The Cult of the individual

It goes without saying that Roberto De Zerbi is doing a fantastic job at the Albion, with the team currently sitting 6th in the Premier League table and picking up a number of notable scalps of late.

Since he joined the club, the team have been maintaining a level of performance that could see it qualify for Europe, a feat unprecedented in Albion’s 122-year history.

But that being said, the rather excessive level of devotion to the club’s new manager from day one has been rather striking.

There is a flag with his face on it that has covered the North stand pre-match at the AMEX since his arrival, whilst the unanimous acclaim for everything he said and did was practically instantaneous. It’s almost cult-like and makes me feel a tad uncomfortable.

He’s the manager of our club, so us Albion fans will support him, that’s a given. Especially during periods of success such as this. That said, plenty of managers have been taken to heart by the Albion faithful in the Bloom era and that devotion has been quickly transferred to the next incumbent.

If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s not to overvalue the impact of individual staff. When Graham Potter left many were panicked and thought it might spell the end of Albion’s progress, but the club have gone from strength to strength.

After all, the club was already doing very well before De Zerbi’s arrival. Under Tony Bloom’s ownership there has been a near continuous period of progression. In my eyes, De Zerbi’s managerial reign is the next chapter in that progression.

This success has been built on Tony Bloom and the board’s leadership, strategy and vision. Of primary importance to that strategy is its recruitment policy and more recently, its succession planning, which has been seriously tested.

Each manager has come in and fulfilled their brief, continuing the progression from where Tony Bloom’s ownership began, as League One relegation battlers, up to where the club is now, as Premier League European place challengers. At the time, many of his predecessors had felt indispensable, but with time we can now see that they were far from it.

Bloom’s first managerial appointment Gus Poyet, professionalised the culture and transformed attitudes, both on and off the pitch, nearly taking the club into the Premier League in the space of three and a half years.

Oscar Garcia, then took that good work on and continued the club’s push for promotion, whilst maintaining the team’s entertaining football. But again, the club narrowly missed out in the playoffs.

Chris Hughton later came in and finally took the club to that next level. Creating a consistent promotion worthy side that went onto maintain topflight status for two consecutive seasons.

Most recently Graham Potter then came in and took a team that was just about managing in the topflight and transformed it to one that was mixing it with the best. Achieving a club record-breaking ninth placed finish last season, along with the club’s first ever wins away against Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton and Aston Villa along the way.

Roberto De Zerbi is now next in line; his job is arguably the hardest. To take Albion to that next step. A step unprecedented in Albion history, establish it among the top ten and challenge for Europe. It’s still early days, but so far so good.

Alongside all the recent on-pitch success, I can see why De Zerbi has garnered such a dedicated following. As in addition to his obvious coaching talents, he is an enigmatic personality. And that goes beyond his wild and emotive touchline celebrations.

In his pre-Bournemouth press conference, De Zerbi made a point of saying he was being “honest” in his comments about Moises Caicedo. Not for the first time explicitly stating his sincerity, and you can feel that sincerity in his words.

There were some pointed and firm comments from De Zerbi that day too: “I spoke a different way for the other players, but for Moises it is different. We need the performance of Moises… and I don’t want to listen to criticism.”

I suspect it’s partly as a consequence of speaking (and only recently learning) English as a second language, but he doesn’t mince his words. He certainly did speak differently about Trossard, who claimed De Zerbi “humiliated” him after he stated Trossard left training before it was finished without permission, adding: “I explained this attitude [and] behaviour, I don’t like.”

It was level of criticism that led to Trossard’s representatives putting out an equally firm rebuttal of their own, criticising De Zerbi’s treatment of the Belgian international.

And yet, despite it being only a few months after Trossard scored that iconic hat-trick at Anfield and that he still remains the team’s top scorer so far this season, it was De Zerbi who has received unwavering support from the fans rather than the Belgian international.

In part, because in a world of media training and evading the question, De Zerbi’s attitude with the media is very refreshing. And also, because he was on the right side of the argument in us supporters’ eyes, being the loyal party to the club over personal ambition.

But we shouldn’t forget that, just as appears to currently be the case with Albion’s first team stars, the shelf life of a football manager is often short.

The average Premier League managerial tenure is about 2 years, whilst the average of permanent Albion managers appointed by Tony Bloom is around 2 and a half years.

On the face of it De Zerbi should outlast those timespans given the team’s success. But, when you consider the turnover in personnel of late, along with De Zerbi’s public criticism of the club’s transfer policy and his public fallout with Leandro Trossard, so early on in his tenure, then you could argue things are less stable than results suggest.

Despite that public criticism from De Zerbi, the club didn’t abandon their recruitment model in January. But if the current level of performance continues, will they show the same resolve in future? And if they do continue to show that resolve, will De Zerbi stick around? I doubt he will be short of offers in the near future if Albion’s recent form continues.

This is all rather speculative of course, but either way the lifespan of a managerial reign is forever uncertain and as the last 12 months have shown, things can change significantly over a short space of time.

Whilst I’m all in on the current level of excitement surrounding the club, I find it hard to get into this growing cult of De Zerbi.

A cult probably best summarised by a recent Dogma article which said of De Zerbi: ”How many managers bring with them an entire ecosystem of devotees, followers not of a football club but of a man, a tactician, le divinità? Six months on from Roberto’s arrival I understand why. Who can resist worshipping at the church of De Zerbianism?”

All rather over the top for my liking. In fact I’ve never known anything like this cult-like fever surrounding Roberto De Zerbi at the Albion. But then again, we’ve rarely, if ever, seen days like this at the club.

But context is everything. Just as with his predecessors, De Zerbi is indebted to the work of others, which has enabled him to carry on the club’s expectation-defying levels of success. Even owner Tony Bloom is indebted to his predecessors for their stewardship of the club, well most of them.

It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all, particularly when your team is doing so well and scoring dramatic late winners. But there is only one cult for me. The cult of Brighton and Hove Albion. Up the Albion.

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Albion’s huge point at Poundland

On Saturday Albion travelled to the midlands to face Aston Villa, their first WSL game since losing to Leicester three weeks ago. And with Saturday afternoon also seeing bottom placed Leicester in action, this would be a big day in this season’s relegation battle.

Despite that crushing defeat to Leicester last time out and getting only two WSL wins so far this season, the new Brighton manager Jen Scheuer appears to have gained a renewed sense of optimism. With the manager saying pre-match: “Every day I can work with my girls are exciting days, every day I am really happy to be here, because I see a team that is willing to be better and that makes me happy.”

There was a first start for Rebekah Stott in the WSL since 2020, after scoring the opening goal in last weekend’s 7-0 FA Cup win over West Brom. A match which was Stott’s first start in any competition for the club since her diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and subsequent remission.

Stott re-joined the club last year after leaving in 2021 to return to Australia for treatment. And its little surprise that her return to the side has seen a stiffening up of Albion’s backline.

Whilst Albion have struggled at the wrong end of the table this season, opponents Villa have started the season strongly, including notable wins over both Man City and Man United, and were sitting in 6th place, which represents a serious improvement on their 11th and 9th placed finishes in the previous two seasons respectively.

And looking at the line up pre-match you could see why. It was intimidatingly strong, including Lionesses Jordan Nobbs and Rachel Daly.

So, it should have come as no surprise that Villa controlled early proceedings. However, they were limited mostly to long range efforts early on. And just when it looked like Albion were getting a foothold on the game, Villa took a somewhat fortuitous lead.

A short corner routine from Villa saw the ball floated all the way to the far post after Albion ‘keeper Megan Walsh failed to get anything on the cross, ultimately ricocheting in off an unsuspecting Kayleigh Green to give the home side the lead. It’s been that kind of season for Albion…

In the end, that Albion managed to get to half time just 1-0 down was a huge positive. And in part thanks to some fortune that Kirsty Hanson failed to turn in a menacing Rachel Daly cross, along with a number of important saves from Megan Walsh, including turning a Kenza Dali shot onto the bar.

As the second half began, the unfortunate Green along with Danielle Carter (who’d largely been a spectator given the dominance of Villa in the first half), were replaced by Emma Kullberg and Veatriki Sarri to switch Albion from a 343 to a 4231, with manager Jen Scheuer saying after the game he asked his team to be “more brave”.

Sarri in particular made a noticeable impact, forcing a useful save from Hannah Hampton, after her deflected shot appeared to be heading for the top corner. But as the second half continued, Albion were still having to hang on in there.

Villa’s quality was showing. But not enough to kill off the game. Rachel Daly uncharacteristically missed two good chances. The first volleying a simple chance over the bar from six yards. The second running onto a ball played in behind the Albion defence, but failing to beat Walsh in a one-on-one, who blocked her tame effort.

And with 15 minutes to go, Albion made Villa pay for all those missed chances, when Julia Zigiotti Olme pounced to put Albion level on the rebound.

An initial attempt from Veatriki Sarri, one-on-one with the Villa keeper Hampton, was well saved, but the loose ball was not dealt with by the Villa defence. Katie Robinson pounced to win it back, playing it into the path of Zigiotti Olme, who drew Albion level. Her first goal for the club since joining just over a year ago.

And that’s how it ended. It’s massive goal in Albion’s season that secures a vital point, one which didn’t look like it was coming for long periods.

Given Albion’s poor defensive record this season and Villa’s overall control of the game, keeping the home side down to just one goal is also a huge positive to take forward.

In particular, this was credit to another fantastic game from Megan Walsh, who at times kept Brighton in it. She could have done better with the cross for Villa’s goal, but her supreme shot-stopping abilities were on show for all to see. Once again showing why she’s made the most saves in the WSL since it began, and for my money, is one of the best shot stoppers in the women’s game.

With Walsh’s competition for the number one jersey, Australia international goalkeeper Lydia Williams, signed from PSG last month, making the goalkeeper position at Albion one to keep an eye on.

It was a performance from Albion, which BBC Sport described as “Gutsy”, but also admitted: “this was a largely uninspiring display, but as long as they pick up gifted points as they did here, they can avoid dropping into the Championship.” A statement as damning of Albion’s season so far as it is reassuring, for a club with stated ambition of becoming challengers at the other end of the table.

Jens Scheuer was more positive in his post-match comments. Whilst admitting that the home side were the better team in the first half, he stated this was without creating “really big chances.” And after that tactical switch at half time he said, “the girls did really, really well. I saw an Albion team which were in the second half the better team, and for me the point is really deserved.”

This game certainly did demonstrate evidence of the work the team has been doing on the training ground to improve its defensive record. Albion gave away fewer chances, limited the opposition to lesser opportunities, and the draw was a just reward for all that hard work.

This was a point they didn’t look like getting for long periods of the game, but a result that lifts them five points above bottom placed Leicester, who lost 2-0 at home to Man City.

In a league where there’s only 12 teams, and only one relegation spot this was a hugely important set of result for Albion. With any points won away from home always being particularly crucial.

It’s a result that puts Albion above Reading and up into 10th. There is still a long way to go, but you wonder if Leicester have left themselves with too much to do to catch Albion now, even after their win at the King Power last time out.

Matchday – 3: Shopping and the pub

This is the third in the series of ‘Matchday’. Why not go back to the start or jump back to part 2

Dave felt his phone vibrate, so pulled it out of his pocket to see what the notification was.

It was a picture message from Steve of him with his kids at the match [Here we go, they’re already driving me mad 😬 X].

“Steve’s taken Lyla and little James to their first match today” Dave announced to Mel.

“That will be fun.” She replied only half concentrating on what Dave had said. “What do you think of this for my cousin’s wedding?” She asked.

“Yeah, that looks great.” He said, also only half concentrating, as he mulled what to reply to Steve.

Dave stood staring at his phone and sent a reply to Steve: [Enjoy! Hopefully the lads get another win for you! X]

“I’m not sure.” Continued Mel. “It’s a bit out there. Right?”

“No, it’s great. You look smashing.” Dave said reassuringly, now giving her his full concentration.

“How late do you think we can get away with leaving the kids with your parents?” Dave asked.

“They said they could stay for dinner and not to rush.” She replied.

“Fancy going for a drink then when we’re finished here? There’s a new bar opened up on the High Street that I thought we could try.”

“Yes, sounds nice.” She said. “I’ve wanted to get make sure I get this dress for the wedding today. But after that we can head off.”

“You’d look good in a bin bag, Love. Don’t stress about it. That dress is great.” He said with a cheeky smile and Mel smiled back.

“Danielle’s friends are all munters anyway, you’ve got no competition.” He added.

“Oh cheers.” She said rolling her eyes adding “And don’t say that!” firmly.

“Fine, less attractive then.” He said, still grinning cheekily unperturbed by Mel’s disapproval.

Mel rolled her eyes and turned away to look again at the clothes rack. “Do you have a suit sorted?” She asked

“I’ll just wear that navy suit I wore to Colin’s wedding.” Dave replied, looking again at his phone to check the line ups for this afternoon’s Town match.

“Does that even fit you anymore?” She replied sceptically…. There was a moment of silence. “Dave, are you listening to me?” She said firmly.

“It will be fine!” He replied dismissively. “We’ve got another three weeks anyway. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” He added, continuing to look at his phone.

“We have plans or work almost every day until the wedding.” She insisted. “If we don’t get stuff today it might be too late.”

“Alright, alright. I’ll try on my suit later and check.”

“I would be more convinced if you weren’t looking at your phone whilst I’m talking.” She replied with a slice of contempt in her voice.

“Sorry, Love.” Dave responded, putting his phone back in his pocket and smiling at her with regret.

Mel turned back to the clothes rack and continued to search for the dress she was after. “How about this one?” She asked.

“Nah.” He replied dismissively. I preferred the other one.

“I know your game. You just want to go to the pub.” She replied.

“You know you’ll just end up buying the first one you picked up. So, let’s cut out the faff and just buy that one.”

Mel didn’t respond, she didn’t need to say anything. She just gave Dave the kind of look that put him right in his place instantly.

After another minute of browsing. Mel announced “Ok, I’m going to try these two on.”

“This place has a funny smell.” Mel said, as they took their seats at the pub.

“It’s just character” Dave responded. “And yeast, I think… it’s a craft beer place, it’s rough and ready, but cool.” He added.

“How long has it been since either of us been cool?” Mel responded mockingly.

“Were we ever cool?” Dave said.

“We were cool once.” Mel insisted. “We were pretty wild back in the day. I’m surprised you and Steve still talk to each other after some of the stuff we all go up to.”

Steve didn’t respond, he just chuckled awkwardly before they were interrupted by the barman. “What can I get you?” He asked.

“What would you recommend?” Asked Steve.

“This is a local craft beer, it’s a pale ale. I’d recommend this to anyone whatever your tastes are. “

“Sounds good to me.” Stated Mel. “Yes, two of those please” stated Steve.

“That was very decisive of us.” Said Mel.

“I can be decisive when I want to be.” Replied Dave.

As the barmen headed back to the bar to get their drinks, Dave reached in his pocket as his phone went off. It was another text from Dave. It was a picture of Steve and the kids with the caption: [come on Town! X].

Dave checked the score on his phone, 1-0 Town at half time. He gave out a quiet “yes!” Before putting the phone back in his pocket and turning to Mel who was scrolling through Instagram.

“Anything interesting?” He asked.

“No, load of attention seeking prats, mostly.” She replied with a smile.

Was that Steve, again? She asked.

“Yeah, Town are winning. They may just survive this season after all.”

“Oh, great.” She responded.

Then their drink arrived. “Here you are.” Said the barman, before heading back to the bar.

“To being cool once upon a time!” Mel announced holding her beer aloft for Dave to clink his glass against.

“Cheers.” He responded with a smile, as he raised and clinked his glass against hers.

“Blimey, that awful!” Dave said as he threw his glass back down.

“Aw, it is!” She agreed.

They looked at each other and smiled. There was a gentle pause as they started longingly at each other. The kind of way they used to, a lot. But since having kids, barely eve did…

“Look, we’ve probably got an hour until we need to go get the kids. Fancy just getting back and making the most of it?” Mel said suggestively.

Dave was caught on his heels a bit, not expected Mel’s request. Since having kids their sex life had taken a drastic turn for the worse. And he’d mostly given up on trying.

“Yes!” He responded, trying to sound convincing.

“Sorry, we don’t have to.” She said.

“No, I want to. Sorry, just caught me off guard… yes let’s get out of this dump.” …

“I thought you said it had character?” Mel responded cheekily as they put on those coats.

….

Dave rolled into his back. He was hot, sweaty, and panting like a dog. “Phew, that was something.” He exclaimed.

“Ooooh, it was.” Mel replied, still trying to catch her breath. “We shouldn’t leave it so long next time.”

“Yes.” Dave responded breathily.

Dave got up to go to the bathroom, grabbing his phone on route. Keen to check the final score of the Town game.

He got to the bathroom and stood there for a minute looking at the bathroom mirror completely naked. He picked up his phone, which he’d played on top of the bathroom sink and looked at his notifications. He had two BBC Sport score updates and a text from Steve.

He smiled to himself seeing that Town had won 2-0. And opened a text from Steve. [Think we may have some additional member of our matchday group after that one! X]

Dave responded [Great! Glad they enjoyed it. I may have two more to add too. Peter and Rachel have almost worn the shirts out that we bought them. X]

Mel walked into the bathroom and put her arms around Dave’s waist from behind, kissing his neck tenderly.

She looked down and saw he’d been texting Steve. “We’ve just had sex and you’re already texting Steve?!l” she exclaimed angrily.

“Just responding to a text about the game.” He responded innocently.

“I wondered where you’d gone. We’d barely finished, and you were out the door to check the final score!” Mel continued angrily.

Dave snorted dismissively. Then checked himself to appear more apologetic, but before he could respond Mel had already turned and left the room.

Dave turned back to the mirror and looked at his pathetic saggy, flabby belly and snarled at himself. “You’re pathetic.” He said to himself before taking a breath and turning to make amends with Mel. “Mel? Sorry Love…”

….

A month of conflicting emotions

Albion end January invigorated after a month of success on the pitch, but this feel good factor has been challenged after a month of transfer speculation off it.

In the end the teams only major outgoing was Leandro Trossard, whilst teenage prospects Argentina U20 international Facundo Buonanotte and the recent debutant Swedish international Yasin Ayari the only comings in.

Roberto De Zerbi said on Albion’s transfer activity ahead of the deadline that: “I think I need some players in some positions. I spoke a lot of times with Tony [Bloom], he knows my opinion very well, because we are a good team but we can improve also from the transfer market window.

“We lost [Leandro] Trossard and if we lose Caicedo it can be a problem for us if we want to fight for a European spot or to finish high in the table. If we want to stay like this, we can stay but I don’t like [it].”

So whilst he hasn’t lost Caicedo, he will no doubt be disappointed that more new faces weren’t incoming over the past few days.

But aside from that, the major thing his comments highlight, (and from the sounds of it what Tony Bloom will already have learned) is that Roberto De Zerbi is far more outspoken and provocative than his recent predecessors.

There are shades of Gus Poyet in the way he handles the media. Let’s hope the club are prepared for that, and that it’s without Poyet’s habit of delving into controversy.

De Zerbi’s outspoken nature doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Gus Poyet was known as “Radio” for his loquaciousness, a trait which would often lead him into trouble. Whilst De Zerbi appears more to just be unafraid of speaking his mind, and that when he’s doing it, it’s to make a clear point.

Moreover, by expressing these views publicly he is showing that internally these ideas are being discussed and represented, and that not everyone is following the party line. A party line that has in recent times been consistently repeated by all at the club. But one that from reading a selection of Brighton fans views on social media during this transfer window, it’s clear isn’t universally held by those on the outside.

De Zerbi’s comments point to a common worry that Trossard hasn’t been replaced, particular given he still stands as Albion’s top scorer this season. But the introduction of Evan Ferguson and the continued excellence of Karou Mitoma will have allayed some of by those fears, with the likes of Sarmiento, Enciso and Buonanotte providing a good level of competition for places.

Albion’s bench on Sunday was youthful, including development team players Jack Hinshlewood and Andrew Moran, both players (the late in particular) threatening to be the next to breakthrough. And for the meantime both will benefit from their sporadic first team involvement.

As ITV commentator Clive Tyldsley said during his commentary of Albion’s FA Cup win over Liverpool last Sunday, it’s not just just the identification and recruitment of players that the club are so good at, but also when and how they choose to integrate those players into the squad that the club do so well.

As shown by the huge net profit made by the club on transfer activity last summer, you can’t judge the club on its transfer activity purely on one window. The club takes a longer term approach, ultimately aiming to avoid paying transfer fees at all.

The club will already have a number players within its ranks who are earmarked to replace Caicedo in the team when he inevitably moves on in the summer, whether that’s Billy Gilmour who was signed in last summer’s transfer window, Yasin Ayari signed in this one, or one of Albion’s many other top prospects coming through its academy and loan system.

Another notable exit this month was defender Shane Duffy who made his loan move to Fulham permanent. Long term readers will know I’m a huge fan of his, unapologetically so. He’s a player of huge talent and one of most important players of the Tony Bloom era. And I’m surprised he’s struggled for game time at Fulham.

As Graham Potter said on Shane Duffy upon his return to Albion first team in 2021: “He is a club legend. For what he has achieved at the club and helping the team get promoted and what he’s done in the Premier League. Everyone loves him at the club.”

In particular, his partnership with Lewis Dunk will go down as one of the greatest in Albion history. Duffy once said of that partnership: “I think you just click when you have something good. He knows what I’m good at and I know what he’s good at so we don’t try and compete with each other…it just works.”

It was Chris Hughton who brought Shane Duffy to Brighton and shaped his partnership with Lewis Dunk. Hughton spoke about the key to their relationship being continuity, saying: “If I’m looking at an edge they have, what the two of them have done is play a lot of games together,”

“If you’re looking at partnerships across the Premier League teams, on a lot of occasions that partnership is broken up, particularly with clubs that rotate a little bit more.

“These two would be as consistent as any, for the simple fact that they don’t miss many games and they’ve played a lot of games together over the last couple of seasons.”

Shane Duffy’s importance to this club shouldn’t be underestimated. He was a huge part of the team that won promotion to the Premier League and then kept us there.

His initial return to the team last season was spectacular and showed just what he offers. Whilst it didn’t quite work out across the season, he still had some great moments.

Shane Duffy’s Irish compatriot Aaron Connolly has been on the move again too, cancelling his loan in Italy with Venezia and going out on loan to Championship side Hull, scoring a brace on his first start for the club last Saturday.

Many have criticised Aaron Connolly for his attitude and professionalism, but to his credit he owns his mistakes saying to Hull Live recently: “I’m 23 next week, being 19 feels like a long time ago when I was playing in the Premier League regularly.”

“That’s down to me and that’s stuff I’ve not been professional enough about. That mindset has completely flipped and if I can take anything positive from that Italy move, it’s that side of the game off the pitch, I had to get used to a different environment and just work. There was a lot of running in Italy but I’m starting to enjoy that bit of it as well, the professional side”

At Hull under for Albion player Liam Rosenior, Connolly is well placed to move on from those mistakes and fulfil that huge potential of his. Here’s hoping we see the best of him as the season goes on.

It wasn’t just Connolly on the move, a number of Albion’s other youngsters were loaned out this month too, taking the clubs total number of loanees to 23. Many of whom will be hoping or expecting to get their chance to be the next player to breakthrough into Albion’s first team this summer.

Despite De Zerbi’s and others frustration, Albion continue to be ardently committed to focusing on bringing through future talent and avoiding paying large transfer fees for established talent, even if it does harm their short term ambitions.

The highlights of this window may currently be seen as the sale of Trossard and ongoing saga surrounding Moises Caicedo. But I suspect in hindsight, it will be just as well known, if not better known, for one or two of Albion’s prospective future stars.

Give Fergie time – a tale of unfulfilled attacking talent

As the old saying goes, goals change games. And don’t we know it, us Albion fans have been starved of game changing moments for the majority of our time in the Premier League. Having scored 181 goals in their 190 Premier League games prior to the beginning of this season. No Premier a league team ever-present during that period has scored less.

In Evan Ferguson Albion may have found just the man to provide those all important game changing goals. He may have missed a couple of good chances to score against Liverpool and limped off injured at the end, but once again he showed his talent and ability to go up against the best. Here’s hoping that injury isn’t serious.

Some goals can change the momentum of an entire season, or simply ensure that momentum is kept on track. When we are looking back come the end of the season, I suspect Evan Ferguson’s equaliser against Leicester the other weekend will be one of those goals, if Brighton do qualify for Europe this season (still a BIG if).

I’m now fully convinced that Evan Ferguson is already exactly the player that Albion been crying out for during most of their Premier League tenure. And huge credit should go to Roberto De Zerbi in particular, for trusting him with so many first team opportunities, it’s really paid off.

After his goal against Everton, at Aged 18 years and 76 days, Evan Ferguson became the youngest player to score in consecutive Premier League appearances since Federico Macheda in 2009. Macheda went onto score just 4 goals in 22 Premier League appearances, and has subsequently had a rather journeyman-like career, currently playing for APOEL FC in Greece. So he hardly sets a high benchmark

History shows we should have reservations about throwing Ferguson in too much too soon and placing too much responsibility on his shoulders. We have seen too much wasted attacking talent in recent years at Brighton, so let’s not waste another.

There are indeed many tales of warning of unfulfilled attacking talent in Albion’s recent past, none less so that Aaron Connolly.

After scoring three goals in his first three starts for Albion’s senior team, Aaron Connolly went the next 21 games without a goal. Going onto score just 3 goals in his subsequent 43 appearances for Albion.

He has subsequently been on an array of loans that until his impressive performance and brace for Hull on Saturday, have yet to see a return to the standard of performances we saw from him initially. His test now will be to do that consistently, which is still another one of those big ifs.

But it’s far from just Evan Ferguson’s countryman Connolly who fulfils that tag of unfulfilled talent. The list of attacking talent that came with such promise and failed to live up to the hype is long, during Albion’s relatively short 5 and a half year Premier League tenure…

First came the then record signing of Jurgen Locadia for €17m from PSV in 2018. He was described by then manager Chris Hughton as “strong, powerful and quick centre-forward, with a real eye for goal”, having scored 45 goals in 127 Eredivsie games, he managed just 6 goals in 46 games for Albion, and was released on a free transfer midway through last season.

After him came Alireza Jahanbakhsh, another record-breaking transfer for €19m, coming off the back of top scoring in the Eredivsie in 17-18 season, with 21 goals. And whilst his attitude and passion caught the heart of many Albion supporters, he largely underwhelmed, scoring just 4 times in 61 appearances.

Then came Percy Tau, also signed in the summer of 2018, who was initially loaned out due to an inability for the club to gain him a UK work permit. Tau was such a big star in his homeland that upon his loan to Belgian football, South African television bought the rights to broadcast Belgian League. With the South African finally making his competitive debut for Albion 905 days after joining the club, as a substitute in the penalty shoot-out victory away to Newport County in January 2021. Going on to make two further substitute appearances before being sold Al Ahly in August 2021.

Then there’s Florin Andone, who was signed for what was seen as a snip at €6m from Deportivo after their relegation from La Liga triggered a release clause in his contract, particularly after they’d rejected a €16m bid from Albion the previous January.

Andone will be remembered mostly for his disruptive attitude along with scoring a spectacular third goal in Albion’s 3-1 win at home to Palace in 2018. Otherwise, Andone’s goalscoring contribution was limited to the 2nd goal in a 3-0 win over Watford on the opening day of the 2019/20 season, and scoring two winners against eventually bottom placed Huddersfield. Before he was ousted for being bad news. Not exactly representing great value after all, especially on a reported 40k a week salary.

However, Evan Ferguson has already scored 4 first team goals in an Albion shirt in just 9 appearances, which is more than some the aforementioned names even managed. Whilst all of whom had far more minutes and more opportunities than the Irish striker to make an impression.

It says a lot about the height in which Evan Ferguson’s talent and potential is held that he hasn’t been sent out on loan like so many of the other young talented players at the club.

He’s jumped to the front of a long list of talented strikers including the Swiss international Andi Zeqiri, Senegalese international Abdallah Sima, along with the former development player and Swiss youth international Lorent Tolaj, and this summer’s new signing, Ivorian winger come forward Simon Adingra.

Back in the summer, then manager Graham Potter said of Ferguson’ talent: “He is an intelligent player for someone so young.

“You look at him and you have to remind yourself he is only 17, so he’s got an exciting future, I think. He’s level-headed and a humble guy who again wants to just play football, wants to score goals, help the team, so he has got lots of nice attributes, good movement, intelligent, so we are happy with him.”

There is even talk of fellow striker Denis Undav going out on loan due to a lack of game time, in part caused by the rise of Ferguson. Although that looks less likely now with Ferguson’s potential injury lay-off.

Undav was one this seasons exciting new additional to the first team, and many anticipated him making a real mark on this season, particularly following his success in Belgium with Tony Bloom’s other team USG. But he has struggled for form and game time, and now finds himself below the upcoming Ferguson in the pecking order.

Undav said prior to this season: “I will not say a number [of goals], I will just try and score maybe not 26 (the amount he scored for USG last season) but a little bit less. I can score inside the box, outside the box, I can score from the middle line, I can score from everywhere.” However, so far, his only two goals in competitive fixtures have come in cup competitions against lower league opposition.

Along with the underperformance of Undav and the injury-proneness of Danny Welbeck. Albion have now lost their top scorer, Leo Trossard. And with Danny Welbeck having only scored once in 15 appearances this season. There is a growing pressure to play Ferguson more. A pressure that could grow if the sides recent glut of goals dries up.

Some Albion fans showed their frustration at Even Ferguson only being given a place on the bench away to Leicester the other week, with Danny Welbeck being picked ahead of him. But it’s clear neither the club nor De Zerbi want to place too much weight on Ferguson’s shoulders too soon. With De Zerbi saying after the match: “I want to help Ferguson to progress, to grow up without too much pressure.”

You don’t make your senior debut at 14 if you don’t have the talent, even if it was in a friendly for a League of Ireland side. As Albion’s recent history shows, players like Ferguson don’t come along very often.

Evan Ferguson has shown from his recent performances that he’s got what it takes to deal with all the expectation along with the pressure and fulfil his talent. Time will tell if Albion enable him to do that or if his name is added to a growing, unwanted list of Albion’s unfulfilled attacking talent.

Matchday – 2: Dave takes the kids

This is instalment 2 if matchday, why not go back to the start?

“Sit down and sit still!” Dave shouted at Peter.

“Have you got ants in your pants, boy?” joked a nearby elderly gentleman with a friendly smile. Dave just smiled and turned back to keep his eyes firmly on Peter.

He’d barely been watching the game, not that he’d missed much.

“What did you expect?” Said Mel with a wry smile, whilst tightly pulling Peter’s arm to her chest.

This was not going as Dave had planned. Whilst Mel and him were busy trying to control Peter. Rachel was engrossed in a book that she’d brought, because as she’d said with concern the night before, “what if I get bored?”

‘Fair enough’ thought Dave. The new manager may be getting results, but it wasn’t making for good viewing.

“You’re useless Sanchez!” Shouted a voice from a few rows on front… “Sh*t!” Exclaimed Dave instinctively, as Sanchez fired the ball wide from well inside the penalty area.

“Dave!” Mel responded vociferously.

Dave gave her a regretful look. But thankfully Rachel was so engrossed in her book that she hadn’t been paying attention, whilst Peter was too busy staring at the group of boisterous men in the row in front to take any notice.

“You must be bad luck, clearly”. Said Mel. “They’ve been on a good run since you last came!” She said with a mocking smile. “Still, good seats. How does Colin get these?” She added.

“His family have had these seats as season tickets for years. But since his dad passed, his mum and sister have stopped going.”

“Poor sod” responded Mel. “He’s a prick, but he’s had a tough couple of years.”

“Who’s passed?” Asked Peter.

“No one, don’t worry” replied Dave

“Is it Grandma?” Asked Rachel?

Mel instinctively snorted in response. “No!” She exclaimed. “She’s fine. We were talking about one of Dave’s friends’ family. Don’t worry.”

Peter and Rachel both looked confused and frustrated by their parent’s evasiveness. “Just tell us” Insisted Peter.

“Yeah!” agreed Rachel.

“Can we just watch the game please?” Said Mel.

Just then the half time whistle blew, ‘a helpful distraction’ Dave thought.

“Anyone need the toilet?” Asked Mel

“Me!” Replied both Peter and Rachel.

Dave stood in the queue with Peter for half time refreshments whilst Rachel and Mel continued to queue for the women’s toilets.

“Fancy something to eat?” Asked Dave

“Can I have a lolly?” Responded Peter

“They don’t do lollies,” said Dave. “How about some chips”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Peter replied with excitement.

“Two chips, two teas and two bottles of fruit shoot, please.” Dave said to the girl behind the till.

“We’re out of chips” she replied bluntly.

“Oh, ok.” He replied. Dave turned to Peter. “They’ve got no chips, how about a burger?”

“Erm…” Peter paused, whilst looking into space. “Do they have chocolate?”

“Sure” said Dave.

“Ok then, two Dairy Milk bars a Kit Kat and a burger as well then please.

Mel and Rachel hadn’t asked for any food, but there was no harm in getting them some chocolate.

“Hungry?” Mel asked with a grin as Dave walked towards them with his half time refreshments.

“Hungry work!” Dave responded.

“A burger?!” Rachel burst out. “I want a burger!?”

“But you said you didn’t want anything?” Replied Dave sheepishly.

“Just share the burger with her Dave” said Mel bluntly. “You said you would start being better with your diet anyway, after that health check you had which said your cholesterol was a bit high.”

Dave looked at her with a reluctant acceptance, suddenly feeling like one of the kids as opposed to a fellow adult.

“Here you go” he said to Rachel as he tore off and passed her some of the burger. “Is that enough?” He added, attempting to hide his disappointment.

“Thanks Daddy!” She replied with excitement.

“Can I have some?” Asked Peter.

Dave rolled his eyes, giving up any pretence at hiding his disappointment. “There you go, share the rest with your sister.” Dave said as he passed the rest of the burger to Peter reluctantly.

He looked at Mel, expecting her to be giving him a look of scorn, but she couldn’t hide her amusement. “You silly prat!” She mouthed to him with a cheeky smile so the kids couldn’t hear.

Cheers echoed around the ground as a United defender felled Sanchez in the box and the referee pointed directly to the penalty spot.

“Penalty!” Shouted Mel.

Peter and Rachel looked up with wide eyed excitement.

Dave looked at them with anticipation. The game was still goalless, and the kids had continued to show little investment in the action. So, this was exactly what was required to pique their interest.

Sanchez picked up the ball and as one the crowd seemed to take a sharp intake of breath.

“Do you think he’ll score, Daddy?” Asked Rachel.

“I hope so!” Dave replied with enthusiasm. “What do you think, Peter?” He asked

“He’s very close. He should score from there!” Replied Peter innocently.

Mel and Dave chuckled. He wasn’t wrong though.

Sanchez took a few steps back, a quick run up and fired the ball into the top corner.

Cheers of joy and relief echoed around the stadium.

Peter and Rachel were jumping around like they were on a trampoline and cheering with manic enthusiasm. Dave looked at Mel and they shared a broad smile.

“I told you he’d score!” Said Peter.

“You were right, I wasn’t so confident myself.” Dave replied as he put his arm around Peter in celebration.

The elderly gentlemen next to Dave turned and looked at him. “Wasn’t sure he had it in him. Took some nerve that.”

Dave nodded and grunted in agreement.

Rachel looked over with a smile. “We knew he’d score!” She said excitedly.

Mel then pulled the remaining chocolate bar from half time and shared it between them all.

“Alright, sit back down and have your snack.” She said. “Still twenty minutes to go, if you’re good we might even go in the shop after the game.”

Dave smiled at her and added. “You said that you wanted to get a shirt, didn’t you?”

Mel looked over to him with surprise. They hadn’t really discussed it properly, but he assumed she’d be ok with it. Especially given Dave had now passed his probation at work.

Mel was the main breadwinner anyway and money was fortunately not a particular issue for them at the moment. But she was nonetheless conscientious of not spoiling the kids.

“Let’s see, shall we” she added, giving Dave a scornful look. “If you’re good we might get you something, but no promises.”

“Mummy, can I get this one?” Asked Peter holding up the bright orange and yellow quartered goalkeeper shirt.

“Don’t you want the home one?” Replied Mel with a look of objection, “That’s what your sister’s getting.”

“Yeah” added Dave. “The home one is the best one, especially for a first shirt.

“That’s a bit big Rachel. Why don’t you try this one.” Said Dave. Turning his attention back onto her.

“Thanks.” She replied meekly. “It’s a bit busy here dad, can we go soon?” She asked.

“Yes, once we’ve done this we’ll get out of here.” Dave agreed.

“That’s the difference a win makes!” He said turning to look at Mel to check all was ok. Peter and her were now trying on a home shirt in his usual size.

“Much better.” Dave said looking back at Rachel.

“Can we go now?” She said.

“Just wait for your brother.” He replied…

“Alright Dave!” Came a voice from behind. “Good win!”. Dave turned round and facing him was Paul from work.

“Alright Paul.” He replied. “Just what the doctor ordered. They might stay up after all!”

Paul smiled. “Getting some souvenirs?” He asked.

“We are!” Replied Dave. “Say hi to my friend Paul, Rachel.” Dave insisted. Rachel awkwardly smiled and turned to face Dave’s legs and away from Paul.

“This is my wife Mel and son Peter too.” They exchanged greetings.

“Saw you at the City game but you were with a group of friends so didn’t want to interrupt. You come regularly?” Asked Paul.

“Used to.” Dave responded. But that was my first game for a while actually and it peaked the little one’s interests, so here I am again!” He added. “You?”

“Yeah, home games and the odd away… been going since I was tiny.” Paul responded. “About time Sanchez got a goal.” He added. “He did look good today, new manager effect?”

“Definitely!” responded Dave. Thought he’d lose his place to the new guy Dave added somewhat precariously. He still hadn’t worked out who his friends had been talking about at the City game but thought he’d take a chance.”

“Yeah.” Responded Paul. “Thought he’d miss the pen to be honest. “Anyway, better dash, just wanted to say hi.”

Dave and Mel smiled, and Paul turned and walked out the club shop.

“He seemed nice.” Stated Mel encouragingly.

“Yeah, guy from work.” Replied Dave. “Right shall we buy these shirts!” He announce with gusto…

“They were pooped” said Mel as she entered the living room. “What a day” she added

“Yeah. It was bit of a different matchday experience to what I’m used to.” He joked.

“Drink?” He asked

“Yeah, beer please.” Mel replied.

“Good that you’re making friends at work.” Mel said apropo of nothing and looking at him with a smile.

“Yeah, the people are nice. The work is a bit boring, and the others are all a bit younger, but nice enough.” He responded.

Dave turned and went into the kitchen to get the drinks. It was weird, he’d usually be at least 3 or 4 pints down by now after going to a game… and the rest. But this was his first drink of the day, and he hadn’t really missed it.

His phone buzzed. It was Colin. [enjoy the game mate? Told you Sanchez was great! 😂]

He thought he’d better respond. Colin was a bit of a prick, but he’d always come good for tickets and Steve had mentioned that he’d seemed a bit off when they met the other day.

He typed a quick response. [Yes. Kids loved it! Thanks again for sorting out the tickets.] He pondered over what to add [I know. Always thought Sanchez was the real deal! 😜]. ‘Yeah, that will do.’ He thought before sending the text.

“Fancy watching Strike?” Mel bellowed from the other room. “It’s the last one of the series.”

“Sure” he replied. Knowing he would probably doze off soon after sitting down.

He went into the other room with their drinks, passed one to Mel and slumped on the sofa with a loud sigh.

“Ready to start watching?” She asked whilst pressing play on the remote.

Dave grunted with agreement and as the opening credits rolled, his eyelids suddenly began to feel heavy.

Go to part 3

Brexit and Football (revisited)

It’s been over four years since I published a piece looking at the potential effects on football of the UK leaving the European Union, so I thought it would be a good time to revisit the subject and take a look at both the challenges and opportunities that football clubs face.

We are now three years on from the UK formally leaving the EU, and more than six years on from the UK voting to leave the EU, so we should at least have begun to see what the effects are on football, compared to what we anticipated at the time.

An overriding theme throughout my last piece was uncertainty, something that has continued to this day.

The UK government is still trying to implement many pieces of permanent legislation to replace much of the old legislation aligned with the EU, which has caused some concern amongst opposition parties over what they have described as “a bonfire of EU law”, but what government ministers have described as ensuring that laws inherited from the EU do not become an “ageing relic dragging down the UK”. You’ll just have to pick a side on that one.

Meanwhile disagreements over the Irish backstop have contributed towards a breakdown of the Northern Ireland assembly, which has led to concerns over a constitutional crisis, and has in many’s view contributed to recent reports of increasing levels of unrest in the country. So the uncertainty surrounding Brexit seems unlikely to end soon.

Brexit has so far had (and is expected to continue to have for now) a minimal impact on football clubs’ revenue sources. As Premier League clubs continue to dominate the list of the richest clubs in the world, with eleven clubs making up the top 20 in the recent Deloitte Money League study from the 2021-22 season.

Post Brexit clubs are instead more concerned with the possibility of further new regulatory controls in the UK, which may restrict their ability to bring in overseas players to join their squad.

Clubs are now not able to sign players freely from the EU. Players from EU countries who want to play in the Premier League or EFL are required to gain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE), as was the case for all other overseas players without the right to work in the UK.

English football’s GBE is a FA and operates as a points-based system, which has been revised, where points are scored based on International appearances, club appearances and a ranking of the selling club.

The FA stated the new system will enable: “allowing access to the best players and future talent for clubs, as well as safeguarding England teams, by ensuring opportunities for homegrown players.”

However, Darryl Rigby warned in a blog for the World Football Summit about new post Brexit legislation, that: “the country’s divorce from the European Union has particularly added hurdles to talent acquisition, with new rules impacting the football industry in the transfer market.”

Going onto say the new rules make things more difficult for football clubs in some instances: “International player recruitment is now more complicated under the new laws as a result of Brexit ending the freedom of movement between the UK and the EU. This policy change added bureaucratic steps to international football transfers.”

That said, Europe still remains a large market where Premier League clubs’ source their players: since Brexit:

• No other league spent more on Belgian, French, Greek, Portuguese, Norwegian, Danish, Swedish or Dutch players than the Premier League.

• Only Bundesliga Clubs spent more on German, Austrian or Czech players than Premier League clubs,

• Only La Liga Clubs spent more on Spanish players than Premier League clubs,

• Only Serie A and Serie B Clubs spent more on Italian and Croatian players than Premier League clubs,

It is not all about added bureaucracy. Post Brexit, As Bill Gerrard said in the Economics Observatory “The new and much expanded points-based system will make it easier for British clubs to sign non-EU players who did not previously qualify for a work permit.”

As an illustration, figures taken from transfermarkt.co.uk earlier this month show that post Brexit, Premier League clubs have spent more on South American players than ever before. Spending €600m on Brazilian players and €257m on Argentinian players, more than any other league over that period.

In fact, in that period the Premier League has spent more on Columbian, Uruguayan, Ecuadorian and Paraguayan players than any other league. Becoming the main buyer of South American talent despite currently doing little business in Peru and Chile. Although I suspect that may change too.

Compared to the same length period pre-Brexit vs Post Brexit, Premier League clubs spending on South American players increased by 44% Post Brexit. Meanwhile spending on players from the major European Economic Area countries has remained at the same level since before Brexit.

Spending on South American players is now approaching around half that of spending on players from major European Economic Area countries, compared to only around a third pre-Brexit.

Albion’s own spending on South American players has been noticeable in recent years, but has only increased by 20% over the same period. Although this reflects in part the club’s move to buy lower-value younger players rather than more experienced internationals. A strategy that would have been much harder pre-Brexit.

Before Brexit, the majority of money spent on South American players focused on two high profile arrivals who had already spent time in Europe, Jose Izquierdo and Bernardo. However, Post Brexit Albion have bought a multitude of South American players, including players directly from South American clubs, including Moises Caicedo from Independiente del Valle in Equador, Facundo Buonanotte from Rosario Central in Argentina and Julio Enciso from Libertad in Paraguay.

Under FIFA’s rules, the UK’s exit from the EU will also mean that clubs will not be able to sign players from overseas until they are 18 whether from inside or outside the EU. Which will by necessity lead to a focus exclusively on home-grown talent up to that point.

Furthermore, as the newly introduced GBE still allows for the best talent from across the world to come into the country and compete, the Premier League will likely still see the best talent arriving from the EU alongside this increase of non-EU talent. With lower ranked countries inside the EEA likely to be the ones that miss out on Premier a league opportunities for their players, which is arguably more costly to them than the Premier League.

As Darryl Rigby said in the World Football Summit: “Transfer roadblocks can also be advantageous for young talent at home and the UK has the opportunity to improve its national teams by limiting foreign transfers and investing more on domestic players.”

But with the continuing and likely increasing arrival of the best talent from across the world, will it improve young players chances?

Albion CEO Paul Barber said at the recent fans forum “Brexit is complicated, not so much for younger players going out but more about bringing players in because the new rules will make it much, much, much harder to bring in young players from other countries where they don’t have the status that FIFA grants within the top positions of the football-playing countries in the world or the requisite international caps which invariably young players don’t have for obvious reasons.”

Going onto say: “So it is going to have more of an impact on us there. But again, although we didn’t foresee this for this reason, the fact that we have invested heavily in our academy really gives us a certain amount of protection from the new rules.”

“For a long time, we have been committed to developing our own young talent, developing young English players where we can, it makes absolute sense for us to do that.”

Meaning overall, through a combination of investing in a broad and increasingly praiseworthy scouting network overseas, and it’s own academy at home, Albion are probably set up (at least in the short term) to take advantage of the effects of Brexit better than most other clubs.

Aside from this, the effect of Brexit in football specifically appears to be, at first at least, fairly minimal. The Premier League is so internationally successful, and its clubs so internationally integrated with European and international bodies, that diverting too greatly from international norms and adding too many additional legislative restrictions, would likely be disadvantageous to the league’s competitive advantage. Especially given that English football and specifically the Premier League is one of the countries biggest brands across the world.

One subject that I previously discussed that has since gained greater prominence is the possibility of a European Super League.

It was fought off primarily by UK resistance. Resistance which was supported by the UK Government who claimed that Brexit helped stop the European Super League attempts. Although many, including Match of the Days presenter Gary Lineker called that statement “disingenuous” and many credit the powerful supporters groups for scaring the six English club’s into backing down.

As I said in the last piece about the potential of a European Super league “if Brexit were to harm the commercial viability of the Premier League it’s no doubt something that would become more of a threat.” As it stands, there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s on the cards as yet, but in terms of Brexit, these are still very early days. And the vociferous objection towards a European Super League appears to have put it out of the question for now at least.

The subsequent Coronavirus pandemic that has overshadowed every part of daily life does however make it hard to draw too many conclusions on the effects of Brexit and comparisons pre-Brexit

The first post-Brexit transfer window saw unusually low levels of transfer spending by Premier League clubs. But this was almost certainly due to the loss of revenues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is estimated by Deloitte that the Big Five leagues lost €1.9 billion (over 11%) of total revenue in 2019/20, largely because of the restrictions on spectators attending games.

It will take many years, possibly decades, to properly be able to fully analyse the effects of Britain leaving the EU. Partly because the UK government are still trying to agree and implement post-Brexit legislation four years on.

But what is clear from the increasingly dispersed nature of international player recruitment, is that there is little appetite from inside the football industry for further restrictions that would limit the potential success of sourcing the best footballing talent from around the world. As the increasing amount spent on South American talent by English clubs demonstrates, despite calls for clubs to focus more on domestic talent.

So far the legislation brought in that has effected football has only had a relatively small impact, mostly on the recruitment of players. But in a game of small margins, Brighton’s example shows that being flexible, proactive and adaptive to change (and as Paul Barber admits being lucky), can lead to a club gaining an advantage over the competition.

Matchday! – Dave’s day off

Dave woke up with a spring in his step. Matchday! The best day of the week!

And this would be one he’d be attending in person, rather than checking the score updates on his phone whilst strolling his way around some anonymous out of town shopping centre, looking for another new pair of school shoes for Peter, or a new scooter for Rachel.

Dave loved matchday. Especially on a fresh, crisp, and sunny Saturday afternoon in early spring. In part, because Matchday signalled the end of the working week, and this had been a particularly long week. The kind of afternoon where you get to Monday afternoon and you’re dreaming of retirement.

Dave had been recently retraining to be a Software Developer and was meant to be having his probation meeting for his new job on Friday afternoon, but his manager got called away on an urgent client meeting and so it had been postponed until next Monday morning. Which now meant he’d spend all weekend stressing about it. But he wasn’t going to let it spoil matchday.

It wasn’t that Dave particularly liked his new job, but the money was better than his previous work in property lettings, the hours were better, and the commute was shorter, which had previously involved a one-hour drive each way, and that was only if traffic was good. Which all meant he could now get home in time for his kids’ bedtime if he left promptly enough.

Dave wasn’t meeting his friends until midday, but his wife had agreed to take their two kids Peter and Rachel to their respective school friend’s birthday parties, so he had all morning to get in the mood.

After a quick peruse of the socials, he ambled downstairs to the kitchen to make himself some breakfast…

“F*cking hell! Who is this idiot?” He exclaimed to himself as he promptly turned off the radio in a matter of seconds after turning it on. ‘Radio phone-ins, what a loads of w*nkers’ he thought.

Dave had his morning all planned out. A Bacon Sandwich (why not, it’s Matchday!), a swift w*nk (he did have the house to himself after all), a sh*t and a shower. Which should still leave enough time to rewatch the latest episode of Strike. He had already watched it with his wife, but his habit of falling asleep in front of the TV meant he’d missed most of it, as usual.

He opened the fridge, no bacon. “Peanut Butter on Toast it is then” he groaned.

He opened the cupboard, no Peanut Butter…  “Margarine it is then” he huffed as he slumped his shoulders in disappointment.

Dave sat down with his pathetically small side plate and his two measly slices of margarine covered toasted medium cut wholemeal bread placed on top and smiled to himself. ‘Still, it’s Matchday’, he thought, ‘all good’.

Dave slumped on the sofa with BBC Breakfast on in the background and munched his toast whilst scrolling through his phone.

Before he knew it, more than an hour had passed, then another. He’d spent so much time checking all the pointless apps on his phone and enjoying a long read in the Athletic about Chesterfield’s 1997 FA Cup run that he’d now only have time for a quick a shower if he was going to catch the train. ‘Better crack on’, he thought.

Dave quickly checked his pockets. “Wallet, check. Keys, check. Phone, check.” He said to himself out loud in reassurance.

He slipped on his shoes and his bomber jacket, locked the door behind him and quickly paced up the street towards the station. He had left plenty of time to avoid any need to rush, but always liked to be there a bit early to avoid any unnecessary panic. It also gave him a chance to take in the hustle and bustle of the pre-match buzz at the train station.

Dave bought his train ticket from the machine, rushed through the gates, and headed for the platform. ‘Oh great, cancelled. Fucking trains’, he thought. “Fucking Thatcher” he exclaimed in jest so a nearby group of fellow football fans also checking the train times could hear him.

Dave wasn’t particularly political; he had only ever voted on rare occasions when his wife Mel had insisted. She was the political one. To him, politicians were all the same. Lazy, greedy, lying c*nts.

He now had 15 minutes to kill until the next train, so headed to the little cafe on the station to get a coffee. He was about to head inside when he saw Paul from work in the queue. Dave liked Paul but didn’t know him that well yet, having only started in his new job a few months ago, so turned back and headed for the platform to avoid an awkward 5-minute conversation in the queue, and potentially another half an hour of awkwardness during the train journey. ‘I’ll head to the end of the platform’ he thought, ‘don’t want to risk bumping into anyone else.’

So, Dave worked his way down the platform, slaloming between the scrum of fellow Town supporters all keenly anticipating the afternoons action.

Dave stopped just before the end of the platform, standing behind a group of young lads, all wearing retro Town away shirts from of the first seasons Dave started regularly going to watch them. A season which from looking at this group would have been well before they’d all have been born. It wasn’t even a nice shirt either. One of those horrible early 90’s ones, with a mesh pattern and too many colours interacting at once. Then again Dave wasn’t really a football shirt person, not at his age and with his belly at least.

He looked around and realised he must be one of the oldest people on the platform. He looked again at the kids in retro Town shirts, Town shirts from his era, an era that had felt like yesterday, but it wasn’t, it was retro, dated and old. Dave stared down at his feet and couldn’t help the creeping sense of dread and mortality overcome him.

Dave’s train pulled into the station, eventually. Fifteen minutes late. Meaning he was now half an hour late in total.

Great, he thought. Now that prick Colin was going to make me down a pint to catch up. They weren’t in university anymore; they weren’t even close. They’d only started inviting Colin because they felt sorry for him after his wife left him…Two months after the wedding. Brutal. Who could blame her though?

There also was the fact that Colin was able to get them tickets in the main stand using his families season tickets. Town tickets were hard to come by these days since their fortunes had improved. Figures. ‘Johnny come f*cking latelys’ Dave called them, not that he was the most dedicated of supporters himself of late.

Colin was Steve’s mate too and Dave absolutely loved Steve, he’d do anything for his oldest friend Steve. A friend of Steve’s was a friend of his, he told himself begrudgingly.

Ed made up the foursome. A quiet, but honest and dependable guy who Steve and Dave went to school with. He was the type of person you’d trust with your life, as long as it didn’t involve him doing any physical activity to save you that is. Computer games were more Ed’s thing. Dave didn’t really get it, but often indulged Ed in his ramblings about his latest game because he knew how much Ed loved his gaming, and it was a good way to get him out of his shell.

Dave turned right out the station and down the main road towards the pub, it was a good 10-15 minutes’ walk in the opposite direction from the ground, but they’d been drinking there pre-match for a good ten years now, and enjoyed the familiarity of it.

Dave turned the corner and saw the pub appear in the distance, a sight that gave him a warm sense of comfort in his chest.

As he got nearer he saw a figure smoking outside, and when he got near enough he realised that it was Steve.

Steve and Dave shared a knowing looking and a smile. “I thought you’d given up?” Dave asked.

“Yeah, I have.” Steve replied. “But it’s matchday so I’ve given myself the afternoon off.”

‘Yeah, and on birthdays, Christmases and any day ending in a y!’ Steve thought to himself. But he knew Steve was sensitive about his addiction, so Dave bit his tongue.

“Fair enough mate, I won’t tell the misses.” Dave said with a wink and a cheeky smile. “The other lads inside?” He asked

“Yeah, Colin’s already bought you a drink.” Steve replied with another knowing smile.

“Fucks sake” replied Dave with an element of faux outrage. “I know he’s your mate Steve. But Colin is a bit of a prick sometimes.”

Two rounds down (plus the pint Dave had to downed for being late) and they were all getting a bit giddy.

“Any empties?” the barman asked them on his sweep of the tables.

“Here” Ed said passing him two empty pint glasses.

“Cheers mate” Dave added as the barman began to turn to his next table.

“Why can’t they just wait for us to leave?” Said Colin. “Really pisses me off!”

The rest nodded in awkward agreement as the barman was still in earshot.

‘He’s just doing his job’ thought Dave.

Steve broke the ice by turning the conversation to the match.

“Tough game today. City are playing well, but Town really need a result and the manager has to turn it around soon, or else.” He said whilst miming a throat cutting action.

“Guys clueless” replied Colin. “Only got the job because he was a name”.

“I’m feeling confident” Dave added. He had no particular reasoning behind this, it was mostly based on his positive matchday vibe.

“Yeah” replied Steve. “Things have got to turn around eventually, right?” He added with a air of hopeful optimism.

“2-0 to us I recon” Ed added.

“Hopefully the new guy gets a run out. Can’t understand why he’s not being given a chance?” Said Colin

“Yeah, can’t understand why the manager prefers Sanchez.” Steve replied. “Maybe Sanchez has some dirt on him?” He joked

They all chuckled except for Colin who gave out a snort in agreement.

“Shall we make a move?” Asked Dave. He was keen to end the football chat there, conscientious that he was a bit out of touch and getting out of his depth. He wasn’t even sure who the new guy was that they were referring to.

As well as regularly going to Town matches. Mel and he used to religiously watch Match of the Day together on a Sunday morning and then spend the afternoon in front of Super Sunday followed by Dave’s famous roasts. She would now and again come with him to matches, but only if his mates weren’t going. Dave didn’t like to mix friends and family and it worked for both of them as Mel wasn’t a fan of Colin, then again neither was he.

“Just gonna take a piss.” Said Colin.

There was just over an hour and a half till kick off. Enough time for a quick amble to the ground and to take in the pre-match vibes before one or two more pre-match pints on the concourse. Sadly, the beer was Fosters, but it was convenient, so they tolerated it. Rather that than risk leaving it too late and miss kick off.

The game was 15 minutes old, and Dave was already starting to feel the cold. It was one of those spring afternoons where the sunshine meant it was deceivingly cold. ‘If only I’d brought my hat and gloves.’ He thought.

The foursome had perfect seats, near the front of the upper tier, overlooking the halfway line. Expensive, but Dave didn’t come to many games these days, not anymore, not since the kids were born, so he thought he could justify it.

But these days he’d be lucky if he caught the sports section at the end of the ten o’clock news. That’s if he managed to avoid dozing off before then.

Then suddenly his phone went off. “[You left the freezer open again you twerp; that’s dinner ruined! 😡🤦‍♂️]”

His phone buzzed again. [Can you pick up some more bread and something for dinner on your way back? … unless you’re having a late one that is?]”

‘Shit’ he thought. That’s him in the bad books, not even a kiss either. A bad sign. He’d better reply. “[Oh no! Sorry!…🤦‍♂️Of course, we might have a couple after the game but won’t too late. Any suggestions? Xxx]”

After an anxious minute or two of waiting his phone buzzed again “[just get something to stick in the oven. Maybe a lasagne? Xxx]”

Phew, kisses. He thought. Then he heard a cheer from the other end of the ground and quickly looked up to see a group of oppositions players huddled together in the corner of the pitch. 1-0 City. F*ck.

“What a load of Sh*t!” Someone cried from behind them as City scored their third.

“Not even half time, this could get ugly,” said Ed.

“What else do you expect if the gaffer keeps starting Sanchez up front!” Dave said, simply repeating their earlier comments to give an impression that he knew what he was talking about. “…The guy can barely run.” He added for good measure.

“Too right!” Said a rather burly tattooed bald bloke sat behind them as he patted Dave on the shoulder. “Do something you Clown!” The burly bloke shouted at the manager.

“Guy’s only here because people know his name. Sooner he’s fu*cked off the better!” The burly guy said to them before giving Ed a firm pat on the shoulder and leaning back into his seat.

Steve turned to look at Ed and Dave with a knowing smile… maybe these seats weren’t quite as perfect as they first thought.

“How’s the family?” Dave asked Ed trying to make conversation as they waited for the others to finish their half time piss, whilst rubbing his hands together in an attempt to get some feeling back in his fingers.

“Oh, you know. Still a bunch of annoying twats.” Ed said with a smirk. “Chris keeps getting in trouble with his teachers. Sally and I have nearly given up on him.”

‘Maybe he wouldn’t be such an annoying twat if you talked to him more and spent less time playing Adventures of the Argonauts 7 or whatever his latest gaming obsession was’… Dave thought.

“Really?” He replied. “Bloody kids eh?! Have the school said anything?”

“Not really. They just want to give them all a label these days.” Replied Ed. Dave didn’t want to press Ed any further, he could tell it was a sensitive subject…

“Pint?” Colin exclaimed on his return from the loo.

“I’ll have a half” replied Dave.

“Half?!” Splutter Ed.

“Pint or nothing!” Declared Colin.

“Alright then.” Dave said with a forced smile. “I’m not fucking downing it though.” Dave said. “Let’s just miss the start of the second half, we’ve lost this already anyway!”

“The manager has to go!” Steve said exasperated as he returned from the loo.

“Yeah, you’re right.” Said Dave. “Clueless. They look like a bunch of strangers out there.” Dave thought that would do.

“I like him”. Said Ed, ever the contrarian. “Good clobber, talks sense…. And if we get relegated, we might win a few games!”

They all laughed… “Yeah. Noticed from overhead that he’s got a bit of a bald spot.” Said Steve.

Dave started laughing a bit too enthusiastically and quickly stopped himself. Quickly retorting. “The stress of the job!” In a vain attempt to cover his embarrassment.

“Come on boys, put some effort in!” Shouted the burly bloke from behind them.

After the half time refreshment break, they’d ended up sitting in a different order and Dave was now frustratingly sat next to Colin.

“How’s work?” Dave asked trying to strike up some kind of conversation.

“You know… Work.” Colin replied with a rueful look.

‘Fair enough’ thought Dave. He didn’t want to talk about work on a Saturday either, especially this weekend. He just had so little to say to Colin that he’d runout of any other ideas and panicked.

“You don’t make it down to games very often these days?” Colin accused with a mocking tone.

“Yeah, it’s expensive these days. You know? … and the kids have a busier social life than me. One of Me or Mel has to take them!“ he excused.

“Kids eh!” Retorted Colin…

Dave could tell Colin was a bit awkward. Family life was still a bit of a taboo subject with Colin, even if it was now two years on from his divorce, so Dave was about to move the conversation on before Ed butted in…

“Bunch of pricks! Enjoy the freedom Col!” … they all chuckled.

“Yeah Col” said Steve. “Mine spend half the time causing havoc!… it’s just a battle to get through the day until bedtime.” He stated in jest… “But you know, they’re great really.” Steve added with a rueful grin.

There was a pause as Dave considered what else he could say to Colin to change the subject.

But the match came to his rescue…“Come on ref! That was a foul!” Shouted Colin, quickly getting to his feet and waving his arms.

“We always get the sh*test refs!” Stated Steve.

“Oh, for f*cks sake!” Shouted Colin as City quickly broke free to score their fifth of the afternoon

“Shall we just go to the pub?” Asked Ed… “I’ve had enough and it’s fucking freezing!”

One more for the road?” Said Colin… ‘Not really’… thought Dave, as he awkwardly shuffled from side to side, whilst waiting for Ed or Steve to be the first to make their excuses.

It’s not that Dave wasn’t enjoying himself. But he was near to his limit in pints and was keen to not get home too late to be able to spend some time with Mel, particularly given the food shopping list she had requested. She’d had to leave early for their kids’ friend birthday party, so they’d taken off with Dave still dozing in bed. They both had busy work lives, often doing plenty of unpaid overtime, so the weekend was usually the only quality time they got together.

“I’ll leave it”, said Ed. “Got an early start tomorrow, in-laws are coming for Lunch.”

“Urgh” replied Colin. “Rather you than me, he chuckled, whilst shuffling awkwardly.

“Yeah, might leave it too”. Said Dave. “Promised Mel I wouldn’t get too drunk and I’m not able to handle many more than this these days.”

“Good call”. Said Steve.

“Fair enough lads,” said Colin. Pulling out his phone as if he had other friends to contact…but they all knew that he didn’t. Not since Carly had left him. All his other friends had either sided with her or lost touch long before.

They headed their separate ways. Colin and Steve were sharing a cab home, and Ed was getting the bus, so Dave was on his own again getting the train.

It was an hour or so after the match, so most of the crowd had surpassed and Dave walked straight onto the platform without having to queue.

There was a group of teenagers blocking the gangway, so Steve awkwardly asked them to move. They did, but with a sneering reluctance.

He walked down the platform and looked up at the train times board. “Cancelled?! Again!?” He thought. “Fucking Thatcher!” He exclaimed.

“Alright Love?” Dave said as he went through the door.

“Hi!” Mel replied enthusiastically.

Dave took an internal sigh of relief as they hugged and kissed. He was worried his blunder with the fridge might still be being held against him.

“Blimey your hands are cold! She exclaimed, flinching in shock.

“Yeah, froze our arses off!”

“Aw” she replied with mock sympathy. What did you get for dinner?” She asked.

“Lasagne” he said with a knowing smile. Mel loved Lasagne. Especially if she didn’t have to make it herself from scratch.

She smiled back. “Good game?” She asked.

“No!” Spluttering as he replied. “Did you not see the score?” He said with a grimace.

“Sorry I’ve been on the go with the kids all day. Not had a chance to look.”

“5-1 City” he replied morosely.

“Bloody hell!” She exclaimed. “Colin won’t be inviting you back for a while!” She said with a smirk.

“Good” he replied, smirking back.

“The kids were asking to go next time”. Mel said with an anxious look.

“Really?” Dave replied sharply with eagerness.

Mel looked back with a look of encouragement and surprise. “Yeah, I said we’d think about it.”

After a day at the football which had starred with such excitement but had hardly lived up to his expectations. This news had put the spring back in his step. He’d always hoped the kids would take an interest in football and hoped to one day take them to their first game.

“I didn’t think either of them were interested?” He said with surprise.

“Well, they were intrigued where Daddy had gone today, so they kept asking about it… and someone in Peter’s class goes to games too apparently.” She replied, smiling even harder as she could hear the excitement in Dave’s voice.

“Let’s do it! I’ll speak to Colin tomorrow to see if he can sort us out some tickets for the United game.” Dave said with a grin.

Jump to the next instalment

The Sellingest of Selling clubs

Thursday was a frustrating evening, as the soap opera that has been the future of Leandro Trossard’s came to a head as his pending transfer to Arsenal was all but officially confirmed, along with stories surfacing that Albion’s midfield talisman Moises Caicedo looked like he may well following him out the door too before the month is over.

As I’ve written about before, this is the transfer strategy the club has chosen, to date and it’s worked wonders. We just have to get used to this.

However, losing both Trossard and Caicedo would most definitely dent out hopes of European football that I ended my last blog dreaming about. However well we’ve already adapted to life without Trossard, and the array of talent that’s previously left before him.

But, whilst there’s a genuine opportunity for European football this season, or even a FA cup run, I don’t think the club are primarily focused on it, their focus is on the bigger picture. And begrudgingly we have to admit, quite rightly.

Paul Barber said to in the Argus last week when referring to European qualification, “We have not looked at it in a lot of detail.”

At the same time Barber named a number of clubs Albion are above in the table, stating their (in my view) greater publicly ambitions, contrasting that with Albion’s more realistic mindset. Saying he believed the fans were on board with that.

Sensible mindset, that’s how you run a football club at the top level, I guess? But it does go against the football fan mindset of constantly dreaming of better and ultimately, seeing your club win something.

It’s certainly true the club recognise it’s a possibility. With Barber also saying, “You can’t afford to come off the gas at any point because points are crucial if you have ambitions to play at the highest level.

And the highest level for us is winning silverware, obviously, or playing in Europe.”

But there are other clubs who are bolder and more explicit (publicly at least) with their ambitions. Something inarguable really when you look at club’s like Villa, Leeds and West Ham who have (inexplicably) talked about Champions League qualification.

Barber is realistic. But it can be rather dispiriting at times like these.

Some will say, we’ve just thrashed Liverpool 3-0, what have you got to be dispirited about?.. But moments like this are dispiriting BECAUSE we’ve just beaten Liverpool, look at what’s possible!

Does Caicedo now leave too? Well, all I’d say is we’ve seen this story before and we know how it ends.

After all, whilst we don’t have another Caicedo, we do have a number of options in in his area of the pitch, particularly since the signing Billy Gilmour, and soon to be reinforced with the return of Jakub Moder from a long injury lay off, and that’s not to mention the array of talented youngsters threatening to break through too or return from loan this summer.

Furthermore, whilst some say Albion will hold off for a better time to sell, Albion have 30 points on the board already, with little-to-no risk of relegation. So the board may in fact decide: what better time to sell, particularly if they get a ‘silly money’ offer…That’s my worry anyway.

And even if Caicedo doesn’t go, his head’s likely now been turned. The infamous Fabrizio Romano been reported earlier this week that he’s got himself a new agent… as I said, we’ve seen this story before.

Look at Bissouma last season after the club rejected a bid in January for him, there was a clear subsequent drop off in standard. And you could easily expect the same to happen again with Caicedo if we hold off on selling.

Are this weekends opponents Leicester City, currently struggling at the wrong end of the table, showing us the alternative? Here’s what happens when you do actually try to avoid selling players?

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said in the build up to this weekends game that there “have been challenges here that are invisible to people which you might not see unless you were working with them”.

“But it’s just about reinforcing the qualities of the players,” he added. “Some of them have been here a long time. Maybe some thought they would get moves to bigger clubs, but it hasn’t happened for whatever reason.

“My job is to work with the players and to maximise their talent. We’ve been able to do that for the majority of the time we have been here. It’s about consistency at this level. You need to be mentally ready and committed.”

The example of Leicester shows the other side of the coin. It is a warning to Albion of what can be a tricky balance of maximising the potential of the team in the short term and doing what’s best for the longer term. Something Albion have done pretty well so far to their credit.

Right now, it feels like we are the most sellingist of selling clubs. The reality is, like most clubs, we are a selling club, and always have been.

Name a great Albion player of the modern era, and there’s a good chance that they were eventually sold to a bigger club too…

But not to this extent. West Ham made £23m from last seasons European cup run, an amount by far overshadowed by Premier League TV & prize money. So whilst us fans would love to see it, when in addition you take account of the larger squad often required, and the challenges qualifying for Europe places on domestic commitments, the short term benefits of this from a “business” perspective start to look small.

Showing that while Brighton remain in the Premier League they can make far more profit from selling their players at peak value than holding on a bit longer in hope of making Europe or winning a domestic cup competition.

Just look at team selections for cup competitions, over the years us supporters have just had to learn to accept that clubs now see potential glory as less important and don’t share our priorities.

Many have said (once again) Albion latest sale represents good business from the club. Buying a player and selling him on for double that value in just a few years.

Fine. That’s all well and good, I don’t disagree that it’s good business.

But as another one of Brighton’s best player is sold, I can’t help but feel a bit of frustration. Is “business” what we want our club to be truly best at?

The end of an era, or maybe not

It’s been 20 weeks since that amazing late summer afternoon when Albion put in a spectacular, Alexis Mac Allister inspired performance to beat Leicester City 5-2 at the AMEX.

It was a game which turned out to be more significant than we realised at the time too. As we know now it turned out to be Graham Potter’s last game in charge of the team before he and half of the men’s senior team backroom staff headed off to lead Todd Boehly’s new project at Chelsea… I wonder how that’s working out?

Following his departure, some assumed this would be the end of an era of progress for the club. All while the clubs much spoken of succession planning was put into action. And if the last few months have shown anything’s, it’s that it’s passed with flying colours and once again confirmed that Albion’s hierarchy really know how to recruit well.

Dan Ashworth, Yves Bissouma, Marc Cucurella, Neal Maupay, Graham Potter, Bruno, Ben Roberts, Paul Winstanley (I could go on) … all departed, and were all replaced swiftly with adequate replacements, if not enhancements, and so this team just keeps on improving regardless.

In particular David Weir’s appointment as Technical Director looks inspired. A person who deputised for Dan Ashworth during his later years with the club and who Paul Barber admitted the club had to convince to stay after a job offer from another Premier League club. It was Weir after all who led the recruitment process of Roberto De Zerbi as First Team manager.

De Zerbi’s appointment excited many and has been increasingly praised as time has gone on, with the teams’ performances continuing to impress.

In particular in front of goal, an area Albion notoriously struggled with under Potter.

Under De Zerbi Albion have scored 35 goals in 15 games, scoring at nearly double the goalscoring rate under Graham Potter’s tenure.

However, we had already started to see an improvement. In Graham Potter’s last 12 Premier League games in charge, with Albion scoring 24 goals accumulating a massive 24 points, which compares to 27 goals scored and 17 points accumulated in De Zerbi’s first 12 Premier League games in charge.

The recent situation regarding Leandro Trossard has been one of the first a big tests for De Zerbi at Brighton. And his approach has been a change in public disciplinary issues from what we’re used to under Graham Potter, who would much rather criticise media or fans than his own players publicly.

Given what we know about the club’s financial model being built on selling its best players for a profit, I wonder if this approach will cause some concerns among Albion’s hierarchy.

Trossard’s agent has stated that he does genuinely want away, and he’s fallen out with management, which clearly devalues Albion’s negotiating position.

Whilst De Zerbi has said what I think a lot of fans were thinking, Trossard hasn’t been putting enough work and effort in. A very popular statement to make. But again, potentially devaluing the players sell-on value by suggesting that he’s a problem.

And arguably you could say that’s why De Zerbi somewhat clawed-back on some of his scorn in his comments after the Liverpool game when he said that he is “ready to open the door” to Leandro Trossard… you’d expect so too given he’s Albion’s top scorer this season despite not getting on the scoresheet since the win over Chelsea in October, and arguably has been one of the clubs most consistent performers for a long period prior to the recent World cup.

Many will disagree with me on that point, particular given Trossard’s rather petty public statement via his agent. But it wasn’t long ago that after his hat-trick at Anfield in De Zerbi’s first game in charge that some were describing him as one of the best ever players to pull on the blue and white stripes. How times change.

You could fairly argue that it’s his fault. It certainly looks so from what we’ve heard. But that doesn’t change the positive impact that Trossard can have on this team, as that day at Anfield so brilliantly highlighted.

Yes, we’ve been brilliant without Trossard in recent games. But if he doesn’t reconcile with De Zerbi, I suspect the club will need to strengthen in the next couple of weeks as I’d question our depth in that area of the pitch, particularly with games set to come thick and fast, especially if we go on an FA cup run.

When you compare that to Graham Potter’s tenure and the multitude of players with big egos, ambitions beyond our club and rumours of interested parties, (along with a generally lower league position) it’s striking and commendable that this situation never arose under his tenure.

But in Trossard’s absence it’s given an opportunity for others to flourish. And no player has done so more than Solly March, who has become a transformed player since the League Cup defeat at Charlton, where he missed a multitude of goalscoring opportunities along with the potential winning penalty.

Subsequently, both he and De Zerbi have publicly expressed their admiration for each other.

De Zerbi said of March after his man of the match performance against Southampton which followed the Charlton defeat, where March scored his first in the Premier League since November 2020: “I trust him a lot and I want always more because I think he’s a good player. He can play better, he can improve. He can be more important for us. I want him to believe more in himself.

Three further goals and two more assists in the following four matches have followed. Solly is playing like a man reborn and is clearly loving life under De Zerbi: “I love playing for Roberto de Zerbi. He’s great. He puts his arm around you and tells you you’re a good player and maybe that’s what I needed.”

Interesting comments indeed. For all of Graham Potter’s thoughtful and intellectual reflection, Roberto De Zerbi certainly comes across as a more enthusiastic, cuddly character. But what appeals to one player, won’t necessarily appeal to others.

March may have caught the headlines the most, but a number of players have excelled of late since De Zerbi’s appointment, Mitoma, Colwill, Ferguson and the evergreen Pascal Gross to name just a few.

This looks like a team enjoying their football under the new boss and that’s the case according to Alex Crook who said on TalkSport last week: “I don’t think Potter’s been helped by De Zerbi coming in at Brighton and actually propelling them to a new level. I speak to people at Brighton all the time and there are players in that dressing room that say ‘De Zerbi is better than Potter’. 

Let’s not get too carried away, these are early days for Roberto De Zerbi. The Graham Potter comparisons are inevitable, but after a tricky start of no wins and only 4 goals scored in his first 5 games, it now looks like he’s picked up where Graham Potter left us, or, as Alex Crook and others have argued, even taken the team to a new level.

Ever since that faltering start, De Zerbi has begun to put his stamp on this team. His Albion have been free scoring, freewheeling, and are now dreaming of European football. Now that dream feels closer than ever.

Up the Albion X