The world is always all-in for the attackers. Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland all became sensations as soon as the goals started pouring in. To be an attacker, especially to be a good one, one needs to have goals in their repertoire. At least, that’s the norm. But how does one rate the defenders? Sergio Ramos is renowned for his goal-scoring, leadership and brute attitude more so than he is for his defensive abilities. Virgil Van Dijk was apparently bought for more than what he was valued at (well, that’s certainly not true now, is it). So, who is the next VVD? Attila Szalai makes a strong claim.
Even new, young defensive talents like Ahmetcan Kaplan, Brooke Norton-Cuffy or Federico Gatti will not generate the same interest that a Mathys Tel might. To be fair, as you tend to move down the field, age and experience generally make the player better. Nevertheless, it is wise to invest in young legs before they actually start to stride. Attila Szalai of Hungary is one player that has grabbed the attention of the many big clubs in Europe.
Attila Szalai career
Twenty-three-year-old Attila Szalai is a Hungarian national football player who plies his trade at Fenerbahçe. The player made his debut in the Australian Bundesliga in May 2016. The young centre-back started gaining attention as he progressed through the ranks. On 17th January 2021, Szalai signed a long-term contract with Süper Lig side Fenerbahçe.
The player had already gained a reputation before being scouted by the multi-sport Turkish club. His performances were rewarded by a call-up to the national team. On 15 November 2019, he made his debut for the national side against Uruguay. He has gone on to make 27 appearances for Hungary at the age of just 24.
Attila Szalai scout report
Attila Szalai is the first name on the Fenerbahce team sheet He made 31 league appearances last season. That right there is a milestone to track the player’s ability. Szalai slotted right into the squad and made an instant impact in the Super Lig. In his debut season for the club, the player also managed to bag three goals in 21 appearances. An impressive number considering the fact that he is a central defender. He also made three appearances in the Team Of The Week in his short spell in the league.
Attila 🤜🤛 Mert Hakan #FBvKAS pic.twitter.com/cZd9xEeI4o
— Fenerbahçe English (@Fenerbahce_EN) April 25, 2021
Szalai is usually deployed as the left centre-back and at times has also played the role of left-back when needed. The Turkish side has vastly benefitted from the arrival of the player and his contribution to the line-up is evident. Szalai is a tall figure and forwards do not get any leeway when they take him on. The player loves an aerial duel and his height advantage usually plays to his favour. Moreover, he is a stopper more than a cover defender. That means, he looks to engage with his attacker high up the field, helping the team play a high line and implement the gegenpress effectively.
Opposition players usually have a hard time getting around the player and it is marked a by remarkably low dribbled past stat. The player often engages in duels, averaging nearly seven per game, and enjoys a success rate close to the sixty-percent mark. He is usually never keen on making a tackle and lets his positioning do the work instead.
Ａｔｔｉｌａ 😎 pic.twitter.com/xch0yqeY3G
— Fenerbahçe SK (@Fenerbahce) April 25, 2021
However, the player’s best attribute, perhaps the most important for a modern-day defender, is his ability on the ball. Szalai averages nearly 57 passes per game, with a high success rate of 85 per cent. He is also not hesitant to play progressive passes behind the defence or a quick flank switching high ball. He makes himself a viable outlet when there is pressure and has the feet to find the next pass.
How good is he?
Hungary often deploys a three-man defence. A system that suits a player like Szalai, who is comfortable as a centre-back and as a left-back. His constant presence in the backline for Hungary is an indicator of the ability he brings to the table. Szalai is your ideal modern-day defender. Big, strong, tall, and good with his feet.
Attila Szalai, @AcibademSaglik Altunizade Hastanesi'nde sağlık kontrolünden geçti.
👉 https://t.co/yZbT1cIMQw pic.twitter.com/9RxeE2lSPC
— Fenerbahçe SK (@Fenerbahce) January 17, 2021
These exact qualities give him the edge. There aren’t many young defenders in the world that boast the quality of this player. The Turkish League bears witness to this as well. Szalai has made more accurate progressive passes than any other centre-back under the age of 24 in the league. None of his counterparts in his age bracket boasts a better duel success ratio either. Two strong statistics point to the attacking and defensive contributions that the player makes.
As mentioned before, age and experience generally tend to favour the defenders more than the attacking players. Szalai is just twenty-fouryears of age and has much to learn. He has the ability and is showing it. It would be a wise decision to pick him up before he breaks out into the defensive sensation.
Attila Szalai transfer news
The majority of the interest generated for the player has been from Premier League teams. Newcastle United, Liverpool, West Ham, and Leicester City have all been linked to the player’s move. The physical attributes of the player will certainly help the player adjust to the Premier League with ease. So, which of these clubs is the ideal landing spot?
David Moyes’ rising Hammers have been touted as the most likely destination. West Ham surprised people with their 7th-place finish last season. However, they know that they can’t shop in the same bracket as the elites. Therefore, they recruit astutely. Szalai is the quintessential Moyes centre-back, with added flair.
West Ham have had a one-in-one-out approach to their defence this summer. Nayef Aguerd has come from wonderkid factory Stade Rennais and Issa Diop has gone to Fulham. Szalai, however, has the potential to become the best of the lot. He is called the next Virgil van Dijk for his physical prowess coupled with his silky playing style. He can also follow van Dijk’s path in joining a team just beyond the traditional top-6. Good performances for West Ham, and the world will be at his feet.