Albion shouldn’t fear failure as they approach the run-in

This week saw Albion’s first win over Crystal Palace since 2019, and the first win over their arch rivals at the AMEX since 2018. A truly special evening capped by the Sussex born and bred Solly March scoring the winner.

So now with 13 games to go Albion sit primed for a European place challenge, along with a first home FA cup quarter final since 1986 this weekend. This is shaping up to be one of the most remarkable seasons in the club’s history, but how good can it get?

Roberto De Zerbi was quoted by Andy Naylor in The Athletic this week talking about how his Brighton players are regarding themselves as Champions League contenders, saying: “I speak as a coach and I’m proud of their words, because to fix a high target is right.”

Stating high targets are somewhat Albion’s thing too (Premier League ready, anyone?) and remarkably they have a good record of achieving them, but not always. In 2015 Albion’s women set a target of Champions League football within 5 years. 8 years later they still haven’t achieved that and are currently more concerned with maintaining their WSL status, as opposed to competing at the top-end of the table.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t aim big. Let’s go for it, let’s dream big. But, let’s also remember targets and achievements often vary.

Just as RDZ went onto say in The Athletic this week. “It isn’t a problem if we don’t arrive at our target, I repeat, the most important thing is to fight to arrive at our target when this target is higher, because it’s important for your way.” Sadly, that kind of nuance is often lost on people.

And when he says it’s not a problem, it’s not to say it’s not disappointing, but rather that it’s not a failure to not always break new ground. Losing is as much a part of sport as winning after-all.

Whilst we make aims of breaking further ground, we should still celebrate the more modest successes, even ones we’ve maybe begun to take for granted.

For example, one thing that shouldn’t be lost among everything else following Wednesday’s win over Palace is that it meant Albion passed the 40-point mark. And that’s with 13 games still to play. With that foundation now set, so much is still possible.

But history shows us to be wary of disappointment. In the 1981/82 season, the club were right in the mix for Europe until 7 defeats in the last 8 matches of the season meant they missed out and finished 13th. The following season Albion famously and narrowly lost the FA cup final, in-turn again missing out on Europe (along with their topflight status). Europe’s not been on the clubs radar ever since, so the fact that we are here again competing for it should be celebrated.

In contrast to my more reserved attitude, Warren Aspinall said on this weeks Albion Unlimited for BBC Sussex that we should “forget” the struggles of the past and “focus on the future” rather than being led by history. However, changing our outlook when so much of that history is ingrained in the culture and traditions of the club, is easier said than done.

Warren is right though in many ways. Outlook and mentality have a huge impact on a teams success or failure. A pessimistic or negative outlook can lead to a self doubt and anxiety that then leads to hesitation and poor decision making. In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Us football fans often demonstrate how the fragility of outlook and mentality with our reactionary opinions after a good or bad result. If enough people express an opinion on Twitter it appears to then become fact in some circles and I have no doubt that this can affect a teams mentality and in turn their performances.

Look at Solly March’s recent turn-around. Suddenly he’s the best thing since sliced bread. But prior to the return of the Premier League, and especially after that disappointing defeat to Charlton in the League Cup, of which his misses were a huge part of, he was a pariah for many Albion fans.

This can particularly be true for a low-scoring sport such as Football, which is won and lost on such small margins. Who knows what would have happened had Odsonne Edouard found the corner of the net with his early header on Wednesday night, which instead went wide of the post. It is moments such as these that games are decided upon and at times it’s these moments that the momentum of a season can also hinge upon.

The American Philosopher William James once said “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.” And maybe it’s that discovery which we are witnessing at Albion right now, the next few months will be a significant test of the club’s mental development.

If Albion can go into their final 13 league games and this Sunday’s FA Cup quarter final believing they have a genuine opportunity as well as an ability to make club history, that could make all the difference. Especially with the peace of mind that if they fail to do so, this season will still likely be considered a relatively success.


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 recent history has taught us anything, it’s not to overvalue the impact of individual staff, as Paul Barber recently said: no one is indispensable.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

Unprecedented success but us supporters are still the ones losing

What a week it’s been for the Albion, with Alexis Mac Allister becoming the first Albion player to win the World Cup. He’d already become the first Albion player to score at a World Cup, one containing by far the most representation from the club in its history.

Prior to the last World Cup in 2018, you could count the number of Brighton players involved at major international tournaments on one hand and have fingers to spare. And those players certainly didn’t threaten on being a key player for the winning side.

It’s a sign of how far the club has come in the past five and a half years since achieving promotion.

Jamie Carragher said that Brighton should expect to be relegated within the next five years following its promotion in 2017. He was right too, and the fact we are still here and going from strength to strength is a testament to the great work being done at the club.

However, it is somewhat bittersweet that this period of prominence at the club has coincided with this period of what at times appears to verge on moral bankruptcy across world football, with the Qatar World Cup a shining example of what issues exist in world football. As the straight-talking Roy Keane said during ITV’s coverage of the World Cup final, this World Cup is “stained”.

And if we are talking about world football arguably being morally bankrupt, then you can’t not focus on the Premier League. Of which our very own Brighton and Hove Albion own 1/20th of the shareholding and have done since promotion in the summer of 2017. So, by extension we must take our share of the blame for at best standing by and letting the continued escalation in recent years go on.

The Premier League “clubs” are largely now owned by a variety of investment groups with little regard for the “clubs” history or its supporter’s interest, nor with any connection to the local community those “clubs” represent. Neither do they have any interest or seemingly knowledge of English football more broadly. But instead, are purely focused on monetary return and repetitional benefits.

Our club has a vote and a voice. It would be nice to hear them using it for good more often to represent its communities’ interests, rather than defending at times morally suspect goings on.

Instead, name a controversy in Premier League politics over the time of Albion’s tenure and I suspect you’ll be able to find a quote from Paul Barber defending the policy.

Brighton are held up as a model club, and in many ways for good reason, but not necessarily in every way. Let’s look at the club’s finances to contextualise that.

In its last set of annual accounts Albion’s turnover was just under £140m, and yet they spent just under £170m on “player trading” & “football costs”.

This is a club that has made accumulated losses of £121m over the past two reported financial years. Leading to the club accumulating negative reserves of £239m. And it’s simply only still a going concern due to the £337m loan from Owner Tony Bloom.

You can of course rightly look at these figures as a reason to praise Tony Bloom’s commitment to the club. But furthermore, does that look like a shining example of a football club with its priorities in order?

The club stated upon releasing these accounts that: “despite the tough landscape, the accounts show that the club fully complied with Premier League Profitability and Sustainability (Financial Fair Play) regulations for the period.” It’s clear to me based on the numbers stated above that these regulations aren’t designed to ensure clubs live within their means or encourage financial sustainability and self-sufficiency.

In the accounts the club also states: “The club’s board continues to ensure the interests of all employees, supporters, partners, local community and other stakeholders are always given the fullest of consideration…”

Based on what we know, it’s hard to not see the phrase “Other stakeholders” as doing a lot of heavy lifting there. There are far too many examples in recent times of supporters’ interests being diminished, for the club to claim to give them “the fullest of consideration…”

Just take a look at the recent controversy of the increased match ticket terms and conditions as an example.

Paul Barber discussed this topic on a recent episode of the Brighton fan podcast Albion Roar saying: “This isn’t about being draconian, this is about trying to be fair to everyone, fair to the fans that are missing out, fair to the fans that are there and don’t want to be surrounded by people behaving stupidly, fair to the club that are hosting us because they are sick and tired of the behaviour of a small group of our fans and fair to the club because we don’t want a reputation for our travelling fans being a problem.”

But, whilst there are those whose behaviour warrants punishment, it certainly doesn’t feel fair to ban fans for games for some reportedly trivial reasons, like sharing tickets with family members. Or to leave fans queuing to collect tickets for hours on a cold winter night and then release a statement taking no responsibility whatsoever.

Frankly, this type of continued absence of care for supporters absolutely stinks, and it makes me wonder if Albion even care about us supporters interests anymore

Clubs often hide behind TV broadcasters to take the blame for supporter inconvenience, but the clubs are the league’s shareholders, they sell the TV rights that cause supporters so much strife and then insist on enforcing often unnecessary ticket terms & conditions, all whilst they claim they care about us supporters.

Paul Barber would of course talk about the importance of TV revenue to maintain the Premier League’s competitive advantages, etc, etc… Fine, but by prioritising that, you then need to be honest with supporters that you are not prioritising them. Rather than claiming to always given them “the fullest of consideration…”

Paul Barber also spoke on the Albion Roar podcast about the club improving the matchday experience by refreshing the signage and feel of the stadium along with the introduction of an improved fan-zone area outside the stadium on matchdays and improving the wayfinding at the stadium. Fine, but all things which I would suspect most Albion supporters wouldn’t consider huge priorities to improving their matchday experience.

Paul Barber also pointed to the increase in criminal behaviour and disorder at games as a reason to need to introduce many of these restrictions. Unfortunately, yet again proving that a small minority of football fans misbehaving inevitably leads to the majority being treated with suspicion and contempt.

Over the past year I have to be honest that I’ve felt a growing feeling of apathy towards the Albion despite all the recent success and unprecedented levels of prominence of the club.

In part due to my own personal circumstances of becoming a dad and other increasing personal commitments. But also, my own growing feeling that football isn’t for football supporters anymore, but instead just a vehicle for investment funds and the wealthy to make money and gain personal acclaim.

To a degree, as we get older it is inevitable that we feel less enthused about the things we loved when we were younger. But for me the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I started supporting the club, was very special time to be an Albion fan.

The club had just been fought back by supporters from the hands of its owners, after a long period of suspicion and anger, and ultimately fear and sorrow, at the way the club was being run.

So being a fan at the time, I genuinely felt part of something. Part of a club, a community, and a group of likeminded people.

These days, despite all the success and state of the art facilities, I just feel like another customer. A customer whose interests and interest are slowly diminishing.

I haven’t and won’t give up on the Albion that I fell in love with on those often cold, wet and windy afternoons at the Withdean stadium. As Micky Adams used to preach at the time, I will keep the faith. But I can’t pretend I, or I suspect many others, care as much as we used to. That’s my ultimate fear amongst all this recent success, is it just masking a growing resentment from supporters towards the clubs hierarchy. Maybe it is just me.

Jamie Carragher may well have been wrong about the length of the club’s Premier League tenure, but I think most would agree that he’s right in that it’s time here is limited. And if we’ve learned anything from the club’s history, it’s that when you take away the success, all you have left is the community of supporters that the club creates. I hope we don’t lose that in striving to achieve greater prominence.

Albion start the season with a familiar look, but a newfound vigour

Brighton’s season opening victory at the self-dubbed “Theatre of Dreams” was their first there in the club’s history, a remarkable day, and a piece of Albion history.

But not as remarkable a victory as it may first appear. This was actually Brighton’s 4th win over the Red Devils in the Premier League, the equal most wins by Brighton over any team in the Premier League, the others being Arsenal, Newcastle, Watford, and West Ham.

Leaving the only existing and continuous Premier League team that Brighton have failed to beat in a Premier League match as Chelsea, with Albion’s record against them currently standing as 4 draws, 6 defeats. No doubt a record Mr Potter will have an eye on, but that’s one for another day.

Pascal Gross got the much-deserved headlines for his two goals in an impressive performance, but one of the lesser spoken of elements from last weekend’s win was the impact of the lesser seen combination of Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana. Two players with histories of injury troubles that have limited their respective game time since joining the club in 2020.

Welbeck and Lallana played a total of 1,478 minutes and 1,561 minutes of Premier League football respectively last season, out of a total of 3,420. With their on-pitch minutes totalling a respective 1,545 and 1,596 during the previous 2020/21 Premier League season.

However, when they do play, particularly together, Albion are a better team. A fact demonstrated by their points per game averages from last season with only four Albion players averaging higher. (Points per game: Lallana 1.5, Welbeck 1.4, Brighton’s average 1.34)

Not that you’d realise it from the reaction on social media to Adam Lallana’s selection in the starting line-up. Criticism that would soon be made to look absurd and highlight just how undervalued the 34 times capped ex-England international really is amongst large portions of the club’s support.

The introduction of additional substitutions this season will give Graham Potter the flexibility to use Welbeck and Lallana in more games, whist potentially maintaining their limited number of minutes across the season, which could prove to be a huge bonus.

The reality is that as the season goes on, both Lallana and Welbeck will likely have to be used sparingly. Meaning the likes of their second half replacements Undav and Mwepu, alongside the likes of younger prospects Ferguson and Alzate, will all need to step up and fill the holes they have left.

One of the four players who did have a better points per game record last season was Moises Caicedo. Since he has come into the team for the win over Arsenal at the Emirates in April, Brighton have achieved a points per game average of 2.22. The equivalent of 84 points over a 38-game season, which would have secured 3rd place in the Premier League last season.

Even more astounding is that seven of those nine games were against teams who finished in the top half of the Premier League last season and included wins away to Arsenal, Spurs and wins both home and away against Man United.

If we include the goalless draw with Norwich at the beginning of April, that’s 21 points accumulated from the last ten matches, an astounding total, and a good enough sample size to suggests something has really clicked for Graham Potter’s side of late.

The bigger picture of course is that form is temporary, and class is permanent. Let’s not get carried away, Brighton aren’t in the same class as the teams competing at the top end of the table. Demonstrated by Albion’s club record breaking losing run in the topflight of six consecutive defeats falling immediately prior to this good run of form.

The remarkable thing about last season wasn’t just the terrible home form contrasting with the amazing away form, which we regularly discussed, but how relatively bad the results were against the teams at the bottom end of the table. That run of six straight defeats included a 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa and a 3-0 home defeat to eventually relegated Burnley, as well as a defeat away to next weekend’s opponents Newcastle.

In fact, of the eleven teams they finished above in the Premier League table last season, Albion beat just two at the AMEX, newly promoted Brentford as well as eventually relegated Watford, losing four and drawing the other five. If they are going to keep up the momentum and optimism from their recent good fortunes, that will have to change.

It wasn’t long ago Graham Potter was making a frustrated comment in a post-match press conference advising fans to take a history lesson in response to what he felt was an unfairly negative reaction to a goalless draw with Leeds.

The AMEX crowd has shown itself to be a harsh critic in recent seasons, and as Graham Potter admitted himself in an interview with the Athletic last season “reputations change quickly in football”. Keeping the home fans onside may not appear like a big job currently given the recent run of good form, but they’ve experienced a lot of frustration in recent years, and a few more results like the defeats to Villa and Burnley last season could quickly change perspectives.

As I have discussed before, if Graham Potter were managing one of the club’s Brighton are competing against with the same record, he would have been sacked a long time ago. But because the club see that the bigger picture, they afford him more leniency, and have so far been proven wholeheartedly right. But that’s not to say more frustration isn’t ahead.

As Talking Tactics said this week on Twitter, “I think it is important to point out that the board and fans allow Potter this freedom to experiment. He may get it wrong in some games, but it doesn’t really matter because he will learn from the defeat and adjust accordingly. That is a fantastic space in which to work.”

It comes down to your attitude to risk. The Premier League is such a huge financial behemoth that it makes many clubs primarily plan to minimise the risk of relegation, whereas Albion have shown themselves willing to take more risks if it increases their chance of victory.

In an interview with Melissa Reddy after the win over Man United, Adam Lallana spoke about the team having “a lot of courage” and “being brave”. Many teams of Brighton’s stature, particularly on opening day, would have gone to a place like Old Trafford to defend for a point, or minimising the scale of a potential defeat. Not Graham Potter’s Albion, and their resultant away record speaks for itself.

One much spoken about aspect that may count against Albion this season are the two key players the team lost over the summer in Bissouma and Cucurella. Players who as it stands will be replaced with a combination of promoted development team players and returning loan players.

Whilst much of the talk has been about how much Albion will miss Cucurella due to the lack of left sided defensive options, last season’s record suggests the loss of Bissouma shouldn’t be understated. They won just once without Bissouma starting last season in 13 Premier League matches, compared to 11 wins over the 25 Premier League matches he started in. Whilst the additions of Mwepu and Caicedo alongside the reinvigoration of Gross and Mac Allister in slightly different roles, appears to have given Albion’s midfield a new lease of life in these post-Bissouma times. We will have to wait and see if that materialises into sustained success across the season.  

The lack of big-name replacements and additions to the squad may frustrate some supporters who are looking for some transfer window excitement, but it’s something we will have to get used to. As Paul Barber said at the recent fans’ forum, the club’s long-term strategy is to develop its own players and avoid paying big transfer fees in order to compete with the more financially replenished club’s.

As various reports have stated, the club may venture into the transfer market to buy a left-back, something the lack of a number 3 in the first team squad numbers hints to an intention towards. But with nearly £100m worth of player sales in one transfer window (and counting), you may get the impression that the club is going to splash some serious cash, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Some would say there is no excuse to not spend money. Well, how about £120m of cumulative losses from the last two reported financial years? Or that the club has only made a profit once since Tony Bloom took over as Chairman-Owner, whilst the club’s debt to him has steadily grown, and all whilst the club strives to become financially self-sufficient.

As I said in a recent piece on the club’s finances, their 2021 accounts showed transfer expenditure had increased significantly since promotion, with the club now having spent £241m in the last 5 years, but which is still one of the lowest totals in the topflight. Reflective of the stature of the club rather than its ambition.

Despite some high profile exits all the soundings from the club are that they are happy with what they have got, and happy with the model they are following. As Graham Potter said at last week’s fans forum “we have to find a strategy, we have to go on a path that won’t be straightforward. But if you believe in it enough and work hard enough, then I think you can achieve it…. I would never want to lower supporter’s expectations, you just hope they can see the bigger picture and the challenges that you have”.

This approach is relatively novel amongst the mostly big-name, big-spending reality of the Premier League transfer window. It is not without its risks, but with Tony Bloom steering the ship you know it will be a calculated risk backed up by reliable data and the brain power of the senior management at the club.

As strange as it may sound, Brighton will face tougher challenges as the season goes on than they did at Old Trafford last Sunday, as their squad depth is tested and as they look to overcome some of the issues they have faced at the AMEX in recent season.

But last weekend’s win over United showed that whilst Albion may be starting the season with a familiar look, there is a newfound vigour and a greater threat as a result. If the team can sustain this over a prolonged period and demonstrate it at the AMEX more often, continuing the success of last season is achievable despite the high-profile departures.

Progression vs Financial Sustainability

Following Brighton Mens team’s first ever top-half topflight finish last season, attentions have quickly turned to bettering that next season. Former Albion striker and current club ambassador Bobby Zamora recently said of the club’s prospects on TalkSport that “their aim next year has got to be Europe… There is not a year when they have gone backwards in the last five, ten years… As a club and where they are aiming to be, there has been a progression every year.”

Progression certainly has been the name of the game since Tony Bloom took ownership of the club in 2009. The previous season had seen one of the greatest relegation escapes in the club history as a run of five wins from their last seven overturned an eight point deficit to avoid relegation back to the fourth tier of English Football. The club even went into the final day of the season still needing points to be sure of safety.

But there was an instant upturn in fortunes when Tony Bloom took over, largely associated with the investment he provided to fund building the new stadium, which was opened two years later. After winning League One in 2011, the club were denied a return to the topflight just four years after Bloom took over, losing to Palace in that playoff semifinal. And despite then manager Gus Poyet saying that season was “now or never” for the club’s Premier League ambitions, and a further two playoff semifinal setbacks which followed, the club hasn’t looked back since.

But whilst it’s great talking about ambition and we’ve become accustomed to Albion’s aims of pushing on each season coming to fruition, fulfilling the club’s latest goal of establishing itself within the top half of the Premier League table, whilst working within their sustainable financial ambitions, will be tricky given how much the other Premier League clubs are spending.

If we look at the club’s finances, you can see that Albion have one of the lowest wage bills in the Premier League and a relatively low Wages/Turnover ratio of 72%.

Realistically, I think the club would need to increase their wage bill and up their Wages/Turnover ratio to over 80%, or about another £15m per season in wages to be able to meet those ambitions, which would help the club to keep its existing talent and add to it with additional quality. But that’s unlikely to fit within their important plans for financial sustainability.

The club managed to finish in the top half last season, but as have the likes of Burnley, Leeds and Sheffield United in recent seasons. And as their examples show, achieving that over a consistent period is far tougher and often takes serious investment. Investment of the level which I doubt the club is willing to meet, and for good reason.

The club hasn’t registered a profit since the financial year covering its first Premier League season, 2017/18 (it’s first since 1996/97, a financial result skewed following the sale of the Goldstone Ground), whilst Paul Barber has spoken publicly of the club’s financial target to be breaking even and decrease the reliance on owner Tony Bloom’s ever increasing loan to the club in order to make ends meet, a rather common-sense ambition you would think? But this is Professional Football we are talking about, an industry where common sense is often in short supply and where emotion and ambition often take over.

These financial targets will most likely instead require a reduction in costs, unless there is a significant increase in turnover. Particularly when you consider that in 2021, the club posted a whopping £53.4m loss (which was preceded by a £67.2m loss in 2020), admittedly exacerbated by the pandemic reducing some income sources. Plans to overturn a loss of this extent shows the club can’t expect to rely on additional income alone to achieve a break-even position.

That said, increases in prize money can help to fill that hole. Last season’s 9th place finish saw that increase by £27.5m to £135m. But, the club’s well-known generous performance related bonus structure will have eaten away at some of the additional revenue generated.

Paul Barber has also spoken about increasing other forms of revenue, with increases in revenue from player sales in particular being targeted. This can be seen most prominently with the recent sales of Yves Bissouma, Dan Burn and Ben White, which have all contributed to total player sales of around £100m over the past year, and will no doubt lead to a huge increase in profits from player sales compared to the £15m generated over the previous five years.

However, amounts spent on incoming transfers since promotion to the Premier League more than outweigh that amount and a significant portion of the increase in revenue will be earmarked for future purchases rather than just filling the hole in the bottom line. As Albion’s former Finance Director David Jones said to Andy Naylor for a piece in ‘The Athletic’ “going forward, to reduce the deficit, clearly, player trading needs to be part of the business.”

It is also important to point out here that whilst further increases in player sales could in theory fill the financial gap, it’s questionable whether selling your best players and replacing them on the cheap is a sustainable model to establish yourself in the top half of the Premier League.

As clubs like Southampton have shown, not really. In reality, you need more of a balance and to hold onto some of your best players, whilst replacing those that do leave ahead of time. As Brighton are finding out this summer, the higher you go up the Premier league table the more interest there is in your own players, and the more costly that replacement process becomes.

Ryan Adsett of ‘Seagulls Social’ said on Twitter recently that: “Think fans need to realise that Brighton are not what they once were. The high-quality links suggest we are aiming higher, and because we can now! To progress, the bar must be raised.”

Whilst I think he is right; the problem is I don’t think Albion’s financial model fits with the kind of signings some expect, and the signings that some transfer rumours have alluded to. In the Premier League, money ultimately talks.

So far Albion have managed to reduce their financial deficit and overcome their financial limitations with some smart player purchases. The 2021 accounts showed how transfer expenditure had increased since promotion to the Premier League, with the club now having spent £241m in the last 5 years, but which is still one of the lowest totals in the topflight. Further investment, particularly in attacking areas, will no doubt be required for the club to take that next step.

The issue is of course, that’s the most expensive area of the pitch to recruit for. Recent rumours have linked Brighton with the signing of former loan player Jesse Lingard, which would make sense, particularly with him being out of contract this summer meaning the club could arguably justify the higher wage demands due to a lack of transfer fee. A scenario not dissimilar to Albion’s signing of another former England international, Adam Lallana. But with the likes of West Ham and Newcastle also reportedly interested in Lingard, the prospective deal would be a difficult signing to pull off.

As the reported £41m spent on Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Jurgen Locadia, Florin Andone and Percy Tau is evidence of. You can’t always rely on big money transfer solving your problems.

The club’s other ploy in reducing player transfer spend is to purchase young attacking talent and develop them (via its academy and various loan spells) into the attacking talent the club requires, with this summer’s new signings Julio Enciso and Simon Adingra the latest additions to a long list of young attacking talent, all of whom have yet to reach fruition in terms of first team impact.

That model will probably be tested properly for the first time this season with some of Albion’s returning loanees expected to bolster the first team attacking numbers.

In a recent piece for ‘The Athletic’ Andy Naylor discussed our old favourite subject of taking chances as part of a piece on required areas of improvement, saying: “The additions of Undav, Mitoma and Enciso could help Potter’s side to both create more chances and score more goals.” And along with those three names there’s plenty more aside in terms of potential future attacking talent at the club.

But, whoever you pick off that growing list of names, it’s hard to find a player that you’d hang your hat on for the upcoming season, outside of Albion’s existing attackers. Time will tell if the likes of Sima, Ferguson and Zeqiri will become Albion first team regulars in the future. But the problem for the club in the meantime will be, if the likes of Maupay, Trossard and/or Welbeck leave, then they are relying on those others being ready (or in some cases even capable) of making the step up. The amount who weren’t even involved with the first team last season suggests that many are not. And if not, then an unavoidably large financial outlay would still be required to sign a necessarily established replacement and maintain the club’s level from last season in the short-term, which given the financial constraints is hard to see happening.

The South American football correspondent Tim Vickery has been full of praise for Albion’s transfer strategy of signing young (mostly South American, Vickery’s wheelhouse) talent with a view of developing them into future stars and selling them on at a huge profit, comparing this to the models established by Portuguese giants Benfica and Porto. A model recently seen most prominently with the purchases by Liverpool of Luis Diaz from Porto, and former Albion target Darwin Nunez from Benfica for a combined total of over £100m.

The difficulty Albion have in this area is twofold. Firstly, as the club’s fruitless pursuit of Darwin Nunez showed, their lack of European football makes the club less attractive to some players compared to other clubs from across the continent. And secondly signing younger players with the potential to have the first team impact means, particularly due to the rigours of the Premier League relative to the Portuguese Primeira Liga for example, these players will inevitably spend much of their initial time developing out on loan or on the fringes of the first team.

As the example of Ben White shows (admittedly a youth team product rather than a bought in talent), once Albion’s young talent is up to Premier League standard, if good enough, it won’t take long for them to be of interest to the top clubs, meaning they don’t stick around for long and so only have a short period of impact on the first team. A factor that again raises questions over this transfer strategies impact on the long-term sustainability of first team performance.

Some will say the example of Alexis Mac Allister tells a slightly different story, and that sustained and long-term first team impact is achievable with this approach. But of course, he isn’t primarily filling a position at the very top end of the pitch, being responsible for, as Graham Potter puts it, the hardest thing to do in football, score goals.

As Football finance expert and Albion fan Kieran Maguire spoke about in a recent article for ‘The Business Magazine’, Brighton have provided a financial model for Premier League survival, through expert oversight, cohesive management, a culture of steady, realistic improvement, and a healthy supportive atmosphere.

But to do more than just survive and achieve the club’s long term aim of establishing itself in the top half of the topflight, the club will have to continue to outsmart their opponents and find what Kieran calls “marginal gains”.

The club’s wage budget is currently in the bottom six, and with aims to balance the books at the club coming alongside a culture of spend, spend, spend among many of its Premier League competitors, it’s hard to see that changing.

The Premier League, financially at least, is the most competitive in the world. So, whilst ambitions of continuing to challenge for and become established amongst, the top ten remain,expectations on performance at the club will no doubt stay more grounded.

Whilst the progression has been the name of the game at the club since Tony Bloom became owner in 2009, probability is the likely trajectory of the club going forward could well be downwards from last season’s 9th place rather than upwards. And that relegation, or at least a relegation struggle is very likely in the near term.

There is some cynicism of the recent praise in the national media that both Graham Potter and the club has widely received for what these cynics see as fairly moderate achievements. But with the club’s financial limitations in mind, Albion continue to defy expectations and achieve progression beyond what many have deemed possible, time and time again.

If recent history shows us anything, it’s that Tony Bloom has built a structure and a financial model at the club which is giving the club an edge over its competition. Going forward as ambitions for further progress grows, the club wIll have to make some tough decisions as to how they balance those ambitions with the importance of the club’s financial sustainability.