to play in every game,” Szoboszlai recalled of arguably the decisive game of his time as a pro. He was in Rose’s starting line-up the majority of the time after that match, and consolidated his place in the first team under Jesse Marsch, who took the reins in summer 2019.
“His development has been almost as explosive as that of Haaland,” Marsch said last year, and it was no surprise that he finished in the top 10 of the 2020 Golden Boy Awards that recognise the best players in Europe under the age of 21.
Szoboszlai has been no stranger to big-game performances since taking Napoli apart in 2019. He scored on his Champions League debut against Genk in September that year, and was in the starting XI in fixtures against Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, even scoring against the latter in a narrow 3-2 loss in the group stage this season.
Not only that, he has turned on the style on the international stage, too, having made his senior debut for Hungary in March 2019. Szoboszlai struck a spectacular stoppage-time goal with a long-range free-kick in March 2020 to give his side a 1-0 win over Turkey, helping them finish top of UEFA Nations League Group 3.
He also found the target with another stunning last-minute goal against Iceland in the European Championship qualifying play-offs against Iceland in November 2020 to seal Hungary’s place at the tournament proper.
Leipzig, then, have quite the player on the their hands.