It is impossible to talk to Patson Daka of Red Bull Salzburg without mentioning Erling Braut Haaland, but the prolific striker from Zambia doesn’t mind the comparisons, and his own record speaks for itself.
“They bring positive energy to me. It is also a great motivation and inspiration for me because it shows I am moving in the right direction,” Daka, 22, tells AFP.
“He did great things in this club and he is a good friend to me.
“We helped each other to become better every time in training and in games, so for me it is a responsibility that I embrace, that I love and enjoy, and I take no offence from that comparison.”
Haaland scored 28 times in 22 games last season for Salzburg before joining Borussia Dortmund.
The Norwegian scored eight in the Champions League group stage, but that was not enough to fire the Austrians into the last 16.
On Wednesday they are hoping to take that extra step, although in order to do they must beat Atletico Madrid.
Perhaps Daka, the first Zambian to score a Champions League goal, can be the man to take them there.
In many ways he was eclipsed by Haaland, who came and went from Mozart’s home city in the space of a year.
Daka helped Salzburg win the UEFA Youth League in 2017, the same year he starred for his country at the Under-20 World Cup.
But last season was not just Haaland’s coming of age, it was also when Daka really took off, scoring 27 goals.
He then had 12 in 11 games this season before what he calls “a bad muscle strain” slowed his progress.
– Spotted by Kanoute –
Like Haaland, Daka is the son of a footballer. He jokes that the game was such a part of his life growing up that “maybe at the hospital when I was born I had a football”.
In joining Salzburg he has followed in the footsteps of other African stars like Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Naby Keita of Guinea, and catching the eye of one of the greatest African players of the 21st century helped him make it to Europe.
Former Mali striker Fredi Kanoute, now an agent, spotted Daka in 2015, when he played for Zambia in the African Under-17 and Under-20 championships.
“That was when Kanoute was talking to my manager at that time, who was the owner of Kafue Celtic where I was playing,” Daka says.
“That is how the sporting director contacted me and told me Kanoute had called. I was like: ‘Which Kanoute?! Are we talking about the same Kanoute that I know?!'”
Through Kanoute, Daka ended up having a trial at French club Lille, coached by ex-Zambia boss Herve Renard.
It was unsuccessful, as were trials at Espanyol and in Portugal, but eventually — while away in camp with the Zambian national team — the chance came to go to Austria.
“It was snowing and it was the first time I had seen snow. It was really cold,” he remembers.
“When I was in camp I was just with my shorts and my short-sleeved shirt and I came here and I was freezing.
“I arrived at the academy and the welcome was so overwhelming, and I just felt this was my place.”
Daka is aware of the role both he and Enock Mwepu, his Zambian club colleague, have to play.
“West African players have dominated because they are a bit closer to Europe. Scouts maybe cannot come and look at the players in southern Africa if there are no players representing southern Africa, so we think of the responsibility we are carrying for the southern part of Africa at large.”
Having been among the fans celebrating on the streets when Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012, Daka is desperate to play on that stage himself, but now it is all about that crunch Champions League game against Atletico.
“Everyone understands that the game we are playing on Wednesday is a different kind of ball game,” he says.
“Not everyone expected us to have this game and for it to be like a final. It is a game that will change a lot of things, so we just have to make sure we die a little on the field.”