Red Bull Salzburg have an impressive track record when it comes to moulding talented young players. Sadio Mane, Erling Haaland, Dominik Szoboszlai and Karim Adeyemi all honed their skills at the Austrian club before stepping onto the elite stage – and Oscar Gloukh has every chance of following in their footsteps.
At just 19 years of age, Gloukh is being heralded as one of the brightest prospects in Europe, and for good reason. The former Maccabi Tel Aviv attacker, who is already a full Israel international, has made an instant impact at Red Bull Arena under the tutelage of Gerhard Struber – showing a maturity belying his young age.
Gloukh is putting himself on the map with his outstanding performances for Salzburg, with Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal all being credited with an interest in his services ahead of the January transfer window. But what exactly is it that makes the teenager so special? GOALtakes a look below…
Where it all began
Gloukh was born in the City of Rehovot, 12 miles outside of Tel Aviv. His father, Maxim, emigrated from Russia to Israel as a 13-year-old, and did not encourage his son’s love of football initially.
As a five-year-old, Oscar would take part in four-on-four matches against boys twice his age to sharpen his skills. Maxim eventually accepted an invitation to watch Oscar in action, and quickly realised that he had a unique talent he could no longer ignore.
“I spent every day, all the time I had in the street playing with friends. I was really small and really young,” Gloukh said in a recent interview with the Daily Mail. “When I was five, my father didn’t want me to be a professional footballer. He was told he needed to see me play and he came along. He was surprised. He said to me: ‘If we want to go in on this, we need to go 100 per cent, all in’.”
Gloukh would go on to earn a place in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s academy and play for Israel from Under-16s all the way through to U21 level. He was able to back up his immense talent with hard work, which led to him making his senior debut at the age of 17 – in August 2021.
Maccabi Tel Aviv couldn’t mark the occasion with a victory, as they were knocked out of the Israeli Toto Cup on penalties by Hapoel Jerusalem, but Gloukh made a lasting impression after coming on as a 62nd-minute substitute and converted his spot-kick in the shootout.
The big break
Gloukh had to bide his time for a chance to shine in the Israeli Premier League, but it finally came in April 2022 against his club’s fiercest rivals, Maccabi Haifa. Maccabi Tel Aviv fans were soon cheering whenever the teenager got on the ball as he constantly made himself available and took it upon himself to drive his team forward. And with only 28 minutes on the clock, Gloukh was the man who forced the breakthrough.
After receiving a pass on the edge of the box, the diminutive attacker sidestepped his marker with ease and set himself before letting fly, and his fierce effort found it’s way into the back of the net with the help of a fortunate deflection. That goal very nearly secured a huge victory for Tel Aviv, but Tjaronn Cherry ultimately spoiled the party with an equaliser for the visitors in second-half stoppage time.
Still, the pressure of a derby clash in front of a capacity crowd at Bloomfield Stadium hadn’t fazed Gloukh in the slightest. Quizzed on the difference between playing academy football and making his maiden first-team appearance in such a hostile atmosphere, he told reporters after the game: “For me, it is the same — you just have more people in the stands and afterwards you asked me to speak on TV!”
It’s that level of composure, and indeed arrogance, that can often separate the very best players from their peers. Gloukh used those tools to great effect for Israel a couple of months later at the U19 European Championships, scoring three goals in five appearances. He even won the Goal of the Tournament prize for his effort in the final against England, as he deceived two defenders in the box with his sublime close-quarter dribbling skills before firing the ball low into the bottom corner of the net. Israel ended up losing the game 3-1, but Gloukh had announced himself to a global audience.
Scouts then started to attend Gloukh’s games regularly in the first half of the 2022-23 season, and a big move became inevitable as he recorded 12 goal contributions in his first 17 league appearances for Tel Aviv while breaking into Israel’s senior squad.
Sure enough, Salzburg swooped for his services in the winter transfer window, snapping him up for €7 million on a four-and-a-half year contract. It would turn out out to be one of the bargain deals of the entire year.
How it’s going
Salzburg were not the only club to make a move for Gloukh. La Liga giants Barcelona had also been keeping tabs on the youngster, and made a late January swoop for his services. Gloukh did not pursue a last-minute change in career path, though, having already decided that Salzburg was the best place for him to unlock his full potential. “I was very excited that (Barcelona) wanted me, but they were late for the bidding and came back when we had already closed the Salzburg deal,” he said. “In the end, I think we made the right decision to go to Salzburg and not to Barcelona. It makes more sense for my development as a player.”
Matthias Jaissle didn’t throw Gloukh into his matchday squad at Salzburg until mid-February, but he gradually found his feet and scored his first goal for the club in a 3-0 Austrian Bundesliga victory over Klagenfurt on April 2. The Israeli star doubled his account in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Austria Vienna the following week, and ultimately helped the the club clinch their 10th-successive domestic crown.
Former Austria Vienna and Borussia Dortmund boss Peter Stoger was among those to praise Gloukh for his instant impact at Red Bull Arena, telling Sky Germany: “This is an extraordinary player. From the category of someone who can assess situations very well and has quick solutions. Also for his age, there’s a lot in there. He’s an exciting boy. I would be surprised if he doesn’t bring a lot of money into Salzburg’s coffers in the next few years. I think he can have a really great career.”
Israel included Gloukh in their U21 European Championship squad in the summer, and he spearheaded their run to the semi-finals. He tasted defeat against England once again, but caught the eye with a number of magical moments in the 3-0 loss, and has gone up another level since returning to his club.
Gloukh made his Champions League debut in Salzburg’s first group-stage outing of the 2023-24 season against Benfica, and scored early in the second half to round of a surprise away victory – becoming the youngest Israeli player to ever score in the competition in the process.
Salzburg, who drafted in Gerhard Struber as their new manager after Jaissle’s summer exit, were unable to build on that result, with Real Sociedad beating them 2-0 at Red Bull Arena before home and away losses against Inter. But Gloukh was the man who gave them brief hope of progress once again on matchday three at San Siro as he cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’ opening goal with a sublime equaliser in the 57th minute, curling an unstoppable first-time shot into the top corner after a lung-busting effort to get into the box.
The Salzburg talisman also has two goals and three assists to his name in the Austrian Bundesliga already in 2023-24, which explains why he is now being strongly linked with a move to the Premier League.
Gloukh is such a nightmare for defenders because he is great with both feet and comfortable playing in a variety of different positions. The Israel starlet tends to do the most damage in a No.10 role, but can also operate as a false nine, traditional centre-midfielder or even as a winger.
It’s impossible to pin him down, and he has a knack for occupying small pockets of space to pick up the ball and drive forward. Gloukh dribbles with a low centre of gravity, too, which allows him to change direction quickly and unbalance his opponents.
There is no doubt that Salzburg have one of the most exciting players in European football on their hands. There are very few players with a footballing IQ as high as Gloukh’s, in and out possession, and there is no limit to what he can achieve if he continues on his current trajectory.
“He presents a great learning curve. He’s a high-profile player and he understands how he’s supposed to play without the ball. We’re very pleased with his development,” Struber told Sport5 in October.
Room for improvement
Of course, there is still a long way to go before Gloukh can reach the very top of the game. A player that isn’t due to turn 20 until April cannot be considered as even close to the finished article.
Gloukh can certainly improve his output in the final third, and there are times when he loses concentration defensively. He doesn’t always track back and could certainly be more aggressive when pressing high up the pitch. It will also be necessary for him to work on his decision-making against teams playing with a low block, as he can be guilty of holding onto the ball too long and missing simple passes to team-mates in better positions.
Gloukh also acknowledges that he lacks strength in one-on-one duels. He told The Mail when quizzed on his the toughest opponent he’s faced: “[Nicolas] Barella. He is small, but he is so strong. You can’t move him, and he doesn’t lose the ball… It was crazy for me. It gave me the will to work harder on my physique. To match up to those guys, to dominate them.”
The next… Paulo Dybala?
Struber has expressed his belief that Gloukh can follow in the footsteps of Mane and Haaland by going on to enjoy a great career at the very highest level of European football. But he doesn’t have much in common with those two players in terms of his style of play.
Gloukh won’t thank anyone for the comparison, but the way he moves with the ball is not dissimilar to a certain Lionel Messi, and he also boasts the same turn of pace that made the Barcelona legend so devastating in his prime.
It is, however, unlikely that Gloukh will ever match up to the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner in the goalscoring stakes. He has more in common with Messi’s Argentine team-mate Paulo Dybala, one of the most elusive and unpredictable No.10s in the recent history of Serie A.
Arsenal’s Martin Odegaard also has similar attributes to Gloukh, especially in terms of technique and vision. The Salzburg man certainly has the same cool temperament as all three men, and it will be fascinating to see if he can make a similar mark in the coming years.
What comes next?
If Gloukh does indeed step up to one of Europe’s top clubs in the near future, there is one that will have an advantage over all the rest in any bidding war. The talented teenager is a huge Real Madrid supporter, which may go some way to explaining why he rejected Barcelona at the start of the year.
“I have been a Madrid fan since I can remember. My biggest dream is to play at the Bernabeu with the Real shirt. It would be the pinnacle for me,” Gloukh said in a recent interview with Forbes.
For now, though, he is in the best place to advance his game. Salzburg can offer Gloukh regular minutes week in, week out, and he’s improving at a rapid rate under the stewardship of Struber. It wouldn’t be wise for Gloukh to rush into another winter transfer. His stock will only keep rising at Salzburg, especially if they can seal third place in their Champions League group to qualify for the Europa League knockout stages. Next summer will be the ideal time for Gloukh to evaluate his options. And if the right offer is forthcoming, he could then properly begin his journey on the elite stage.
“The greatest talent of Israeli football today is, of course, Oscar Gloukh,” former Maccabi Haifa academy coach Luis Vicente Mateo told Sport5 last year. It’s fair to say that Gloukh is now among the greatest talents of his entire generation, not just in Israel. Red Bull have done it again.