Dominik Szoboszlai – Red Bull Salzburg’s creative force

Dominik Szoboszlai’s career has been in fast-forward, making his International debut for Hungary at 16, starring for FC Liefering at the same age before he became a starter at Red Bull Salzburg at 18-years-old. The lanky teenager with a youthful but chiselled face and focused eyes topped with slicked back black locks has long been a highly coveted talent. He was approached by the likes of Juventus before choosing to move to Austria as he refuses to speak about a move in the media, instead looking to build an encouraging start for the Austrian Bundesliga and Cup champions.


His path to the top was schemed and coordinated by his father, Zsolt who is a former football player who deputised as his coach. Zsolt and three other Hungarian dads decided to pull their kids out of the conventional academy system and launch their own team under the name, Phoenix FC. This team focused on individualised training and is akin to Georghe Hagi’s FC Viitorul Constanta as this club claimed the scalp of the likes of Bayern Munich, Hertha Berlin, FC Basel and Norwich FC at the Cordial Cup when Szoboszlai was a youngster. Szoboszlai starred at the U17 European Championships as Hungary defeated Russia and Norway on their way to the elite rounds.


Zsolt constantly challenged and pushed the buttons of his son, holding him to a higher regard than his teammates while he refused to let his son address him as Dad during training sessions. This paid dividends as in his International Debut, Szoboszlai dribbled past the older and more cynical Marek Hamsik who hauled him to the ground as his younger counterpart reacted calmly instead of petulantly. Adam Szalai who is 13 years his senior remarked about his maturity as the teenager’s aura of calm and sensibility is disarming with teammates and coaches. His name is constantly in the pages of Hungary’s newspapers, but the 18-year-old has not let that get to his head.


Szoboszlai played a starring role for Red Bull Salzburg’s feeder club, FC Liefering in the Erste Liga. In an away match against Austria Lustenau, he hammered a shot past the keeper for a brace while still only 16-years-old. He frequently cut in from the left-wing to create opportunities and score goals as he combined with Zambian duo, Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu in a lethal attacking force. Marco Rose began to give Szoboszlai increased opportunities with Red Bull Salzburg in the second-half of last season.


Against Napoli, in the Europa League Round of 16 – with the Italian side one goal ahead – he intercepted a pass from Allan to drive into the box attracting markers before releasing Moanes Dabbur for the Israeli striker to cut past a defender and finish. For the second goal, he played a pass to Hannes Wolf who worked a ball to Andreas Ulmer for the fullback to cross for Fredrik Gulbrandsen to score Salzburg’s second. The 18-year-old constantly demanded the ball while he was under pressure as he once received the ball, skipped past Jose Callejon and played a pass to Wolf who pulled his shot wide.


A month later, he started against Sturm Graz as he played an uneventful first half. Rose persisted with the youngster instead of hauling him off as Szoboszlai repaid his coach’s faith. He took a pass on the left corner of the box, to play a perfectly angled and perfectly weighted cross to the back post as Gulbrandsen only had to beat his man and stretch his leg to get contact with the ball to divert it in. Takumi Minamino, Dabbur and Szoboszlai then worked a move that led to the young Hungarian playing a deflected pass for the Israeli striker who beat his man and applied a calm finish.


Szoboszlai then wrapped up an incredible second-half performance by receiving a cross from Ulmer to control the ball, pause for a split second for the defender to slide across him before he calmly placed a shot past the keeper from a tight angle. Against St Polten, a week later, Ulmer was sent off in the third minute. Szoboszlai sacrificed his attacking responsibilities to drop deep and receive the ball from the centre-backs in build-up when Diadie Samassekou was tightly marked. He also dropped in between Albert Vallci and Xaver Schlager who moved to left-back to create triangles as Salzburg still sought to dominate the ball with their opposition having numerical superiority.


Szoboszlai played as a wide midfielder in Salzburg’s 4-4-2 diamond, predominantly on the left as at times he could be isolated on the flank. However, with Ulmer stretching play and creating width, Szoboszlai thrived in instigating intricate passing moves from the half-space while he could also cut into the centre to receive the ball from deep in tight areas. The Hungarian teenage sensation slows the game down when he receives the ball with an essence of ‘La Pausa’ as he possesses incredible vision to play accurate slide rule passes to runners in behind. His early performances caught the attention of Arsenal as more top-level clubs will be lured to Salzburg to be awestruck by his quality.


In the Austrian Bundesliga opener away to Rapid Wien, Jesse Marsch continued to utilise Szoboszlai as a wide midfielder in a 4-3-3/4-4-2 diamond hybrid formation. The teenager continued to demand the ball in build-up as he played a chip for an Erling Braut Haaland strike on goal. He had another heart-stopping move where he skipped past an opposition player to then work a pass with his toe to a teammate in tight spaces. He then played a pass to Ulmer who squared a cross which was behind Daka as the Zambian made a run into the box.


Szoboszlai’s performance against Napoli proved that he does not shirk his responsibilities in the bigger games. Against Chelsea, he played a through ball to Hee Chan Hwang who went through on goal as he slipped before he could get an opportunity on goal. The young midfielder thrived at cutting in and manoeuvring in the pockets while he can play accurate passes in between the lines from deep.


"We see him every day in training. I know what he can do and therefore I was not surprised. He is an incredible footballer - an exceptional talent. And today he also showed that he is a cool dog, " said Freund in an interview with Sky Austria after the game against Napoli.

"I'm almost never nervous. It gives me energy when I can play in front of 30,000 spectators and I did what I can. I do not play for myself, but for the team. If I have to go one against one, I'll go one against one. If I have to shoot, I'll shoot, " said Szoboszlai to Sky after the match against Napoli.


Szoboszlai is contracted to the city of Mozart till 2022 as the way he manipulates time and space in the half-spaces and pockets is akin to Mozart manipulating piano keys and violin strings. With Salzburg in the UEFA Champions League this season, Szoboszlai will get an opportunity to exhibit his talents on a grander stage as the likes of Juventus and Arsenal are already lurking. The Hungarian who was given the sobriquet ‘Domi’ by former coach, Marco Rose has kept his feet firmly on the ground as he is an established member or Marsch’ Red Bull Salzburg.