Liverpool’s new £60million signing Dominik Szoboszlai has taken the number eight shirt previously worn with such distinction by Steven Gerrard as the former captain is one of his inspirations.
The 22-year-old has signed a five-year contract – subject to a work permit – after a move from Bundesliga side RB Leipzig was wrapped up in a couple of days following the Reds triggering his release clause on Friday, hours before its expiration.
Szoboszlai will wear the shirt most recently vacated by Naby Keita, who was also signed from Leipzig, after his contract expired – but it is the most famous number eight to whom the midfielder looks up to.
“Of course it’s a great number, a lot of great players had this number and also I have a tattoo from Steven Gerrard, what he said (the quote is ‘Talent is a divine blessing, but without incredible will and humility, it is worth nothing’) so it was also a reason why,” he told the club’s website.
“When I was a child, to be honest I didn’t watch that much football but of course when it was Champions League or a big game, I was watching Liverpool, the big teams and also the big players – and he was one of the biggest.
“The last three or four days went really long; it was not that easy. But at the end I’m here, I’m happy and I can’t wait to get started.”
The Hungary international is the second player to arrive as part of a summer midfield rebuild following the signing of 24-year-old World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton for £35m.
He was viewed by Liverpool as a more viable option than former target Mason Mount, in whom they were interested with 12 months remaining on his contract but not at the valuation Chelsea put on him, due to his comparative value, age, versatility and potential and the relative clarity of the deal due to the release clause.
The deal was done so quickly because of the player’s keenness to move to Anfield and link up with Jurgen Klopp, of whom he has been a long-time admirer.
“I was really happy (on hearing of Liverpool’s interest) but I stayed calm because I didn’t want to be too happy (too) early.
“As I said, I think in 2020, (Klopp is) one of the best coaches in the world. How he acts next to the pitch, it is like he plays with the guys. I like that really a lot.
“And also what he has achieved with this club is also really impressive, so I am looking forward to working with him.”
The respect is mutual as Klopp believes Szoboszlai can play a big part in the club’s future.
“We already have a little knowledge of Dominik as an opponent because we had a couple of really tough games against Red Bull Salzburg when he was a player there and I think everyone who saw those fixtures will have realised that even at that stage he was a really interesting prospect,” said the Reds boss.
“I’m pretty sure he was still a teenager at that time and since then he has made some big strides: moving to Leipzig, doing really, really well in the Bundesliga, playing for the Hungary national team and then becoming captain of his national team at an incredibly young age.
“These are proper positives and this is even before we even think about his qualities as a footballer.
“I will not say too much about them at this stage except they are definitely the kind which will hopefully bring a lot of enjoyment and also help us to get results.
“From the clubs he has been at, the leagues he has played in and the family he is part of, it is very clear that he has already had an outstanding football education, so our responsibility now is to continue this education with him as part of the Liverpool family.
“Everything about this is good news. This is a signing for our present and also for our future and the work that has gone into it could not be more appreciated.”