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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Dan Kilpatrick

Why Tottenham should consider Roberto De Zerbi if Antonio Conte jumps ship

It was intriguing to see Arsenal and Chelsea offering eye-watering sums for Brighton midfielder Moises Caicedo during the window.

Caicedo is 21 and has played just 26 matches in the Premier League, yet he was the subject of bids worth £60million from Arsenal and £70m from Chelsea.

Surprisingly, neither was put off by the difficulties of two other recent Brighton exports, Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella, who travelled up the M23 to join Tottenham and Chelsea, respectively, in the summer.

Bissouma cost Spurs more than £25m and has started just eight League games so far, failing to register a goal or assist, while Cucurella has underwhelmed since a £60m move to Stamford Bridge, despite Graham Potter quickly following him to Chelsea.

There is still time for both to come good but their initial struggles suggest their success at Brighton was as much down to their environment as their individual quality.

Admittedly, Arsenal's Ben White and Newcastle's Dan Burn have both made successful moves from the Amex, and Leandro Trossard looks like a smart addition for the Gunners, but the examples of Bissouma and Cucurella suggest clubs should be wary of dropping huge sums on Caicedo - or anyone else from Brighton - without being convinced that they would thrive outside Brighton's impressive structure.

The Seagulls' recruitment success clearly extends to managers and Roberto De Zerbi is doing a superb job since succeeding Potter in September.

Even without the aforementioned players, Brighton have improved under the Italian, who masterminded another impressive win over Liverpool at the weekend, despite Caicedo not being in the right frame of mind to feature.

Under De Zerbi, Brighton are even more enterprising than Potter's side, and now playing out from the back and through the thirds with bravery, confidence and intent.

The 43-year-old clearly has an aura about him, too, and Adam Lallana has said that it took just half an hour in De Zerbi's company to be won over by the former Shakhtar Donetsk boss and realise he was the real deal.

In more than one respect, he reminds me of Mauricio Pochettino when he first came to England with Southampton, and quickly began claiming big scalps and raising the profiles of a number of his players.


Like Pochettino, De Zerbi has a ruthless streak - he was quick to win his battle with Trossard, despite the Belgian being the club's joint-top scorer when he left for Arsenal, and appears to have the emotional intelligence to know when his players need a rocket and when they need a hug.

With sincere apologies to Brighton fans, who have already seen one well-liked manager poached by a 'big six' club this season, De Zerbi should already be earning admiring glances from elsewhere and Spurs, who may need a new head coach in the summer, should be among the clubs keeping a watchful eye on his progress.

If Antonio Conte follows through with his threats to walk away at the end of the season, Pochettino is the favourite for the job. Although instead of going back, which rarely works, there is surely a case for Spurs handing the keys to their ongoing rebuild to the next great up-and-coming manager.

As Chelsea are discovering, though, Brighton's structure goes way beyond their head coach, so there is as much risk in poaching a manager from the Seagulls as an expensive player.

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