After a solid showing at Euro 2020 with Hungary, Attila Szalai’s career looks to be on the up.
The Fenerbahce centre-back is attracting interest from across Europe, with Atletico Madrid and Juventus two of many to be chasing his signature, but CNNTurk believe that it is Chelsea who have won the race for the highly rated 23-year-old.
Hungary boss Marco Rossi has even claimed that Szalai’s move to Chelsea is a ‘done deal‘, so it’s probably time you get to know him.
Centre-backs who are strong on their left foot are all the rage these days, and Szalai fits the bill perfectly.
However, he hasn’t always had the chance to make the most of his skills on the left side of defence, playing at the heart of back threes for both club and country.
Because of his 6’4 frame and ball-playing abilities, many managers prefer to use Szalai at the heart of their system, and understandably so.
To make it in the modern game, defenders need to be comfortable with the ball at their feet. Szalai takes that to the extreme.
Playing in a back three affords Szalai some attacking freedom and he loves to exploit that with a cross-field pass or a quick ball forwards into midfield. He starts most of Fenerbahce’s attacks with his vision.
If a pass isn’t on, Szalai doesn’t panic and is instead brave enough to step out of defence and charge forwards on runs. The 23-year-old is comfortable in the final third, but don’t expect him to be an elite playmaker or goalscorer when he gets there.
As a tall, agile defender with a keen eye for a pass, it should come as no surprise that Szalai has been compared to Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
Szalai has even confessed to seeing Van Dijk as the best defender around and admits to modelling his game on the Dutchman.
“To me, Van Dijk was and still is the best defender in the world before he got injured,” he told Fenerbahce’s official website. “I love watching footage of him.”
Forward Dominik Szoboszlai is the most high-profile wonderkid in the Hungarian setup, but many close to him have confessed to seeing Szalai as the future of the national team.
“If you ask him, he would remember that I told him he is the future of Hungarian football,” former Hungary Under-21 coach Michael Boris told First Time Finish.
Hungary boss Marco Rossi also told Inside Futbol: “I think he will learn year after year, and in two or three years, he will be among the top central defenders in Europe.”
“He’s a 100% professional. He is one of the most intensive and focused football players I have ever met in my life,” said Petros Konnafis, former sporting director at Apollon Limassol, one of Szalai’s old sides.
“Attila was always doing extra training, he was always trying to learn and trying to work on his body. He worked a lot and he worked very hard.
“In football you need to be a smart guy and polite and Attila was a really smart guy. He speaks four or five languages. He’s very clever and he studies a lot as well so he’s not just a football player, he’s the full package.”
For years now, Szalai has been telling reporters that he dreams of testing himself in a top European league. He’s regularly asked that question, and it’s always the same answer.
“I’m a Fenerbahce player, my contract is here for years, and I’m happy in Istanbul and proud to be playing for this team,” he told Nemzetis Sport.
“It’s no secret, of course, that I’d like to test myself in one of the top leagues. That’s why I work day in and day out to give me that opportunity.”
A move to Chelsea may go down well with Szalai, who has previously confessed to idolising Brazilian centre-back Thiago Silva.
Back when Silva was with AC Milan, Szalai told Foci Club that the Brazilian was his favourite player and the Rossoneri were his favourite side.
Should he head to Stamford Bridge in January, he could be lining up right alongside his hero.
A quick glance at Szalai and you’d think he’s more of an old-school centre-back who just wants to wrestle and head the ball. While he loves doing that, he’s far more than just a 6’4 monster.
He’s not giving Usain Bolt a run for his money anytime soon, but Szalai can hold his own against most forwards in a race and isn’t scared of anyone one-on-one.
With that agility, Szalai likes to vary the way he defends. He’s happy to push up high and bank on his recovery pace but is also smart enough to know when he needs to sit back and wait for the trouble to come to him.
When you watch Szalai play, you might hear his teammates call him ‘Sancho’ – a nickname which has nothing to do with Manchester United man Jadon.
It’s actually a name which was given to his father, also called Attila, who played for Hungary in the late 1980s.