Dominik Szoboszlai: The rise of Liverpool's Hungarian hero - BBC Sport

Dominik Szoboszlai: The rise of Liverpool's Hungarian hero

By Constantin EcknerGerman football writer
Dominik Szoboszlai celebrates after scoring for Liverpool
Dominik Szoboszlai has made 14 appearances in the Premier League for Liverpool, scoring once and providing two assists

A fan favourite for Liverpool and a potential successor to Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskas - Dominik Szoboszlai has had a pretty impressive 2023.

The 23-year-old midfielder once again took the spotlight during Hungary's 3-1 victory over Montenegro in November.

He scored two goals, downed a shot of palinka - a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy - and led the chants from the stands inside Budapest's Puskas Arena after the match.

Szoboszlai has rapidly become Hungary's leading footballer, a rise which has coincided with the national team's resurgence.

Hungary have sealed a third consecutive European Championship appearance after finishing four points clear of Serbia to top their qualifying group. And in the 12 games Szoboszlai has captained the team, they are unbeaten.

As his country's top player, Szoboszlai shoulders the weight of fans' hopes and will want to guide the team back to a place among Europe's elite.

He has also made an instant impact at Anfield since arriving from RB Leipzig for £60m in the summer.

There were questions over Szoboszlai's ability to handle the move at this stage of his career, but a string of impressive performances in the heart of Jurgen Klopp's midfield - combining powerful running with technical ability - have silenced any doubters.

He is already a regular in the new-look team as second-placed Liverpool travel to Sheffield United on Wednesday looking like Premier League title contenders.

Szoboszlai 'motivated' by criticism

At the age of 16, Szoboszlai left Hungary to join Red Bull Salzburg's academy. He believed he stood a better chance of becoming a top-class player there than at one of the academies in his home country.

This view was not universally embraced in Hungary. Abel Meszaros, a Hungarian football pundit, said: "There was always a 'yes, but' with him."

Yes, he is talented, but he plays at Leipzig (having joined from sister club Salzburg). Yes, he has performed well for the national team, but he missed the Euros in 2021. Szoboszlai's sceptics remained vocal, even after his high-profile transfer to Liverpool.

He has admitted to drawing motivation from the criticism and even enjoys reading negative comments about himself.

This trend likely emerged around 2020, when the hype surrounding him became noticeable, and many Hungarians were surprised a young talent was being deemed the country's new star.

"He definitely used that as motivation and continues to do so," Meszaros, who was not among those doubters, added.

"I went [to Liverpool], fought my way into the team, became a starter, scored goals, provided assists, played well, and became a standard player," Szoboszlai told M4Sport.

"There are still people who don't like it. But that motivates me even more to keep going, to be even better, to achieve more, to win more cups, to score more goals."

'Approaching the realm of Puskas'

There may be some who simply harbour ill feelings for Szoboszlai's decision to leave Hungary so early, but the number of doubters is diminishing by the day given his performances for both club and country.

In fact, discussions about Szoboszlai's historical significance are becoming unavoidable.

"Szoboszlai is ahead of everyone since [1980s and 1990s star] Lajos Detari. You have to really go back far," Meszaros said. "He is approaching the realm of Puskas and others in that class."

In the past, the name of Puskas, the formidable forward who led the Golden Team of the 1950s, loomed over any Hungarian player displaying any mere glimpse of greatness.

No-one came close to Puskas' significance, and comparisons with the long-time Real Madrid player often seemed to weigh heavily on players.

Szoboszlai might be the exception because he seems remarkably comfortable in his own skin.

When reporters inquired after the Montenegro game about how it felt to be considered world class, he dismissed the question, saying people should not think of him in that bracket yet.

Expectations will only rise from here.

Liverpool fans will hope Szoboszlai can lead Klopp's next generation to glory, while Hungarians may believe qualifying for the Euros is only the beginning and that a team with the midfielder at the helm is destined to compete for international trophies.

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