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.