Can everyone just agree not to buy Brighton players this summer, and not to poach Roberto De Zerbi? We really want to see how far they can go…
Imagine if you will a world in which Alexis Mac Allister doesn’t go to Liverpool, Moises Caicedo doesn’t go to Arsenal, and they’re not shortly followed out of the Brighton door by Kaoru Mitoma, Evan Ferguson, Julio Enciso and manager Roberto De Zerbi.
Now take the far lesser leap to imagine Facundo Buonanotte, Kacper Kozlowski, Yasin Ayari, Simon Adingra, Abdallah Sima, or any of the other unknowns to have featured irregularly or not yet at all for Brighton having similarly devastating effects on the Premier League as those to have already completed that journey. Add to that Brighton signing two or three further absurdly talented, meagrely priced players each season for the next three years. What does their season-on-season progression look like?
Champions League qualification in 2023/24? Premier League title challenge in 2024/25? Treble winners in 2025/26? We’re only half joking.
Mitoma, at 25, is the oldest of their outstanding quintet this season. Him, Caicedo (21) and Mac Allister (24) are undoubtedly Champions League ready, hence the swathes of transfer interest from clubs at the top table. Another season of Premier League football and Ferguson (18) and Enciso (19) will be right there with them, and actually, Enciso’s recent displays suggest he would look perfectly at home in Europe’s showcase competition even without his inevitable improvement.
The £11m summer signing followed his wonder-winner against Chelsea with a virtuoso display on Saturday, claiming his first two assists for Brighton, with Mario Lemina and Ruben Neves consistently embarrassed by his quick feet, direct running and unlikely strength on the ball.
Brighton have shown through Graham Potter’s time that there is no better place for a player to improve, with De Zerbi taking that to a new level, and that’s not limited to the young stars shining brightest at the Amex.
Pascal Gross’ two goals against Wolves – the second a stunning volley from the edge of the box – means he’s now enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career at the age of 31, with nine goals in all competitions, to add to his eight assists. 32-year-old Danny Welbeck also scored a brace and looks as complete a striker as he ever has.
Even Deniz Undav and Billy Gilmour, the maligned summer signings, thoroughly enjoyed their day in the sun on the south coast. Undav scored his first two Premier League goals, delightfully dinking the second over Jose Sa, while Gilmour looked somewhere near the player who first broke onto the scene and had fans drooling at Chelsea.
Wolves were appalling, but you’ve got to marvel at Brighton thwacking them 6-0 with Mitoma, Caicedo and Mac Allister all starting on the bench. You couldn’t image Manchester United doing that without Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Casemiro, or Arsenal without Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard.
The ceiling for this Brighton team is the highest of any Premier League club, not just because of the players already starring, or the players they already own who inevitably will star in the future, but also because of the 14-year-olds they haven’t yet bought for peanuts that they’re scouting in the arse end of Bolivia or some Paraguayan back alley.
It’s the best football club in England but not the biggest, and that will be the problem, with Big Six (or seven) clubs always more alluring because of that unquantifiable metric and their ability to offer higher wages.
The departures will feel particularly galling this summer, because one more campaign of Mac Allister, Caicedo and whoever else may leave, assuming the same trajectory of this team under De Zerbi, would have seen them nailed on to secure Champions League football in 2023/24, before a title challenge in 2024/25 and the Treble in 2025/26.