At the start of July 2023, Liverpool completed their second major midfield signing of the summer by bringing in Hungarian midfield ace Dominik Szoboszlai (pronounced Sobos-lie). It didn’t take a football genius to identify midfield as the area that the Reds most needed to strengthen but even so, Jurgen Klopp and the recruitment team should be praised for moving quickly and making two excellent signings.
Back in 2018, it was clear to many that the club needed major reinforcements at the back and within nine months they signed both Alisson and Virgil van Dijk. That pair cost more than £140m but proved cracking value and the duo were pivotal in the Reds ending their long wait for a title. As we head into the 2023/24 campaign the wait for another championship is far shorter but we are optimistic that Szoboszlai (and Mac Allister for that matter, signed from Brighton for around £35m) will prove just as good value and equally as important.
Who is Szoboszlai?
Szoboszlai is an attacking midfielder who was born in central Hungary in the year 2000 – he won’t turn 23 until October 2023. He played youth football in his home nation before moving to Austrian side Liefering in 2016, advancing to their senior side in 2017 and impressing in the second tier of Austrian football. His 16 goals in 42 league games earned him a move to Austria’s top side, Red Bull Salzburg.
He again showed an ability to step up a level and netted 16 more goals in the league, as well as five (in 16 appearances) in the Champions League. This was enough to convince another side in the Red Bull stable, Leipzig, to part with around €20m and in December 2020 he moved to the Bundesliga, becoming the most expensive Hungarian footballer ever.
Injury prevented him from playing that season but over the following two campaigns, he played regularly and was a key part of the RB Leipzig team. He again performed in the Champions League and in total played 91 times for Leipzig, bagging 20 goals and a high number of assists.
Style of Play
Szoboszlai, whose father played in Austria’s lower leagues, was playing in the Hungarian youth system from the age of six. Encouraged by his father he practiced from the age of just three and would play with golf balls. Whatever his dad Zsolt did certainly worked because Szoboszlai is technically superb and a brilliant all-round footballer. In addition, he is an excellent leader, something Liverpool really need as Jordan Henderson gets older and considering the loss of James Milner. Szoboszlai captained his international side at under-17 and under-19 level and in 2022 was appointed the skipper of the full Hungary side following consultation between the national manager and senior players.
For one so young that is a staggering achievement and bodes well for how he will adapt to the pressure of playing for a club as big as Liverpool. At the time of writing, he has scored seven goals for Hungary and has 32 caps, and he netted the winner in Hungary’s 1-0 win over England in the 2022/23 Nations League campaign.
Although primarily a central, attacking midfielder, he is flexible and can operate from either wing as well. A shade under 6ft 2in, Szoboszlai is strong, powerful, good in the air and two-footed, so, to reiterate what we said earlier, he is a super all-round footballer. He has been given the number eight shirt by Liverpool and Reds supporters will certainly be hoping he is more Steven Gerrard than Naby Keita!
He is more attacking than both of those players, certainly than Keita and tends to create as many goals, if not more, than he scores. A clean striker of the ball, with either foot, he will score plenty of screamers to get the Anfield crowd off their seats, whilst he is also a set-piece king. He is well known for his penalties too, having scored 15 out of 16 despite putting them in the same place every time! He always goes hard and low, to the keeper’s right, but such is his execution his 94% strike rate is well above average. Taking spot kicks in that way shows exceptional confidence and clarity of thought, attributes which again bode well for his chances of adapting to the Premier League.
Is Szoboszlai Good Value?
£60m is clearly a lot of money, especially for such a young player and one that has never played in the Premier League. However, there are many reasons to believe that within a few months of the 2023/24 campaign starting, we may all be wondering how the Reds got him so cheaply.
First, whilst he has not played in England, he has shown his class in the Champions League – with two separate clubs. Second, his career has been marked by smooth, serene progress, with a one-way trajectory upwards. Every time new questions have been asked of him, he has answered them superbly.
On top of that, if we compare him to other signings made this summer (either completed or strongly rumoured), he certainly doesn’t look expensive. Declan Rice is a similar age, with the same sort of ability to lead but Szoboszlai is a far more attacking player. That is not to say he is better than Rice, but scoring and creating goals is the hardest part of football and therefore comes with a premium. And yet Szoboszlai has cost around £45m less than the former West Ham man. Mason Mount, in many regards a similar player, seems set to leave Chelsea for £55m but he has just a single year left on his contract. And of course the Hungarian is considerably cheaper than Jude Bellingham, the man so many Reds hoped would move to Anfield this summer.
Time will tell, of course, but given his personality, creativity, flexibility and ability to find and use space, we think Szoboszlai is the real deal. With Mac Allister also bringing extra creativity to the Reds the season ahead looks promising and it will be brilliant watching these two young footballers dovetail in the most exciting midfield we will have seen under Klopp.