Szalai did not appear to be on the radar of Stuttgart coach Armin Veh when he was spotted by Real Madrid in 2007 and plucked out of the Swabians' reserve team to join their equivalent at the Spanish giants.
Learning from the greats
With 13 goals in 21 Spanish third-division games, he was soon training with the likes of Raul and Ruud van Nistelrooy, and he benefitted from an injury to the latter to earn his place on the list of players Real coach Juande Ramos nominated for their Champions League campaign. "It is crazy," admitted Szalai to the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper.
Szalai was unable to fulfil his dream of playing in the Champions League, however, and he never made it into Real's first team either, leading to a return returned to Germany on loan at Mainz.
Back from injury
Although he only scored once in the six-month spell, he nevertheless impressed coach Thomas Tuchel enough to make the transfer a permanent one. A serious knee injury set back his career in 2011, but he returned after a year-long absence in the 2011/12 season to score three goals in the second half of the season.
Carrying that momentum forward into the Bundesliga's 50th campaign, the Hungarian striker repaid the faith put in him by Thomas Tuchel with a 13-goal haul that was accompanied by three assists. Mainz ultimately fell short of qualifying for Europe, but his form was enough to capture the attention of FC Schalke 04, who promptly signed Szalai on a four-year deal ahead of the 2013/14 season.