Leicester City: 'He could follow Mane's route to stardom' - the rise of Patson Daka

By Michael YokhinBBC Sport
Leicester striker Patson Daka
Patson Daka scored 27 goals last season as Red Bull Salzburg lifted the league title

Red Bull Salzburg boast a very impressive list of former players who have gone on to make a major impact in Europe's top leagues.

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Braut Haaland and Liverpool trio Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Takumi Minamino are just a few Salzburg graduates who have established themselves among Europe's elite.

Zambia striker Patson Daka will now hope to become the latest player from the Austrian side to shine on a bigger stage after signing for Leicester on a five-year-deal, thought to be worth £22m, earlier this summer.

Outside of his own country and the Austrian league, where he has been playing since 2017, the 22-year-old arrives as a relative unknown.

But, with 61 goals in all competitions in his past two club seasons, could Daka be the man to share the goalscoring burden that has fallen heavily on Jamie Vardy over the past few seasons at Leicester?

Destined for greatness?

If you ask Daka's former coaches, the new Foxes frontman is destined for greatness.

Chris Kaunda is the man who discovered him and became Daka's first coach back in Zambia.

"I was the director of the Airtel Rising Stars programme that was supposed to find talented kids across the country," Kaunda told BBC Sport.

"We visited all 10 provinces of Zambia in 2012, watched a lot of children and eventually chose 60 young footballers. Patson was the best of them.

"I immediately noticed that he was special. Patson was speedy, powerful, good in the air and could shoot with both feet, even though his right was clearly stronger. He was the most dangerous striker by a distance.

"What makes Patson so special is that he is a quick learner because he is a great listener. He wants to improve all the time and takes notice of all the instructions coaches give him. He is a quiet and modest guy who grew up with his mother. His father died when he was little.

"Patson is charismatic. He has leadership qualities and knows how to organise things. That is why I chose him as my captain for the under-17 national team."

Leicester's new signing Patson Daka
Daka lifted the Airtel Rising Stars tournament trophy in 2013

'Bigger clubs are going to sign him'

Zambia qualified for the 2015 edition of the African Under-17 Championships for the first time, mainly thanks to Daka who scored five goals in four matches against Botswana and Uganda.

At the tournament itself, the striker netted twice and made a very strong impression, even though the team went out at the group stage. When he came back, Power Dynamos - one of the country's most successful clubs - signed him. Red Bull Salzburg scouts also noticed him at that time.

Kaunda added: "Patson just scored everywhere. We went to a tournament in Italy and he netted twice against Brazil, twice against Japan and scored a hat-trick against the United States.

"We won several trophies with him and he hated losing. Once, when we lost in a final on penalties, he started crying. His fighting spirit is fantastic.

"I expected him to become a big star - and Leicester City are just a step on his way up. Remember my words - bigger clubs are going to sign him."

'A phenomenal desire to succeed'

Daka signed for Red Bull Salzburg aged just 17, where he initially played for their reserve team - Liefering - in the second division.

His then manager, Gerhard Struber - currently the New York Red Bulls head coach after a spell at Championship side Barnsley - said: "From the very first second, it was obvious Patson was a great talent, but he also had an incredible attitude.

"He wanted to learn our style of play, with high pressing and quick transition, and worked tirelessly without the ball. When the other team is in possession, he fights like a defender. His desire to succeed and improve is phenomenal.

"Salzburg develop players in a special way and raised a lot of top footballers. Sadio Mane is one of them and Daka's character and attitude are similar to the Liverpool star. Like Mane, he is humble and always works for the team. Patson has no ego.

"Even after several great performances he would never think that he is special. He handles success brilliantly. He is a role model for other players."

It wasn't long before he was promoted to Salzburg's first team and he hasn't stopped scoring goals since, effortlessly replacing Haaland as their man man after the Norwegian moved to Dortmund in January 2020.

He scored 27 goals in 28 appearances last season to help Red Bull Salzburg win their fourth successive Austrian league title - and was named the Austrian Bundesliga's player of the season.

Daka has also scored seven goals in 22 international appearances and was named the Confederation of African Football's Young Player of the Year in 2017.

Struber added: "He knows how to find the right spot and runs there faster than defenders. Then, when he has the ball in a good position, he puts it into the net. He is quick, smart and has a killer instinct. That is the perfect blend.

"Patson is deadly on the counter-attack but now he enjoys possession football as well. His first touch improved significantly and he worked on shooting with his left foot too. His movement is outstanding - and always improving. He should become even better in the future.

"He will be fully dedicated to his new team but he has the ability to go to a top club. He is hungry for trophies and the sky is the limit for him. He could follow Mane's route to superstardom."

Daka arrives in England with 23-year-old friend and compatriot Enock Mwepu - Brighton's new signing - who he played with in Zambia and at Salzburg.

"Patson is quick, powerful, competitive and always wants to win," Mwepu told BBC Sport.

"He is a kind person who likes to smile and laugh, and he definitely has the right character to become a bigger star. If he keeps going like now, he is going to succeed on the big stage."

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