- Zambian striker Patson Daka making a name for himself
- Erling Haaland’s replacement at RB Salzburg
- Like the Norwegian, he broke through at the FIFA U-20 World Cup
In Zambia, 21 is the age of maturity, the start of adulthood, a point in life when responsibilities must be shouldered, as national team forward Patson Daka knows full well.
A footballing prodigy, the 21-year-old Chipolopolo front man has the hopes of a nation resting on him as Zambia attempt to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™ for the first time in their history. Despite his young age, however, the pacy front man is mature beyond his years.
“I was born and brought up in Kafue, a small town in the province of Lusaka,” he told FIFA.com. “My father was a footballer, so falling in love with the game came pretty naturally for me: I wanted to do what he did. I spent my time with him and a ball.”
Sadly, Daka’s father died when he was still a child, a tragedy that made him grow up fast and even more determined to fulfil his dream: to follow in his footsteps and become a professional footballer.
Breakthrough in the Far East
The FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017 was Daka’s springboard to success. After firing Zambia to the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations title that same year with four goals, the striker maintained his superlative form in Asia. His two goals and two assists helped Zambia make the quarter-finals of the competition, a first for the country in a FIFA tournament.
“I have mixed feelings when I look back on that competition,” he explained. “I still find our [3-2] defeat to Italy in the quarter-finals hard to take because we had the match under control. I learned a lot, though, especially the need to work together as a team if you want to go far in a tournament like that. Discipline and having the right mindset are also vital.”
With lessons learned, Daka left Zambia and Kafue Celtic FC for Austria and RB Salzburg. After spending a season on loan at Liefering, he returned to the Salzburg side in 2018 and secured his place there.
“It hasn’t all been plain sailing and the main reason I’ve got where I am today is my family, who have always been there for me,” he said. “But if I can inspire others, especially in Zambia, and help them believe in themselves and their dreams, regardless of their backgrounds and where they come from, then I’ll be as happy as can be.”
Daka is certainly showing them how it is done, not least in front of goal. The Austrian Bundesliga’s second-highest scorer in the 2019/20 season with 24 goals, he is joint top scorer in the 2020/21 campaign with three goals.
“Every goal is different and the emotions you get from scoring are not always the same,” he explained. “They do have one thing in common, though: there’s always a buzz when you score, an immense feeling of joy that’s hard to put into words.”
Did you know?
In November 2019, Daka became the first Zambian player to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League. And on 30 September 2020 Daka scored twice for Salzburg to help them qualify for the Champions League group stage.
His lethal finishing skills, nose for goal and speed of execution are rare for someone so young, but in Salzburg, at least, Daka’s traits are reminiscent of a certain Erling Haaland.
“Comparisons are part and parcel of the game, so I’m used to it,” acknowledged the young Zambian. “Haaland’s a great player but he’s also a friend of mine and we’ve kept in touch since he left for Dortmund.”
Aiming high with Zambia
In Zambia, they prefer to compare generations rather than individual players, and the trio made up by Daka, Enock Mwepu and Fashion Sakala is seen as a golden one. Inevitably, they will be judged against the class of 2012, which, led by Christopher Katongo, won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
“I was 14 at the time and I remember running out into the street with my friends to celebrate a historic moment for my country,” recalled Daka. “It’s a lovely memory and an event that showed that the nation can come together as one on the big occasion, just like the team that represented it then.”
The Chipolopolos of 2012 set the bar high, and their counterparts of 2022 have lofty ambitions too, as Daka revealed: “If I had to choose between winning the Africa Cup of Nations and playing at the World Cup, I’d go for the latter. The country has been dreaming about it for such a long time and it would be great to make it happen.”
Zambia have been drawn with Tunisia, Mauritania and Equatorial Guinea in Group B of the African qualifying competition for Qatar 2022, and Daka is confident they will be up to the task: “I know we’ve got what it takes to get there.”
Daka's age when he made his national team debut. "I've never felt so proud," he recalled.