Dominik Szoboszlai has worked his way to the top. The Hungarian has a bright future and one an entire nations holds its breath for.
In 2019 January, a piece of paper torn to smithereens lay scattered on the table of a Milanese restaurant. The sight would have been all together ordinary had it not belonged to one of the most influential people in Italian football.
The piece of paper had been left behind by Juventus’ chief football officer, Fabio Paratici.
Perhaps if it wasn’t for an eagle eyed diner who spotted the rogue parchment the mysterious contents on it would have vanished into oblivion forever.
However, it wasn’t to be the case.
When the quick-witted diner got home to reassemble the ripped shreds and unveil its contents there was a surprise name on the paper.
It would be the first premonition of a prodigious rise.
Destined to play
When it comes to Dominik Szoboszlai, things are rarely ordinary.
From last minute winners to debut goals and free-kick extravaganza, the 20 year old already has a plethora of extraordinary moments under his belt.
In a way he was ordained to play football even before he was born.
For Dominik, football was in his veins.
His father Zsolt, was a professional player himself and played in the top tier of Hungarian football.
‘As soon as Dominik started to walk, he was given a ball,’ Zsolt recalled of his son. ‘He’d come watch my games and he seemed to have fun with it.’
In 2007, after Zsolt was released from Videoton, he co-founded his own academy Fonix Gold.
Here Dominik would have the opportunity to train everyday.
‘If he wasn’t in school, he was on the training pitch,’ Zsolt recalls.
‘I don’t remember having Legos or toys, all I cared about was the ball,’ Dominik remembered of his childhood.
The Right Philosophy
Szekesfehervar is an industrial city located an hour away from Hungary’s capital. It is filled to the brim with factories belonging to some of the biggest corporations in the world, including Ford and IBM.
Since the 1980s, when the town’s local club, Videoton, marched to the final of the UEFA Cup, it has become a footballing hub.
Fehervar, as Videoton are now called, have become one of the biggest clubs in the country. With the inadvertent support of celebrity fan and prime minister, Viktor Orban, the club have established an academy that regularly lures the nation’s brightest prospects.
Having been born in Szekesfehervar, one would have expected Dominik Szoboszlai to have followed the same path.
But the young Hungarian honed his skills on the outskirts of the city at his father’s club, Fonix Gold.
The club’s gym located amidst the factory district is a dilapidated looking building from the outside. Inside, it is home to just two astro-turf seven-aside pitches.
This is where Dominik Szoboszlai spent most of his childhood.
The club’s methods, developed by Dominik’s father and a small group of coaches, are innovative. The concentration is on technique.
The coaches begin teaching kids at a young age and work with a small group. Instead of wearing bibs, they make the kids wear headbands to force them to look up. Sometimes the kids have to hold golf balls in their hands to make sure they don’t pull each others’ shirts.
‘Our concentration is on mastering the technical skills,’ Zsolt tells First Time Finish exclusively. ‘The philosophy is to play football, when you have the technical skillset it’s a lot more enjoyable to just play.’
The plucky new club with their eccentric methods, started to make waves in Hungary almost instantaneously.
Dominik’s age group won the esteemed Cordial Cup both in 2011 and 2013. Fonix Gold beat out opponents like Bayern Munich, Norwich City, FC Basel and Red Bull Salzburg to lift the prestigious trophy.
Dominik who was nicknamed the ‘small one’ always played an age group above his own but would still dominate games. Exemplified by clips here, he’s wearing the number 13.
“The Cordial Cup was an incredible experience. Opposition managers kept coming up to us and telling us we played like we came out of a PlayStation game.”Zsolt Szoboszlai, Four Four Two
Soon scouts started to take notice. Many of Fonix’s graduates are now playing in Hungary’s first division or have ventured to big academies abroad.
For Dominik, he spent trials in Italy and the Netherlands, but in the end his choice was clear.
‘Salzburg spotted him in an U15 game for the national team, he was still 15 at the time so they couldn’t sign him immediately,’ Zsolt recalls.
The Austrian outfit monitored him and invited him to numerous trials until the rules allowed them to bring Dominik to the club when he turned 16.
Salzburg was a new environment. At Fonix, Dominik never really faced competition for his spot in the team. But at Salzburg he had some of Europe’s finest talents to compete with.
On his first training session, the Red Bull Salzburg coaching staff watched with eagle eyes as Dominik faced off against his new teammates.
The Salzburg players weren’t particularly pleased with the new competition. They were giving the Hungarian midfielder rough treatment and ripping his bib off.
But Dominik never shied away. He made sure he eventually came out on top. At the end of the training session, it was his opponent who left the pitch with a bleeding mouth and the Salzburg coaches with satisfactory grins.
Red Bull Salzburg’s sporting director, Christoph Freund, still remembers the first time Dominik Szoboszlai came to the club.
‘He came to FC Red Bull Salzburg as a very young player,’ Freund recalls exclusively to First Time Finish. ‘At the time, he was full of talent and he also had a lot of self confidence.’
But Christoph still remembers a raw talent with plenty left to learn.
‘In this age you have to learn a lot to arrive in professional football. So the matches for our cooperations club FC Liefering helped him a lot to improve his skills and also his mentality to became the player, he is now.’
Just a few months into his time at Salzburg, Dominik was one of Red Bull’s best performers at the internationally renowned Alkass Cup. He announced his name with this long-range strike.
It wasn’t long before he was scoring goals for fun in Liefering, dictating games in the UEFA Youth League and making his first team debut, all before he turned 18.
Hungary’s Greatest Hope
Dominik Szoboszlai hasn’t just been catching the eye in Salzburg, back in his homeland his name has been in the national consciousness for years.
After scoring a couple of ‘trademark’ free-kick goals against against Russia in an U17 European Championship qualifier, Dominik helped Hungary’s youth team qualify for a first major tournament in almost a decade with this long-range last minute goal against Norway. Incidentally the Norwegians were lining up with his future teammate, Erling Haaland.
A month later his impressive performances at the tournament were enough to merit a call up to the senior national team at the age of 16. Dominik Szoboszlai only sat on the bench for games against Russia and Andorra and his inclusion elicited a frenzy. He’s been everywhere on news portals and magazines ever since.
Not since the 1980s, the last time Hungary made it to the World Cup, have the nation had a talent of the same ilk and so clearly destined for greatness.
Recently, Dominik became the country’s top goal-scorer in the Champions League highlighting his incredible level of success.
In the end, Dominik made his debut for the national team at 18. If his free-kick goals at youth level weren’t enough, he endeared himself to the nation with an outstanding performance on his first start against Croatia.
Coming up against the World Cup finalist’s midfield three of Brozovic, Modric and Rakitic, Szoboszlai was never fazed. He dominated the game and helped Hungary to a 2-1 victory.
After the game, Szoboszlai was quizzed about what it was like to come-up against Modric.
‘I just played against Modric, that’s it,’ was all he replied.
Two free-kick goals against Slovakia and Turkey have made him one of the highest scoring teenagers in the national team’s recent history.
Still just 20, the next step is to take Hungary to the Euros by defeating Iceland in the Play Offs. A feat he is so desperate to achieve he is willing to ‘walk to the national team camp’ all the way from Salzburg according to Hungary’s coach, Marco Rossi.
A golden boy
Dominik Szoboszlai lives and breathes football. The ball is his oxygen and the field is his home. He once stated to Nemzeti Sport, that he never ‘had a proper, childhood,’ when others were having fun going to the cinema, he was on the pitch.
In addition to his insatious work-ethic Dominik was born with an incredibly competitive edge.
‘Sometimes, he’d race me to the door,’ Zsolt recalls. ‘But I never let him win.’
‘He’d practise free-kicks daily, about 100 or 200 times a day.’
You can see the result of his hard-work in the goals he’s scoring now and the desire to improve hasn’t gone away.
During lockdown with the football on hold, Dominik enlisted the help of Olympic Champion coach, Shane Tusup, to help with his physical and conditioning development.
The results of the pair’s work has been a huge increase in muscle mass. It’s something noticed by Christoph Freund.
‘He’s improved a lot on the physical level,’ Freund says.
Szoboszlai, who appeared timid at times during his first Champions League appearances last season, now looks far more menacing. He was able to dictate the play against the physically commanding Atletico Madrid late last month.
Shane and Dominik remain in close contact and talk everyday.
‘I work on helping athletes get the maximum out of themselves so that they can become true warriors when they enter the battlefield,’ Shane told Origo in September.
Running around the turf of the Wanda Metropolitano, Dominik Szoboszlai was often the warrior. Tousling with Koke and Herrera in the middle of the park and twirling around Kieran Trippier in circles. Like a general, he instigated Salzburg’s attacks.
Since the return of football, Dominik has scored 13 goals and registered 20 assists in 24 games.
There was no surprise at his inclusion in the 2020 Golden Boy twenty-man shortlist alongside names like Alphonso Davies, Jadon Sancho and Ansu Fati. He belongs with the stars.
A bright future
Players like Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Erling Haaland, Hwang Hee-Chan, Dayot Upamecano and Takumi Minamino are just a few who graduated Red Bull Salzburg’s famed academy in recent years and earned big money moves abroad.
Dominik Szoboszlai is destined to follow in their footsteps.
‘Dominik came to us as a very young player. He’s now one of the most interesting young players in Europe,’ Salzburg’s Christoph Freund admits.
Juventus’ Fabio Paratici is not the only one keeping an eye on the Hungarian. AC Milan, Arsenal and RB Leipzig are all purportedly considering moves for Szoboszlai.
Guided by his agent, Matyas Eszterhazy, and the close advice of his father, Dominik, has the right support system behind him.
Both his father and Eszterhazy have spent decades in the game and they are well poised for the next step.
‘Unfortunately nothing is public, we could go around in circles, but nothing is public yet, we have our plans, we know how to proceed, but for now we cannot reveal anything,’ Zsolt concludes in regard to his son’s future.
A nation holds its breath.
In January, if the pandemic permits it, Dominik Szoboszlai will most likely move for pastures new. One of Europe’s top five leagues beckons, and if anything can be gauged from his career so far it’s that he will be ready for whatever his fate holds.
The boy from Fehervar has worked his socks off to get this far, and he’s not about to stop.