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 talents like Upamecano, Konate, Reece James and Ozan Kabak will not generate the same interest that a Jadon Sancho 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. FootTheBall is precisely in the hunt for such players. Attila Szalai of Hungary is one player that has grabbed the attention of the many big clubs in Europe.
WHO IS ATTILA SZALAI?
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 now made the final list for the delayed Euro 2020 after making a total of eleven appearances for the national side.
In just half a season, he has made twenty-one appearances for one of Turkey’s biggest clubs. 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 twenty-one appearances, the player also managed to bag a total of three goals. 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.
— 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.
Opposition players usually have a hard time getting around the player and it marked a by remarkably low dribbled past stat. The player often engages in duels, averaging nearly seven per game, and enjoying a success rate close to the sixty-per cent 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 a long ball 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.
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.
— 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 23 in the league. None of the U23 CB’s boasts a better duel success ratio either. Two strong statistics that 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-three years 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.
PREDICTIONS FOR EURO 2020
Hungary is one of those teams that come to the Euros in hopes of making it to the knockout stages. Their aim is to finish the Euros with as many games as they can possibly get. Sadly, Hungary is in the worst position possible. They are in Group F against three tournament favourites, France, Portugal and Germany. It is unlikely they pull through, but there is still a chance that they might end up being the dark horse of the tournament.
Attila Szalai 🇭🇺 pic.twitter.com/OzaUF2ma2f
— FENERBAHÇE YOLU (@FenerbahceYolu) June 10, 2021
Attila Szalai will be vital to the Hungarian plans. He has played in every match this year for the national side and will be expected to feature in the Euro as well. The first match is against a Portugal side that features, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, Joao Felix and Andre Silva. This will be the toughest fixture the young centre-back would have had in his entire professional career.
This is also his visa to one of the bigger clubs in Europe. If he does manage to quieten one among the many exceptional forwards, the clubs in Europe will take notice. He is already under the radar, a few good performances in the European Championship will give him a better edge.
IDEAL LANDING SPOT
The majority of the interest generated for the player was 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?
Anfield was riddled with injury woes the last season. They just couldn’t settle on a centre-back pairing as everyone who played in the position went off limping at some point in the campaign. Their lack of depth in the position was highlighted as a result. This has led to a serious need for a replacement. With Szalai being compared to VVD, it would be interesting to see them play side by side. However, with the recent acquisition of Konate, it seems improbable.
Leicester City on the other hand is on the desperate lookout for a centre-back to replenish the position. Brendan Rodgers’ side had previously shown interest in the Hungary international and it would be a wise move to approach the player this summer. Leicester does not have a quality left-footed centre back, and the acquisition could add an extra edge to their game.