From Reading to Pas-De-calais: The Formidable Rise of Austria’s Kevin Danso

The story of Kevin Danso is one of grit and determination – from his early years in Austria and Milton Keynes to the present day in France, the powerful defender has overcome much adversity in scaling the professional football ranks and becoming a regular name for Ralf Rangnick’s impressive Austrian national team. 


As a promising 20-year-old who struggled to make a mark at Southampton, leaving many questioning his long-term suitability at the highest level of the game, Ligue 1 has witnessed him grow into a dominant player – one who has reportedly attracted the gaze of domestic giants Paris Saint-Germain. 



But before waxing lyrical about the player we see today, it is imperative to understand the road he has taken and the various challenges that have shaped one of Europe’s most impressive defenders as he continues to grow at the heart of Lens’ defence. 


The Early Years 


Born in Voitsberg, a small city in the district of Styria, Austria, on September 19, 1998, Danso spent six years with his Ghanaian parents in the country of his birth before departing for England with the promise of a more advantageous upbringing. At an early age, his love for the sport was quickly recognised, with his talents taken to Reading to begin his journey. Like many notable names today, he initially started his career as a striker before moving further back to harness his abilities. 


His progression accelerated rapidly, attracting the attention of several scouts across the region. He joined up with the youth system of Milton Keynes Dons and worked on developing his defensive arsenal and physical stature to compete against older competition. Inevitably, a string of commendable performances throughout the various youth ranks gained both local and international momentum. At 16, he answered the monumental call of Bundesliga outfit FC Augsburg. 


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While it was not uncommon for German sides to monitor the underage leagues of Engish football in 2014, the Austrian International was amongst the most sought-after teenagers in the country. The move presented an opportunity to test himself with their reserve side, FC Augsburg II, and his growth continued to gather acclaim with every passing week. The defender excelled at Regionalliga Bayern – before receiving the desired call to join the first team. 


Senior Debut and Premier League Arrival 


At 18 years and 165 days, Danso would make his Bundesliga debut, becoming the youngest player to make a league appearance in the club’s proud history. Featuring in a back three along with veteran Gojko Kačar and Martin Hinteregger, the teen would play 90 minutes in a 2-2 draw with RB Leipzig, earning a four-year senior contract one week later.


He would make seven appearances throughout a campaign where his side finished 13th in the table. With every passing fixture, his confidence increased, seeing his first-team exposure grow to 16 outings the following season and 21 during the 2018/19 15th-place finish. Now, at 21, his stature had risen dramatically, with Premier League side Southampton offering the chance to return to the Country where he spent ten years of his life. 


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He arrived at Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side on deadline day in August 2019, having realised a life-long ambition to play for a Premier League side. The move came as a season-long loan, with an opportunity for a permanent transfer at the end of the campaign. The ambitious player, armed with years of preparation, was primed to grab the challenge by the scruff of the neck and solidify his name in sitting rooms across the globe. What occurred was something that he had not factored into the equation. 


Agony at Old Trafford 


As is often the case on deadline day, Danso arrived late in the window without kicking a ball during pre-season. Supporters of the former FA Cup winners were licking their lips at the prospect of their highly-rated recruit, hoping his presence at the heart of defence would provide a launchpad for a successful campaign. What transpired was anything but – with a catalogue of painful moments that led to the most disappointing of spells for the talented Austrian. 


Having rejected offers from Serie A to take his shot at the Premier League, supporters were left perplexed as he regularly featured out of position. He began on the left side of defence in a role that he was unfamiliar with. After several weeks, he was moved to the right side in a fixture against Bournemouth, cutting the figure of a frustrated individual. With struggles mounting, he took refuge in the company of his childhood friends, later admitting that he lacked the same focus he was known for in Germany. 


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With playing time dwindling and morale at an all-time low, he would endure the ultimate agony of an Old Trafford dismissal during a 1-1 draw with Manchester United on August 31, 2019. Despite understanding the difficulties faced with limited minutes in unfamiliar playing positions, several segments of supporters were questioning his value to the squad. 


The COVID-19 pandemic spelled the end to football across the continent and an end to life in England for the talented central defender. Making ten appearances for Hasenhuttl’s side, his confidence had deteriorated, and he sought a psychologist to aid in overcoming a tumultuous period. Before his Southampton move, he knew nothing other than an upward trajectory. For the first time in his short career, he had to overcome mental adversity with a test of character to come.


The Road Back 


While many would look to diminish the negative experience endured, Danso used this as fuel to surge towards a retrieval to form. A return to Germany beckoned as he opted to experience Bundesliga 2 with Fortuna Düsseldorf. Making 33 appearances during his loan, he achieved Man of the Match ten times, as he aided in his side’s commendable fifth-placed finish. 


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His form, potential and talents again attracted suitors from across the globe, with offers coming from multiple sides throughout the ‘big five’ leagues. The allure of Ligue 1 represented a tantalising opportunity, with RC Lens sealing his signature on a five-year deal. In just twelve months, the boy from the small city of Voitsberg had gone from warming the benches across England to facing the star-studded lineup of PSG. 


The 2021-22 campaign signalled a fresh start, and with 36 appearances across all competitions, he enjoyed a stellar debut season in helping his side to a seventh-placed finish – missing out on European football by a meagre four points. Les Sang et Or adored their new son and watched in marvel as he grew in stature with each passing performance. 


His second season bore witness to a mammoth figure in defence, one that inspired his teammates to new heights and performances that the partisan support has not witnessed since the title-winning campaign of 1997-98. A second-placed finish brought the title race down to the final day, with Les Rouges-et-Bleus claiming the honour by a single point. Despite the disappointment, Danso would be honoured as the league’s best defender for his efforts throughout a memorable period for the club. 


Present Day 


At 25, we continue to see measurable growth from game to game. The man who embraces his multicultural identity is but scratching the surface of his potential. Despite his side’s struggles in front of goal, his performances have aided in memorable victories against Sevilla and Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League. 



In many ways, he embodies so many traits of a modern centre-back. While defence is his primary goal, he has grown considerably with his passing ability and strength in carrying the ball through attacking presses and aiding his side to launch through transitions. His skill set goes beyond statistical notions and represents the story of hard work and sheer dedication to fulfilling his dream. 


His consistency has reportedly attracted attention from the perennial powerhouse in Paris. While a move is not yet confirmed – with Lens unwilling to negotiate mid-season, the sheer prospect is the ultimate flattery for the player. He has aspirations to reach the very pinnacle of the game, and with the potential of donning the prestigious colours of PSG, Danso would move one step closer to fulfilling that quest.


Whatever the future holds for this well-travelled defender, his story represents a combination of ambition, determination, and a remarkable drive that has the potential to leave a memorable mark on the footballing landscape. Kevin Danso is here to stay, and many believe his next move will propel his status as one of the finest central defenders in world football. As a keen supporter of the game, I truly admire his growth and unwavering desire to succeed. One can only wonder if he will seek retribution in the competitive landscape of the Premier League. 


By: Shaun Connolly / @shaunconnolly85

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Franco Arland – Getty Images

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