Aston Villa manager Dean Smith could sign his team’s new Olof Mellberg in Attila Szalai.
Reports in recent weeks and months from Hungarian publication Blikk have claimed that the Midlands club are in the race to sign the centre-back this summer, with Newcastle and Leicester also said to be in the running.
Vitor Pereira, the 23-year-old’s manager at Fenerbahce, has said: “We are on the road with the goal of championship. Szalai is also one of our best players. He will be one of the names we will receive the biggest contribution on this path. I need Szalai for the championship goal. The club’s interests are obviously important, but I think Szalai should stay with us this season, no matter how good the offer.”
Dubbed as “exemplary” and with the “loudest voice in training” by former Fenerbahce boss Emre Belozoglu, Szalai possesses all the raw physical attributes to become a real force in the Premier League much like Mellberg was.
The great Swede became a real icon at Villa, playing seven seasons for the club and being appointed as captain by David O’Leary during the 2003/04 campaign. As well as being one of the team’s biggest leaders, Mellberg was a defensive stalwart, a “dominant figure” who “rarely made a mistake as he produced commanding displays as a matter of course”, as outlined by the club’s official website.
Szalai possesses much of the same defensive nous and has averaged an impressive 1.4 tackles and 1.6 interceptions per game in all competitions – both numbers are actually higher than any of what Villa’s centre-backs managed in the Premier League last season.
Standing at an imposing 1.92m (6 foot 4), Szalai boasts that same intimidating presence Mellberg had in his prime at Villa Park; and given how quickly he has hit the ground running at Fenerbahce, Villa should feel more confident of his ability to adapt to another high-profile move so early in his career.
The fact that Emre has said the Hungarian has the “loudest voice in training” points to someone who’s a natural-born leader at just 23, and he could add to the kind of vocal presence that Smith already has at the back with Tyrone Mings.