It was in the Hungarian city of Szekesfehervar where Zsolt Szoboszlai set on course a chain of events that would see his son go on to captain his country at just 22, make a name for himself in the Austrian and German Bundesliga then rapidly become a fan favourite at Liverpool.
Wearing the iconic No 8 shirt once occupied by Steven Gerrard, Dominik Szoboszlai is quickly winning acclaim at Anfield for his tenacious performances. Outside of Merseyside, many are talking him up as one of the signings of the summer in the Premier League.
It is an easy case to make. James Maddison and a few others have flourished in Ange Postecoglou’s new and exciting Tottenham, while former RB Leipzig team-mate Josko Gvardiol looks good at Manchester City. But Szoboszlai is arguably better than the lot.
Staying on the theme of Leipzig, there are interesting comparisons when you note those who have come to England from the Saxony club, not least former Liverpool No 8 Naby Keita, who has to go down as a flop given the hype around the £52million signing.
Keita is now back in Germany with bottom-half club Werder Bremen. Likewise, Timo Werner came to the Premier League with huge fanfare but failed to really show his quality at Chelsea. Others, like Jean-Kevin Augustin at Leeds, have also arrived here but failed to conquer.
At just 22, Dominik Szoboszlai donned the captain’s armband for the Hungarian national team
The midfielder’s accuracy and prowess both on and off the ball have quickly won him fans
Szoboszlai has made good on the promise shown at RB Leipzig, which doesn’t have the best track record for players transitioning to the Premier League
When studying YouTube compilations of Szoboszlai prior to his Anfield arrival, it was evident that he knows where the goal is and has an eye for a defence-cutting pass. Those videos are often deceiving, but not in this case.
Yet aside from his on-the-ball prowess, the Hungarian is winning acclaim for what he does out of possession. He has run 57.7km this season, 7km more than Liverpool’s next best water-carrier in Andy Robertson, who has covered 49.5km.
Not just is he busting a gut to make defensive recoveries or arrive late into the penalty area at the other end, Szoboszlai is covering ground with unique pace. Since the 2020-21 season, Opta data says only Kyle Walker and Chiedozie Ogbene of Luton have hit a higher top sprint speed.
To underline his all-round midfielder role, Szoboszlai ranks second at Liverpool for both successful passes (263, behind only Robertson’s 304) and times won possession (33, behind only Robertson’s 38). Only Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold have created more chances.
During an interview up in the clouds overlooking Singapore’s plush skyline in July, Mail Sport asked Szoboszlai to name his idol, expecting him to namecheck a legendary midfielder. ‘My dad was the biggest influence,’ came the response.
Zsolt, a former footballer in Hungary’s lower leagues, was the theme that the chat continually returned to. ‘Many people make the mistake of dreaming,’ Zsolt told a Hungarian newspaper last week. ‘We did not dream but always paid attention to the task and progressed step by step.’
The father-son duo were quite competitive, with Dominik playing football from age three. One drill involved the young player having to weave in and out of plastic bottles in their living room to improve his agility. If one bottle fell over, he was made to start again.
Your browser does not support iframes.
The midfielder named a surprise inspiration behind his impressive career in his father, Zsolt
Just a month and a half into the new term, Szoboszlai already ranks third-highest for chances
Szoboszlai has a phrase he attributes to Steven Gerrard tattooed on his forearm as a reminder of the value of hard work
‘I stayed dribbling until it didn’t fall over, I stayed trying until it was perfect,’ he told Mail Sport back in July. ‘Dad made me play football with golf balls in my hands. It was to make sure I wouldn’t foul people, to grab the players’ shirts, to focus only on my feet.’
Szoboszlai has a tattoo on his forearm of a quote attributed to Liverpool legend Gerrard, which reads, ‘God gives you talent, but if you don’t work hard and sacrifice a lot, it is nothing.’ Whether or not the Englishman said it is unsure, but the thought was there.
Another wacky coaching method Zsolt had was to force his son to play in boots too small for him, due to a Hungarian theory – which comes from the days of the great Ferenc Puskas – that if your feet are small, you have better ball control. Szoboszlai wears size seven shoes.
The theory sounds a bit bizarre but, after watching Szoboszlai flourish in Liverpool’s new-look midfield this season, maybe those Hungarians were on to something. Noting the crazy midfield trolley dash this summer, Szoboszlai at just £60million could be the bargain of the summer.