There are many difficult aspects to being a rising coaching star – just ask Graham Potter, Julian Nagelsmann and Steven Gerrard. But Roberto De Zerbi has every chance to complete this path to the end.
The former manager of Shakhtar Donetsk, Sassuolo, Benevento, Palermo and Foggia, who was appointed as Brighton boss last year, has been ridiculed by former Liverpool manager Graeme Souness.
“I think it’s a risk,” Souness said. “You bring a person who doesn’t know our game. Paul Barber [генеральный директор «Брайтона»] said he was impressed by his knowledge of Brighton, what they have done and how they are trying to play, but he could have picked that up from the internet. I think it’s a risk to take on someone with a resume of seven jobs in nine years. If you’re an outstanding coach, people want to keep you.”
A year on, it’s safe to assume that Brighton really want to keep hold of De Zerbi, but how long can they do that?
This weekend marks one year since his appointment as Brighton manager following Potter’s departure to Chelsea last September. On Saturday, the 44-year-old specialist will celebrate his anniversary with a trip to visit Manchester United, and with it the prospect of finishing the tour in the top four teams in the Premier League.
Getty Images/Global Images Ukraine. Roberto De Dzerbi
It was this same match last season that prompted Potter’s appointment to Chelsea. On the opening day of the season, in Erik Ten Hag’s first game in charge of United, Potter’s Brighton outplayed, outmaneuvered and outmaneuvered the home team to a 2-1 victory that offered a glimpse of the Seagulls’ potential.
The fact that Brighton realized their potential last season, reaching European competition for the first time in their history, was due to the arrival of De Zerbi. During his time in charge, the Italian averaged 1.70 points per game to Potter’s 1.28, but it was his tough, abrasive personality that gave Brighton a tougher character compared to his soft-spoken, well-mannered predecessor.
Potter laid the foundations and went to Chelsea, but within seven months he lost his job at Stamford Bridge, and De Zerbi’s success in turning Brighton into a more powerful attacking team ensured his highest ever league finish and a semi-final appearance. FA Cup and he is now the manager who has become the next big thing.
De Zerbi rejected offers from Tottenham and Napoli after last season, despite Brighton losing midfielders Alexis McAllister and Moises Caicedo to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively during the summer transfer window.
One day you can be in the spotlight and become famous, but one wrong turn can tear your reputation to shreds. Perhaps De Zerbi assessed the bigger picture at Spurs and Napoli and decided that a better, and perhaps even bigger, opportunity would come sooner rather than later.
Potter never turned down the opportunity to manage Chelsea, but he was too inexperienced for the job and lacked the personality required to lead such a big club. The same could be said of Nagelsmann, who left RB Leipzig to become Bayern coach aged just 34 but was sacked after 18 months due to poor results and rumors of unrest within the team.
Gerrard, in turn, positioned himself as a possible successor to Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool after leading Rangers to their first Scottish title in a decade. But the former Liverpool captain left for Aston Villa too early for a Premier League opportunity and found himself out of work less than a year later. After being rejected for coaching jobs at Leicester and Leeds in the summer, Gerrard is trying to rebuild his reputation in Saudi Arabia with Al Ettifaq – hardly an obvious stepping stone to a return to the Premier League.
Getty Images/Global Images Ukraine. Roberto De Dzerbi
However, De Zerbi had already done impressive work at several clubs, so his rise to fame was gradual. He earned praise for the style of football he introduced at Benevento and Sassuolo, with the latter leading to two consecutive top-eight Serie A finishes before his tenure at Shakhtar was cut short following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 .
Brighton had been eyeing De Zerbi as a potential replacement for Potter even before the Italian’s move to Shakhtar, as his tactical philosophy involves building high-energy, attacking teams. So when Potter was lured to Chelsea, the club had only one choice, even if his appointment came as a surprise to many outside the Amex Stadium.
“Roberto’s arrival has been fantastic,” Brighton owner Tony Bloom told the club’s website this week. “He is an elite head coach. His track record, when we looked at him in great detail, was exceptionally good in recent years at Shakhtar Donetsk and at Sassuolo, but I didn’t fully understand the impact he would have when he arrived.
I think it’s very difficult for anyone, be it a player or a coach, when they come to a new club. He has had a huge impact on so many players and he is so good at improving individual players. Overall they were all very good players. Graham [Поттер] has also done a great job of raising the level and standards of the players, but Roberto has taken it one step further.
The quality of his play, his ability to take risks at the right time and create opportunities, as well as his tactical abilities are simply outstanding, so we are very lucky to have him at the club. We love having him at the club, so let’s keep it that way.”
Seeing McAllister and Caicedo leaving for bigger clubs this summer, as well as Marc Cucurella (Chelsea), Yves Bissouma (Tottenham), Leandro Trossard and Ben White (Arsenal), Bloom and Brighton they know that their coach will be welcome by all the big clubs in Europe.
At some point there will be a vacancy in a Champions League team and there is no one hotter in Europe right now than De Zerbi. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel are coaches at the top of the tree, with the trophy cabinets to prove it, but De Zerbi could be the one to lead the next wave of elite coaches.
Mark Ogden, ESPN
Translation and adaptation – Oleg Didukh