Szoboszlai – Hungary’s new Puskas?
Dominik Szoboszlai following in Ferenc Puskas’s footsteps
Hungary’s bright new star has his sights set on Qatar 2022
"It makes no sense to draw comparisons"
Almost every football fan has heard tales of Hungary’s “Magical Magyars”, who dominated world football in the 1950s and 60s. Nandor Hidegkuti, Sandor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskas were the stars of a supremely talented team who remained unbeaten for 31 successive internationals between 1950 and 1954 and won Olympic gold in 1952.
Those glory days for Hungarian football have long since passed, even though the current team are inside the top 40 of the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. It has been almost 35 years since Hungary’s last appearance at a FIFA World Cup™, while their biggest success in decades was reaching the Round of 16 at UEFA EURO 2016. Star players have been in short supply for many years.
Nevertheless, hopes of a brighter future have been growing for some time now. Although coach Marco Rossi’s side were ultimately unable to progress to the knockout stages of last summer’s EUROs, they went toe-to-toe with former world champions Germany and reigning world champions France in Group F.
A quintet of players from Germany’s Bundesliga form the backbone of this promising team: captain Adam Szalai of Mainz, Freiburg’s Roland Sallai and a trio from last season’s Bundesliga runners-up RB Leipzig: world-class goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, defender Willi Orban, and Dominik Szoboszlai, who has been pulling the strings in midfield since early January. Although several of Europe’s top clubs tried to woo the young starlet, he ultimately decided to move from Salzburg to Leipzig.
"The first few months were completely different to what I’d been used to," he told FIFA.com while thinking back to his arrival in Germany. "I had to deal with a serious injury in a new place, so it was quite a tough start. My biggest strength is shooting, but I still need to improve my fitness after a lengthy lay-off. I’ll keep working hard."
Szoboszlai broke onto the scene amid a great deal of hype, with many experts already tipping him as a potential successor to the legendary Puskas. "I think that’s a very sensitive subject. He was the best Hungarian player of all time, and I’m only just starting out in my career. It makes no sense to draw comparisons," said the youngster.
"He’s a true national hero in Hungary, and children look up to him as one. I think he deserves all the recognition he gets, because he was able to reignite his career at a very difficult time and became the best player in the world with Real Madrid. If I’ve achieved as much as he did by the time I hang up my boots… I must say, I’d be very proud and would have a very happy life after that."
Szoboszlai first made a name for himself on the international stage in the play-offs for EURO 2020, when he scored the winning goal in extra-time against Iceland. Frustratingly, the attacking midfielder’s injury troubles meant he missed the chance to play at last summer’s finals, but he followed his compatriots’ exploits on TV during his recovery.
"I was so proud of how the team performed." The next task is to reach the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, although this is proving a formidable challenge in Group I, which also features England, Poland and Albania. Indeed, his side’s World Cup hopes were dealt a serious blow a few weeks ago after losing 4-0 to the Three Lions and 1-0 to Albania.
Hungary must win the reverse fixtures in early October if they are to have any chance of travelling to the biggest tournament in world football next year. "We’re working and training hard, as there are no other options or possibilities. The next few games are extremely important, so we will see what we can do, and I’ll do my best to make sure things work out well," Szoboszlai said.
"While it’s always difficult to assess the national team’s performances, as we only have three or four brief periods each year in which to perform, in another sense it’s easy: if we qualify for the EUROs or the World Cup, it means we’ve succeeded. I think we have a young team with players who turn out for their clubs regularly. I believe we can improve even further in the future."