Dominik Szobozlai (pronounced soboslai) started his club career in his native Hungary. The 20-year-old joined Salzburg’s feeder team FC Liefering in 2016 and developed for another 2 years before leaping to Red Bull Salzburg. At Salzburg, he has grown as a player and has become a talent that directors from the biggest clubs keep monitoring. In the 2nd half of the 2017/2018 season, he made his debut for Salzburg against Austria Wien. It was his only league outing of the season. The 2018/2019 season was the breakout season. He played in 16 league games (starting 7) and accumulated 3 goals, 3 assists, and he created 5 big chances for his side. It was Marco Rose’s last season with the Austrian club. Szoboszlai also started one game in the Europa League against Napoli and he recorded an assist.
The Hungarian would be reckoned as an elite talent under Jesse Marsch the following season (19/20). He won the Salzburg player of the year after recording 9 goals and 10 assists in the league with 12 big chances created. He also scored 1 goal in 5 Champions League appearances. The goal came in a 6-2 win over Belgian side Genk and it epitomizes Salzburg’s approach. Takumi Minamino won the ball and immediately Genk had 4 Salzburg players steaming down their middle. The now Liverpool attacker raced ahead with the ball and drove a cross from the left side. Szoboszlai tapped in for the goal on the right side. Direct and aggressive.
Style of Play
Szoboszlai operates on the left-hand side of Jesse March’s staggered 4-2-2-2 set up, similar to what Hasenhuttl operates with Southampton. He is usually on the left side of 2 strikers and he loves to drift into midfield. This is why some believe he can operate as an “8”. He likes to drift into the little half-space between Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu to enhance his passing possibilities. Not like his possibilities suffer anywhere on the pitch, Szoboszlai can pop up anywhere and he spells danger.
When drifts in, he loves to find the piercing runs of Daka and Sekou Koita. Before that, he was searching for the runs of Erling Haaland and Hwang Hee-chan. His outstanding trait is his ball-striking technique whether when shooting or passing. It possesses a deftness and accuracy that can provide moments of magic. This deftness makes him a threat on set-pieces, direct or indirect. He creates chances from his accurate set-piece delivery. When he shoots, he generates a dipping swerve that we have seen with players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Juninho. He can generate this swerve on long shots and not only free-kicks.
When he drifts to the right, he loves to operate in the half-space between Koita and Okugawa. He can thread passes into space for Koita and Daka from that angle. If we were to make a comparison to a more popular footballer then it would be Hakan Calhanoglu. Despite his preference for the number “10” position, Calhanoglu drifts towards the left and cuts in from there. Both of them are also deadly set-piece specialists. You can also compare him to Philippe Coutinho who is neither a winger nor a central midfielder but loves to operate and drift in from the left side.
An often underrated aspect of the Hungarian’s game is his ability to carry the ball across long distances on the pitch. Szoboszlai stands at 6ft1 inch but this does not deter his speed. He can generate good acceleration when driving with the ball. See his goal against Iceland for understanding. His team was 1 goal down at half-time but they had gotten one goal back in the 2nd half of the game. In the 2nd minute of extra time, Szoboszlai took the ball on the left side and began to skip challenges till he got to the front of the box and released a curling shot past Hannes Thor Halldorsson. The goal secured a place for Hungary at the Euros. He does not have the explosive acceleration plus trickery of a standard winger but he can create danger when he carries the ball on a run.
10? or Central Midfield
Szoboszlai can move the ball between opposition lines. The half-spaces he picks makes him very difficult to track and he uses this to sneak behind opposition midfield and thread lofted passes, inverted crosses, and simple slide passes. His team’s formation allows him to pick up space to create central overloads and dynamic passing angles that are very difficult to cut out especially in transitions. These positions he picks up when he drifts inward are similar to the positions an out and out central midfielder will occupy on the left side of a 433. They are also positions that a number “10” would enjoy drifting into. You can see him doing well in either position with a few changes to his game as he has the vision to execute defense splitting passes.
His positional ambiguity means that he will likely be playing in a new position wherever he ends up. The 4-2-2-2 setup is not common by any means and this means he might face new challenges to his game. The coaches that use this setup are coaches related to the Red Bull family. Julian Nagelsmann, Jesse Marsch, and Ralph Hasenhuttl. Will other coaches be able to adapt to him or will he adapt to them?
Also, Szoboszlai loves to try things. He loves his tricks and flicks and fancy passes and it can be frustrating when the aim is to move the ball forward as fast as possible. In the Champions League this season, he has only completed 13% of his dribbles. It is 42% in his league games which is better but still down. For example, Chelsea’s Mason Mount completes 50% in the Champions League and 53% in the league. His free-kicks, passing and long shots mean he is a high-risk high-reward type of player and this may not appeal to some managers and directors.
Size, speed, passing, intelligence, output, and set-piece delivery, Szoboszlai possesses artillery that top European clubs would love to have at their disposal. He can create goals from all sorts of angles. The Hungarian can strike the ball, and he is very intelligent. Have we mentioned that Szoboszlai can strike the ball? There are rumors that his contract which is up in 2022 has a clause that allows him to leave for 24 million Euros. To make matters more tantalizing, the buying club can pay across 3 installments. Ac Milan looked very close to securing him when they were pursuing Ralf Rangnick but they would stick with Stefano Pioli, ending speculations about a move. With Hakan Calhanoglu’s contract expiring soon, you can see why the Rossoneri would love his signature if the Turkish star does not renew.
Arsenal also retains an interest in the youngster who came in at number 8 in the recently released 2020 Golden Boy rankings. Gone is Arsene Wenger but the club continues its trend of looking for bargain signings. Houssem Aouar is the primary target but Szoboszlai’s release clause is tempting Edu Gaspar. Arsenal needs creativity after scoring only 9 goals after 9 rounds of league games.
With all the hype around him, it is important to remember that he is 20 years old and at the beginning of what we hope will be a glorious career. He should by no means be at the top of his powers right now. There is a lot to his game that he can add and take away. Take his height for example. He wins around 66% of his aerial duels but does not win enough of them in the opposition box to score goals. At his current team, he is the one providing the crosses and not the one getting on the end of them. A new coach might try to extract something else from his height advantage.
Szoboszlai is an interesting talent. This season, he has 1 goal, 5 assists and he has created 6 big chances in the league. In the Champions League he has 2 goals and he has created 1 big chance. He possesses guile and technique but it is his use that will determine what he will become. For now, Hungary can hope. He alone cannot take the nation back to the days of the magnificent Magyars but they have a jewel. A Jewel they can call their own.