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Benjamin Sesko: Salzburg wonderkid already being dubbed 'Mini-Haaland'

Though Red Bull Salzburg was not the club which first developed Erling Haaland, for many fans, they will always be the team with whom they associate the striker's first steps towards superstardom.

It was with Salzburg that Haaland first emerged into the consciousness of the wider footballing family, with his run of 28 goals in 22 games at the start of the 2019-20 campaign catapulting him to global fame.

Haaland, of course, has gone on to achieve bigger and better things at Borussia Dortmund, and it will not be long before he makes another move to one of the game's true superpowers.

Back at Salzburg, though, they are now close to unleashing a new striker into the world that they themselves have been working on over the past two seasons.

That striker is Benjamin Sesko, a player many are already dubbing 'Mini-Haaland'.

Standing at 6'4" (193cm), powerfully built and with electric pace, all that had been missing from Sesko's game since he arrived at Salzburg from his native Slovenia in 2019 had been goals.

But after a run of games in the Austrian second division through April and May that saw him net 13 times in just six matches, there is a feeling around the Red Bull Arena that the 18-year-old is ready to step into Haaland's shoes in 2021-22.

"Such comparisons motivate me and give me energy," Sesko told reporters in his homeland when asked about being likened to Haaland. "They do not represent pressure. I will listen and learn so I can be even better than he is.

"My team-mates at the club tell me that Haaland and I are very similar, especially in terms of speed. Most of them even tell me that I'm better than him!"

That is quite some statement, but Sesko has certainly shown through his youth career that he has what it takes to go to the very top.

After beginning his football education in his hometown of Radece, he first appeared on the radar in Slovenia when scoring 59 goals in just 23 games for second division outfit Krsko's Under-15s in 2017-18.

That earned him a move to two-time champions NK Domzale, but a year later far bigger clubs came calling, with Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax among those who showed an interest in signing Sesko during the summer of 2019.

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Salzburg, though, won the race for his signature, paying around €2.5 million (£2.2m/$2.8m) to secure Sesko's services.

"We had a lot of offers from really big clubs," his agent, Elvis Basanovic, told SPOX at the time. "Had we decided on the money, Benjamin would have moved to England or Italy. But we decided to look at the bigger picture and the Salzburg project.

"The biggest clubs in Europe tried to get him. The interest in him was huge; I have never seen anything like it before.

"Salzburg has given Benjamin a path. Here, he can develop. The people in charge really wanted him, which was important to us. Here he also has a greater chance of playing for the first team sooner or later.

"Benjamin is one of the greatest talents of his age group in Europe. He has an incredible body, is tall, fast, has great jumping ability, is technically gifted and his greatest strength is his finishing."

That finishing ability was not quite on show during his first year in Salzburg, despite netting twice in a 7-2 win over Napoli in the UEFA Youth League.

Playing alongside a host of other young talents for Salzburg's sister club FC Liefering in the Austrian second tier, he scored just once in 15 appearances as he struggled to get to grips with playing against adults as a 16-year-old.

Things, though, have gone differently for him over the course of the most recent campaign, as he finished the season with 21 goals and six assists across his 29 appearances for Liefering.

And though the majority of his goals came during that remarkable run towards the back-end of the season, his form earlier in the campaign did earn him a first-team debut as an 87th-minute substitute against Hartberg in January.

Only six players have made their senior bows for Salzburg at a younger age since Red Bull's takeover in 2005, with that group including the likes of Dayot Upamecano and Dominik Szboboszlai, meaning Sesko is in good company, despite that being his only appearance to date.

Sesko has begun to make his mark at international level, though, and made history as the youngest player to ever represent Slovenia when he made his debut against North Macedonia the day after his 18th birthday in June.

That is likely to be the first of many caps, particularly if those Haaland comparisons come to fruition.

Certainly, Sesko seems to possess a similar physical profile to the Norway international, while any questions over his eye for goal seem to have been answered in recent months.

The teenager has the pace to match too, with his top speed having been clocked at 36.1km/hour against FC Dorrnbirn in April. To put that in context, that is almost identical to the speed Kylian Mbappe reaches when at full tilt!

Where he perhaps differs from Haaland, though, is his willingness to play with his back to goal and drop deeper, so as to be more involved in build-up play, with his quick feet at times belying his stature.

"I would say that Benjamin is just Benjamin Sesko. He is different. Many compare him to Haaland, but I think they are different types of players," Basanovic told Zurnal 24. "They are similar in physical construction and speed, but they are different players.

"Benjamin is more of a team player. He is maybe better technically with his skills, but Haaland is a bit more wild with his energy, in a positive sense.

"He (Sesko) remains a humble, hard-working boy. I would not want to put any extra pressure on him. He is still a young boy and there is still a lot ahead of him."

Immediately ahead of Sesko looks likely to be a permanent promotion to the Salzburg first team, with new manager Matthias Jaissle having coached the youngster during his time in charge of Liefering.

And while it is unlikely that he will be able to make the same immediate impact as Haaland, there are hopes after his recent run that he can at least be a strong alternative off the bench for Jaissle.

Europe's top clubs will be watching, too, with Sesko about to enter the final year of his contract.

And so while many believe Haaland to be a once-in-a-generation talent, Salzburg hope that is not the case.

'Mini-Haaland' is ready to show what he is capable of.