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Salzburg arrive at Anfield as supreme finders and polishers of diamonds

first_imgLiverpool Facebook Twitter Share on Pinterest Amadou Haidara, the RB Leipzig midfielder who arrived at Salzburg straight from Mali, is an example of a player who has progressed via this route to one of Europe’s biggest leagues. They have a special handle on the African market but the form of Erling Braut Haaland, the brilliant Norwegian striker who scored a hat-trick on their group stage debut against Genk, and the 18-year-old Hungary midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai demonstrate that their tentacles are well embedded closer to home. The latter spent a brilliant season and a half at Liefering after joining from MTK Budapest; he has not looked back since his promotion to the first team last season and will be scouted by most of the continent’s leading lights when he plays Liverpool.Mwepu’s brother Francisco, a physical striker whom Kawanu likens to Romelu Lukaku, has spent time on trial at Salzburg but remains at Kafue Celtics for now. Kawanu hopes others follow and says nearly two decades of work in Zambian football have been made worthwhile by the fact local players can legitimately dream of the steps Daka and Mwepu may take on Wednesday. Red Bull may be a grindingly familiar name but its first football club is approaching the Champions League by taking the unknown more seriously than anyone else. Share on Messenger Pinterest Jürgen Klopp puts his faith in Anfield roar to silence Salzburg’s attack Read more “If you look at Zambia’s example, very few people know our league is one of the better ones in Africa – more organised and higher paid than most of the west African leagues for example,” Kawanu says. “But when someone like Frédéric says, ‘There are two boys here you really should look at’, Salzburg will be straight on the plane to have a close look. I do think they make an effort to look where others might not; they are interested in the talent rather than the name of where the players come from.”Daka, a 20-year-old striker, has scored six league goals this season while the 21-year-old midfielder Mwepu, a lifelong Liverpool fan, has played his way into contention for involvement at Anfield. Both players arrived in 2017. Like most of Salzburg’s young arrivals from smaller leagues, they were road-tested at what the club calls “co-operation players” in loan spells at FC Liefering, a second division club that essentially works as a feeder operation.“There are two key parts from our perspective: the way they scout and the way they handle players,” Kawanu says. “They are quite direct and hands-on in how they deal with the boys, and really honest. I think that’s a unique way of doing things. Most European clubs are strictly about results: you get the player there and they have to perform. Salzburg come to Africa, watch the boys play, meet their parents; they make such an effort. We’re talking about the head scout and team manager coming all the way to do that. I think it’s what makes them stand out.” Share on WhatsApp Share via Email Red Bull Salzburg Share on Twitter When Lee Kawanu knew Red Bull Salzburg were keen to sign two of his best young players, he was happy to wait. Plenty of established European giants had made big offers for Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu but the owner of Kafue Celtics, in Zambia’s second tier, knew there was something more suitable in the pipeline. The Austrian champions had been trailing the pair, who were stars for their country at Under-20 level, for some time and Kawanu had heard enough to believe that, if the interest became concrete, this was the move they should hold out for.In the end it materialised. “I just loved the way their setup is, how their scouts work, the way the management treats the players,” Kawanu said of the visit he subsequently made to confirm his impression. “It was fantastic, so I felt it was the perfect place for my boys to develop.” The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email. features Share on Facebook Salzburg celebrate a 6-2 victory over Genk in their opening Champions League group game. Photograph: Krugfoto/AFP/Getty Images Kawanu is hardly alone in that. While Salzburg’s corporate trappings and position in the wider Red Bull empire may not make them cuddliest proposition for football romantics, many inside the game would say their approach to spotting and nurturing young talent from across the globe sets a standard. The squad that walks out at Anfield on Wednesday night will be one of the youngest, most diverse and most meticulously assembled in top-level football. It is likely to include the two Zambians, two Malians, a Cameroonian, a South Korean, a Bosnian, a Norwegian, a Hungarian, a Dane, a Frenchman and a Japanese; everyone on that list is aged between 18 and 24, and their presence in the Champions League marks a triumph for a system that is virtually peerless in leaving no stone unturned.Against Liverpool they will come up against two of their highest-profile successes in Sadio Mané and – fitness permitting – Naby Keïta. Those two players were 20 and 19 respectively when they arrived in Austria, having made their professional debuts in France. They are rightly the poster boys for young African players who want to make it in Europe, and serve as shining examples for the role Salzburg perform like few others: polishing young talents and creating stars.But the club’s reach goes much further than Metz or Istres. Much of their present-day work in Africa is conducted with the help of Frédéric Kanouté, the former West Ham and Tottenham player, and his agency, 12 Management. They brokered the deals that took Daka and Mwepu to Salzburg, and also brought the thrillingly gifted Malian forward Sékou Koïta from USC Kita in his home country. The relationship gives Salzburg access to places other clubs have long neglected or simply passed over, opening up pathways from African domestic football to a high level in Europe that had become vanishingly rare. 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