The eyebrows that were raised when Brighton replaced Graham Potter with Roberto De Zerbi have been put firmly in their place over the last 12 months.
It was on September 18 a year ago, only 10 days after Potter’s departure for Chelsea, that the Seagulls announced their new boss would be a little-known Italian.
Brighton chairman Tony Bloom had identified De Zerbi as his next managerial target some time before after being impressed by his work in Italy with Benevento and Sassuolo, which then continued when he moved to Shakhtar Donetsk.
Arriving at Brighton with little English and big boots to fill, it was perhaps not surprising it was seen as a risky move but the only question now is how long the Seagulls will be able to hang onto him.
De Zerbi did not win any of his first five games in charge but thumped Potter’s Chelsea 4-1 for his maiden victory and did not look back.
Premier League highlights included the double over Chelsea and wins over Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal while they also beat Liverpool during a run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup that only ended with a penalty shoot-out loss to United.
Brighton eventually finished sixth, securing European football for the first time in the club’s history with a place in the Europa League.
And they have picked up where they left off this season, winning four of their opening five matches, including back-to-back 3-1 wins over Newcastle and Manchester United.
That is despite again selling a number of their star performers, with Moises Caicedo and Robert Sanchez heading to Chelsea and Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool.
Selling on players and reinvesting the money in potential stars of the future is central to the Brighton model.
Marc Cucurella, Yves Bissouma, Leandro Trossard, Ben White and Dan Burn have all departed the Amex Stadium for bigger Premier League names in recent seasons while the likes of Kaoru Mitoma and Evan Ferguson are sure to be on many wishlists.
The no-nonsense De Zerbi has clearly had a big impact on the players he has worked with, and Lewis Dunk opened up on the Italian’s methods after regaining his place in the England squad.
“Football-wise, since the new manager at Brighton has come in I see football in a completely different way, I picture it in a different way and that is the biggest thing,” he said earlier this month.
“Football is not what I thought it was. Just how we play now. The idea of what I did before, I thought it made sense. But when you learn something completely different, you believe in it and this makes sense.
“You think, ‘Why didn’t I know this?’ and, ‘Why didn’t I do this before?’
“(I) know every position on the pitch and where they should be. The time they should move and what angles they should give. We see it every day and it makes life simpler.”
That attention to detail and precision is at the heart of De Zerbi’s footballing philosophy, with Brighton widely praised for their attacking panache and high-energy game.
Balancing trying to take another step forward in the Premier League this season with the demands of European football is a new challenge for De Zerbi but, based on the last 12 months, it would be no surprise if he found the right formula.
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