The phrase “elite mentality” gets thrown around a lot within the average football fan lexicon in 2023. But Dominik Szoboszlai is a footballer who truly embodies that sentiment.
“I want to win everything,” Dominik Szoboszlai tells Hypebeast, when speaking about his ambitions at Liverpool, “Carabao Cup, FA Cup, Premier League, Europa League. Why not? We can do it – and we will go for it.”
Liverpool’s new midfielder is speaking the day after a 2-0 Merseyside Derby win against Everton at Nike and the LFC Foundation’s ‘Game On’ day, an initiative committed to increasing youth sports participation with the next generation of kids in Liverpool.
“The programme continues to provide vital access to sport for thousands of young people from some of the most underserved areas in the Liverpool City region,” says Dan Burrows, Senior Director, Social & Community Impact Nike EMEA, who is at the programme helping alongside Szoboszlai today, “We know that girls face additional barriers to play, so we are excited to evolve Game On to include an emphasis on co-creating inclusive and fun safe spaces for girls to engage in football.”
While looking to inspire a new wave of talent out of the city, Szoboszlai takes some time to just reflect on his rapid rise up the ranks to become one of the best midfielders in the world. “Since day one, I wanted to be a professional footballer,” he explains while talking about his route to the top. “I had my goals, like every kid. But if you asked me where I wanted to play back then, I would have said a big team like Liverpool.”
It’s been quite the journey for the Hungarian already. Having forged his craft back in his homeland, Szoboszlai would go on to receive a rich footballing education with RB Salzburg – famous for birthing talents such as Erling Haaland, whom he played alongside – before moving to RB Leipzig. In Leipzig, Szoboszlai would become renowned as one of the hottest prospects in the game, blessed with incredible technical ability, a machine-like engine and a thunderous strike, which has become a bit of a trademark for the marauding midfielder over recent years.
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With Liverpool crying out for midfield recruitments, Szoboszlai would sign for the club in the summer transfer window – a move he tells Hypebeast he has "dreamed about since a kid,” where he watched Liverpool play while believing they were “one of the greatest clubs in the world.”
Upon joining, his overall fitness was better than any other of Liverpool’s summer signings. But he was disappointed not to be the fittest of the lot in the club's infamously gruelling lactate test after moving to Liverpool quickly after the club paid his (£60.1m; $76.3m) release clause in full: “The move happened so fast, I came here without training," he explains about his first fitness exercise on Merseyside after his transfer from RB Leipzig, "Next time, I will win it.”
Such confidence and self-assurance made Szoboszlai a natural leader – with his national team coach recognising this and making him the captain of his country shortly after his 22nd birthday. Having just turned 23, Szoboszlai is now in the form of his life as Liverpool’s new Number 8.
The commitment and confidence he carries himself with today was forged by his diligence from a young age. When he was a youth player, it’s widely been reported Szoboszlai's father wanted his son to have greater dexterity with his feet. Despite now standing at 6ft1, Szoboszlai would wear smaller boots while he was growing up, limiting foot growth to a size seven – all in order to enhance his sharp dribbling, close control and ball-striking ability.
“I had my dad next to me the whole way, who helped me a lot, growing up,” Szoboszlai says, of his rigorous upbringing in his hometown of Szekesfehervar. Szoboszlai’s dad, Zsolt, used to be a professional footballer himself, and was his son's coach to properly oversee his development. But Szoboszlai admits it wasn't always easy: “When I was 14 I was like, “Why are you screaming at me? Why'd you do this?” But now I understand why."
While unorthodox, the practice clearly worked. Szoboszlai is now blessed with a back catalogue of screamers and free kicks from outside the box, for club and country – having recently won Liverpool’s ‘Goal of the Month’ contest for September with his goal against Leicester in the Carabao Cup.
Those strikes, alongside his incredible work rate and all-around ability, have seen 'Szobo' become an instant fan favourite at Liverpool. If you want an illustration of how he's hit the ground running, you can see it around Anfield on match days. 'Szoboszlai 8' jerseys are everywhere – with some reports suggesting the shirt has even eclipsed ‘Salah 11’ in sales.
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This has only aided comparisons to a former legend who also wore his current shirt number: Steven Gerrard. Remarkably, Szoboszlai has a tattoo of a quote inspired by Gerrard himself across his left arm, which reads, “Talent is given by God. But without determination and sacrifice, it's worth nothing." Naturally, the ink endeared him to Liverpool supporters, but his on-pitch performances have only strengthened the similarities to one of the club's all-time legends.
“He’s an iconic player," Szoboszlai says, when speaking about his comparisons with Gerrard, "He was captain from a young age, too. I’m far away on my journey yet, but I want to do this my own way. But if I could sign a deal to be as big as him, I would sign right now.”
Szoboszlai’s dogged determination underpins his natural status as a leader. Having taken the armband for his country aged just 22, he joins a team packed full of leaders at Liverpool, with Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk, Egypt captain Mohammed Salad and Scotland captain Andrew Robertson just a few of the other big presences in the dressing room. But despite having huge presences and current legends of the game in the dressing room, Szoboszlai is keen to
While joining former Liverpool captain Sami Hyypiä in leading the training at the club’s ‘Game On’ initiative, he admits he wouldn’t shy away from being handed the armband in the future. “I’m just doing my thing. This is how I am and if need to lead a team, then I'm gonna lead a team,” he asserts, “If someone gives me the armband, I’m gonna take it.”
The midfielder has never forgotten where he made it out from and how hard he had to work to make it to an elite level in the game. While he kicks a ball around with kids who look up to him as a hero at ‘Game On’, Szoboszlai is keen to instil a motivational message for the next generation. “I would just say, work hard,” he tells Hypebeast, when asked on what advice he’d offer to the kids playing today, “Don't listen to anybody that says you cannot do it – that should be motivation if they try and say this. Just believe in yourself.”