De Zerbi was fun while he lasted - now Bloom must maintain Brighton's momentum (2024)

After Roberto De Zerbi’s last dance for Brighton & Hove Albion, who next to build on the quick steps they have taken under the Italian?

De Zerbi’s two-season reign ended on a low note, with Sunday’s 2-0 home defeat by Manchester United dropping his team out of the top 10 to 11th place, a point behind arch-rivals Crystal Palace, who beat Aston Villa 5-0.

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Owner-chairman Tony Bloom will have planned meticulously for the departure of the head coach because that is how he operates.

De Zerbi was appointed in September 2022, within 12 days of Chelsea announcing the capture of his Brighton predecessor Graham Potter. An A-list of candidates who Brighton regard as snug fits for their model is always in place and continuously updated.

It evolves to take account of changing circ*mstances. For example, Bo Svensson, a leading candidate last time, has dropped down the pecking order. The Dane, who left Mainz in November, has attracted interest from Union Berlin and Sunderland.

On the other hand, Kieran McKenna — known by Bloom’s chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber since their Tottenham Hotspur days — has emerged as a serious contender after lifting Ipswich Town from League One to the Premier League in back-to-back seasons.

Stylistically, it would be unrealistic to replicate De Zerbi’s brand of high-risk-for-high-reward build-up from the back, stemming from using the goalkeeper like an extra outfield player — but the general ethos of playing through the pitch will be a pre-requisite.

Part of the rationale in switching Jeremy Sarmiento — the Ecuador winger on the fringes under De Zerbi since injuries set him back — from West Bromwich Albion to Ipswich on loan in January was the similarities with Brighton’s methods.

For all of the homework and due diligence, it will still be challenging for Bloom to get it right again, as he has with the vast majority of his previous picks.

He had the foresight to bring Potter, his reputation forged at Ostersunds in Sweden, to the club from Swansea City in 2019 to move Brighton on in playing style and substance after four years under Chris Hughton that included promotion from the Championship and pragmatic solidity in the bottom six of the Premier League.

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That worked, as did De Zerbi for two seasons, moving the team on again after Potter, despite the differences over player recruitment policy that developed and that have ultimately led to him leaving.

Before Brighton’s Premier League era, Hughton, Oscar Garcia and Guy Poyet all succeeded in the Championship. The only Bloom appointment that backfired was Sami Hyypia, who lasted for six months in 2014.

Whoever it is, there will be limited scope for improvement. Rising to sixth place in De Zerbi’s first season to qualify for Europe, then topping a tough Europa League group to reach the last 16 of the competition and just missing out on the top 10 again sets a high bar. As does the style accompanying the achievements.

On the plus side, it would be freakish to suffer the same extent of injuries to key players that De Zerbi had to cope with this season.

Because of the club’s recruitment policy, De Zerbi’s successor will inherit a squad packed with young talent and a sprinkling of worldly-wise nous, free next season of the extra demands that accompany Europe qualification.

As De Zerbi’s departure has demonstrated, they will need to be on the same page as Bloom about the profile of the players Brighton recruit. If they are, then Brighton are an attractive proposition for the next head coach — a stable and sensible owner providing the foundation to re-establish Europe credentials, with the possibility of winning a major domestic trophy for the first time.

The last rites against Manchester United indicated how the season fell apart from January. De Zerbi reverted to type, with six changes to the side beaten 2-1 at home by Chelsea four days earlier.

De Zerbi was fun while he lasted - now Bloom must maintain Brighton's momentum (2)
The Brighton vs Manchester United match dashboard, showing how, once again, De Zerbi’s team dominated possession and territory, but failed to punish their opponents

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Multiple alterations to the line-up from game to game have been a feature of the season in an attempt to coax a squad through four competitions in a 50-game campaign.

Missed opportunities in front of goal have been common, too. Joao Pedro, Valentin Barco and Adam Webster spurned chances to reward a bright performance in the opening 45 minutes with an interval lead against United.

The energy levels dropped in the second half, United improved and a fourth defeat out of five at the Amex Stadium against top-eight sides was inflicted by goals in the last 17 minutes by Diogo Dalot and substitute Rasmus Hojlund, who both capitalised on questionable defending.

De Zerbi was as engaged and animated as he has always been on the edge of the technical area, removing his black jumper after five minutes. Fans chanted his name moments later.

The players gave team-mate Adam Lallana, making his farewell appearance after four years at the club, a guard of honour after the final whistle, followed by De Zerbi and his staff before the customary lap of appreciation at the end of the season.

It was fun while it lasted under De Zerbi. The challenge for Bloom now is to make sure Brighton do not go into reverse gear.

GO DEEPERIrreconcilable differences made Roberto De Zerbi's Brighton exit the only solution

Data graphic by Mark Carey.

(Top photo: Charlie Crowhurst via Getty Images)

De Zerbi was fun while he lasted - now Bloom must maintain Brighton's momentum (4)De Zerbi was fun while he lasted - now Bloom must maintain Brighton's momentum (5)

Andy Naylor worked for 32.5 years on the sports desk of The Argus, Brighton’s daily newspaper. For the last 25 of those years he was chief sports reporter, primarily responsible for coverage of Brighton and Hove Albion FC. Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyNaylorBHAFC

De Zerbi was fun while he lasted - now Bloom must maintain Brighton's momentum (2024)

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