Szmodics: I’m in a purple patch… the best of my career11 December 2023
With some of the talented attacking players in the Championship this season, there aren't many who would have had Sammie Szmodics on their coupon to be leading the scoring charts.
But that is where we find ourselves after 20 games of the 2023/24 campaign, as Blackburn's attacking midfielder enjoys the best form of his career.
"I think I've hit a real purple patch and I'm playing the best football I've ever played," Szmodics tells Sky Sports - having won the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for November.
"That's down to my team-mates and the manager, and I feel like my confidence is high. It's showing in my performances."
But what has changed for the 28-year-old?
Last season, Szmodics scored five in 34 Championship games. In his only other full second-tier campaign for Peterborough the season before, he notched six in 36 - albeit for a struggling team.
This season he has excelled - 14 goals so far. He credits time working with manager Jon Dahl Tomasson as the reason.
"It's understanding how the manager wants to do things and the freedom he allows you to play with," says Szmodics.
"Last season was my first one here and it was all about getting used to a new team. This season there are no excuses. I know exactly what to do, and how he wants me to do it.
"I've taken my form from the end of last season into this one, and long may it continue."
Tomasson was, himself, a great striker. Particularly on the international stage where he became Denmark's joint-record goalscorer with 52 goals.
Szmodics laughs when asked if the boss ever gets his boots on to show them how it is done.
"He leaves it to us guys," the Blackburn midfielder says with a smile. "I've seen him do a couple of passes here and there, but I've not seen him really hit a ball.
"My relationship with him as a coach and man to man is excellent. It has been nice to repay him, because he's shown real trust in me. He allows us to play with so much freedom and it lets you go wherever you want on the pitch.
"It's just the understanding of when and where to do it. This season everything is going well for me and the team. I'm just getting myself into those positions. I've always been a finisher and I always knew I was capable of it at this level.
"We can be so hard to defend against. We create so many chances and I'm fortunate at the moment that every shot I take seems to be going in.
"I really enjoyed the two chips against Birmingham. They were tough finishes. The Ipswich one is probably the best I've had this season, with the angle and the power I've hit it with."
With every goal that Szmodics has scored this season, you can feel his belief increase. He is almost in unchartered territory in terms of his own personal records, but he has no interest in slowing down.
"I wanted 10 at the start, with some assists," he admits. "Fifteen involvements from midfield would have been great. But if someone said I'd be on 14 at this stage, I wouldn't have believed them.
"I'm going to have to re-evaluate in January. Hopefully I can kick on and get to 20. That would be an amazing season for me.
"To get to that would mean everything. The Championship is so tough, but with the confidence and belief I have in myself I really feel I can push on. Who knows what number I can finish on?"
With his exploits have come the burden of responsbility, even more so considering that, even at his age, he is the joint-oldest player at the club.
Szmodics likes to lead by example, on and off the field.
"We lost a lot of the experienced boys in the summer," he says. "Bradley Dack, Ben Brereton Diaz, Daniel Ayala. They were all big characters, so we needed to step up.
"I'm only 28, which is still young! But at this football club there are four of us who are the oldest here at 28. It's such a young team. I feel like I've stepped up as a leader on and away from the pitch, and I enjoy it.
"I'm a very loud character, the manager says that you can probably hear me before you see me! I'm very loud and I love the banter, but when I work, I work.
"I like to think the lads look at the journey I've had from League Two to Championship, and hopefully beyond, and know they can pull me aside if they need advice or for a chat.
"I think I'm quite easy to approach and talk to, but I also set an example on the pitch - to work as hard as you can when you cross that white line.
"People always talk to me about my work-rate. But I don't work harder than anyone in this team, it maybe just shows up more because of where I am on the pitch."
Blackburn harboured genuine play-off hopes last season, but a run of just one win - which came on the final day - in their final nine games eventually cost them.
Szmodics hopes that, with the club well-placed, they can last the course this time around and push into that top six. With that, a dream rise to the Premier League - which would be remarkable, considering he was still playing for Colchester in League Two in 2019.
"We've got a good mix here, and I think we can go one step further," he says. "But maybe we need a bit more of that horribleness embedded into us when things aren't going our way.
"We need that bit of consistency, but we know we're capable of keeping clean sheets and scoring goals.
"It's everyone's dream to play in the Premier League, and I still believe I can. I'd be stupid to be sat here and not believe I could play at that level.
"I'd love it to be with Blackburn. I've just got to keep scoring and doing well, and the future will take care of itself."
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