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Friday, June 21, 2024

Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton exit is the only solution due to irreconcilable differences

The departure of Roberto De Zerbi from Brighton & Hove Albion boils down to one core issue.

There are irreconcilable differences between the head coach and owner-chairman Tony Bloom about how the club should operate in the transfer market.

Bloom will not budge on the principles that have served them so well up to now. De Zerbi is equally strong-minded about what he believes he needs to maintain progress.

So, Brighton are losing the enigmatic, animated Italian who guided them into Europe for the first time, while keeping a grip on the structure that created the environment for De Zerbi to take them there.

Broadly speaking, the players Brighton recruit fall into two distinct categories.

Youngsters from all over the world, in their teens through to 23, are identified by a combination of Bloom’s unique global data bank and the club’s scouting network at a relatively low cost. The idea is they can be developed and improved to the point where their resale value multiplies.

The squad is brimming with examples, such as Kaoru Mitoma (Japan), Simon Adingra (Ivory Coast), Julio Enciso (Paraguay) and Evan Ferguson (Republic of Ireland).

The other group are players in their thirties with top clubs, trophies and medals on their CVs, such as Danny Welbeck, James Milner and Adam Lallana (who is leaving after four years). Not so far past their prime they cannot still make a meaningful contribution on the pitch, but at the same time bringing gravitas to the dressing room to help educate those young players.

De Zerbi wants more players that fall in between those categories. Players in their mid-to-late twenties or early thirties with established records, who cost more in transfer fees, wages or both. They just do not fit into Brighton’s model.

Two deals in the past two transfer windows strike at the heart of the parting of the ways. Last summer, De Zerbi pushed for the signing of Mahmoud Dahoud, a then-27-year-old central midfielder on a free transfer but hefty wages from Borussia Dortmund.

Bloom, somewhat reluctantly, sanctioned the deal. De Zerbi was in a position of strength, having steered the club to sixth place in the Premier League and qualification for the Europa League, only to then lose Moises Caicedo to Chelsea for a British-record package of £115million ($146m), and Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool for a fee that, with add-ons, could reach £56m.


Roberto De Zerbi and Tony Bloom disagree on transfer strategy (Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

Dahoud’s move has not worked out. He started nine games in the first half of the season before returning to the Bundesliga in January on loan to Stuttgart with a view to the switch becoming permanent. That will not be happening — he made only one start for Stuttgart.

Now, fast forward to the January window. Bloom’s strategy is to avoid mid-season panic measures, preferring instead to concentrate in the winter window on signings for the future.

Brighton’s main business was capturing 19-year-old Argentine left-back Valentin Barco from Boca Juniors for less than £8m. De Zerbi did not think Barco was ready for the Premier League and he would have been sent out on loan had it not been for a continuing injury crisis that has plagued the club throughout the campaign. In two starts and four substitute appearances, Barco has demonstrated glimpses of rich potential.

De Zerbi deserves to be cut some slack. From his perspective, Brighton had topped a tough Europa League group containing Marseille, Ajax and AEK Athens to reach the last 16 of the Europa League. They were through to the fifth round of the FA Cup before the January window closed and were in contention to qualify for Europe again via a high league finish, despite the sales of Caicedo and Mac Allister, as well as a crippling toll of mid and long-term injuries suffered by several key players.

He wanted more help in January, although it had been made abundantly clear to him when he was appointed in September 2022 that this was the way the club worked in the transfer market. As far as Bloom was concerned, there was no room for compromise, not after Dahoud and, to a lesser extent, having also granted De Zerbi his wish in the summer with the signing of central defender Igor Julio from Fiorentina for £17m, plus £3m in add-ons.

Although the 26-year-old Brazilian has done reasonably well across 32 appearances, he is another example of a player who does not really fit the club’s recruitment model.

Since January, De Zerbi has made forthright remarks in some of his press conferences about the club’s January transfer business. This has coincided with the 44-year-old being linked with other jobs but also a run of five wins in 18 games across all competitions, including exits from the last 16 of both the Europa League and the FA Cup. They also dropped out of contention to reach Europe again via their league placing.

Although Bloom did not welcome De Zerbi going public with his criticism, it was the contrasting attitudes continuing in private about what should be done in the summer transfer window that prompted a parting of ways, with the club announcing on Saturday afternoon that De Zerbi would be leaving following Sunday’s closing fixture at home to Manchester United.

De Zerbi is a brilliant coach who has propelled Brighton to a new level with a daring, sophisticated brand of playing out from the back. He will not be short of admirers and he may well thrive at a bigger club with a recruitment strategy better suited to his expectations.

He will be a very hard act to follow but Bloom will likely have known for some time who he has in mind as a replacement. It is better to have a clean break now than another transfer window where the head coach and the club are not on the same page.

(Top photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

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