The Next Håland? Why Salzburg’s Patson Daka may be on the radar of Europe’s top clubs (and rightly so)

“In this post, I will focus on examining the impressive stats being generated by Daka this season (2019-2020) at RB Salzburg.”

There is a story I like to tell – a story about a golden generation of young footballers that suddenly emerged from the ashes of a crumbling football nation.

In March 2017, on their own soil, an incredibly talented Zambian side restored their entire nation’s faith in football when they won the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations. It’s hard to single out a player from that team who I would deem the most talented but if I had to, I’d most certainly say Patson Daka.

Image result for national heroes stadium full
National Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia where the Zambia U-20 team won the 2017 AFCON

Daka finished as joint top scorer at that 2017 AFCON (4 goals) and was also crowned as the player of the competition. The Zambian triumph at the tournament also earned the team a spot at the 2017 U-20 World Cup. This time, another Zambian player – Fashion Sakala – caught the eye by scoring a total of 4 goals (the same number as player of the tournament, England’s Dominic Solanke). Daka only scored 2 goals at this tournament and his Zambian side were knocked out in a tight quarter-final against Italy. Still, I knew that it was only a matter of time before clubs from abroad would coming knocking for some of those young Zambian talents, especially Daka.

Having previously played for FC Liefering (RB Salzburg’s feeder club), Daka was soon signed by Salzburg. He then went on to win the 2016-17 UEFA Youth League with the club, scoring in both the semi-final and final against Barcelona and Benfica respectively. This achievement, as well as Daka’s 2017 CAF Youth Player of the Year award, are impressive to say the least. However, due to the limited sample size and lack of available data, I will not be focusing on Daka’s youth or international team stats. In this post, I will focus only on examining the impressive stats being generated by Daka this season (2019-2020) at RB Salzburg.

*Goals and assists

From 29 appearances this season, Daka has scored 18 goals and contributed 5 assists (all competitions). You might say, “That’s pretty decent” but looking at these stats alone is actually fairly misleading. Jesse Marsch’s Salzburg are a team that tends to frequently rotate players. As a result, Daka has only played 58.7% of Salzburg’s total minutes in the league this season. A more useful metric, thus, is minutes per goal. Daka has played a total of 1539 mins so far this season. His min/goal is 85.5 mins. When we look at his minutes per goal contribution (goals + assists), the value goes down to 66.9 mins.

While Daka’s numbers certainly look impressive even on their own, I thought that they would be more meaningful in comparison to a couple of other players’ stats. Daka’s former teammate and now famed Dortmund star, Erling Håland, played 20 games this season for Salzburg in which he scored 24 goals and contributed 5 assists (all competitions). He played 1359 minutes and thus his minutes per goal was 56.6 mins while his minutes per goal contribution was 46.9 minutes. Evidently, his stats (especially minutes per goal) were significantly better than Daka’s, though the Zambian international was not too far off in all honesty.

I also compared Daka to the league’s current top goalscorer – Shon Weissman of Wolfsberger AC. In 27 appearances, Weissman has scored 24 goals and contributed 2 assists. He has played 2339 minutes so far this season and thus his minutes per goal is 97.5 mins while his minutes per goal contribution is 90 mins.

Weissman’s stats are fairly impressive, yes. But both Daka’s minutes/goal and minutes/goal contribution are significantly better. The difference in minutes/goal contribution between Daka and Håland is 10.3 mins in favour of Håland. In contrast, the difference in minutes/goal contribution between Daka and Weissman is 23.1 in favour of Daka. (That’s my lesson of the day: There is much more to the scoring charts than “Who’s got the most goals?”). Of course, we should be wary of the fact that we’re dealing with relatively small sample sizes here and thus any conclusions we make may be skewed by random variation (aka luck).

*Stats used in this section were collected from fbref.com and are correct as of 3/22/2020

*Shots and shots on target

So far this season, Daka has generated about 4.33 shots per 90, slightly less than Håland’s 4.84 but more than Weissman’s 3.87. I’m not sure how much this means to be honest, but Daka has had the highest shots on target percentage of the three players with 55.4% (while Håland and Weissman have 49.1% and 55.1% respectively). I will not do much analysis of this data because I suspect, especially in light of more advanced stats like xG, it is much more noise than signal. But I thought it’d just be nice to mention in case someone comes up with an interesting interpretation of it.

*Stats used in this section were collected from fbref.com and are correct as of 3/22/2020

xG

If you read this blog, you’re probably sick of hearing about xG but it’s a useful stat and I felt I needed to use it. If you are unfamiliar with xG, please read about it here first. I’d also just like to point out that finding (free) xG data for the Austrian Bundesliga is probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.

Anyway, here is a table of some data I found that compares, among other stats, the xG values of Salzburg’s strikers (only in the league and at the time of Håland’s departure):

Source: Totalfootballanalysis.com (really, thanks to whoever works here. the real MVPs!)

As you can see in the table, only Håland amassed a better xG per 90 than Daka. Interestingly, Daka’s goals per 90 is 0.46 higher than his xG per 90 (for Håland, it is 0.47 higher). This suggests that Daka is scoring at a rate higher than expected. In other words, he is a pretty good finisher. While it’s still important to keep in mind that this is a relatively small data sample, xG stats like this are certainly eye-catching.

Football manager (yes, the video game)

I can imagine that there’ll be some doubting the credibility of this blog or/and unsubscribing when they see us making use of a video game as a serious statistical source. But I’ll make my case: first of all, Football Manager is more than just a video game to some of us. Secondly, Football Manager data is actually used by some professional clubs and about 1,300 scouts around the world compile the data for the game. With that said, here’s Daka’s stats on the latest version of the game (FM 2020):

Tried to sign him in my Aston Villa save but he turned me down (repeatedly)

Interestingly, Daka’s highest stats are his “off the ball” ability, “acceleration” and “determination”. The scout who determined these stats seems to think that Daka is more than just a goalscorer: he is also a quick, intelligent player. If I had to sum up my opinion of Daka from the times I’ve watched him, that’s probably what I’d say too. In fact a paragraph in an article I read explained it all so well:

“Daka is a Jamie Vardy-type striker who thrives at attacking space in behind and is a cold-blooded finisher in 1v1s with the goalkeeper as he is also able to execute elaborate chips or finish from impossible angles.”

So, perhaps Daka is not the next Håland but instead, as a better comparison of playing style, the next Jamie Vardy. Either way, I suspect that clubs in Europe’s top 5 leagues are already looking at the Salzburg striker. On the basis of the stats discussed in this article (which I plan to revisit at the end of the season), I’d say a big move for the 21 year old Zambian phenomenon would be far from surprising.

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