Roberto De Zerbi is a special football manager who has Brighton playing a brand of entertaining, attacking football unlike almost any other team in the world.
It is certainly unlike anything seen in the 121 year history of the Albion prior to the arrival of the charismatic Italian.
Which got us thinking… if you could take one Brighton player from any era and put them in a Seagulls team managed by Roberto De Zerbi playing glorious, free flowing DeZerbiBall, who would it be?
The answers to this question when it was posed across our social media accounts were far ranging. Some were players supporters felt were shackled by the tactics of the time, whose talents De Zerbi would make much better use of. See David Petrus Wenceslaus Henri Propper.
Strikers who scored a hatful of goals in their own right were popular; if Peter Ward could get 36 in a season, Garry Nelson 32, Bobby Zamora 31 and Glenn Murray 23, imagine how many they would have bagged with the countless chances created by DeZerbiBall.
And then there were those who played when football was different. Mark Lawrenson was a defender ahead of his time for his ability on the ball. His skillset was absolutely perfect for DeZerbiBall and its demand for precision passing in tight areas 40 years before De Zerbi arrived.
Anyway, before this list gets completed spoiled, here are 11 Brighton players you (and us) wished played for the Albion under De Zerbi.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the most popular choice was Vicente. The Dagger of Benicalap remains the most technically gifted player in Brighton history, even if he had the body of a 90-year-old when he arrived at the Amex.
He could pass. He could glide past players as if they were not there. He could shoot. He could score. The only thing he could not do was stay fit. But of course, if he could have stayed fit then he would never have played for Brighton.
Instead, that £40 million pound move from Valencia to Real Madrid would have happened and Vicente would have been pulling the strings in the Spain midfield which won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
The only conclusion one can possibly draw is that Vicente playing as a number 10 in DeZerbiBall would have been so outrageous that the footballing authorities ruled it illegal.
Deciding which centre forward to include here from Zamora, Ward and Murray was akin to deciding whether to have your left leg, right arm or bollocks cut off. An almost impossible decision.
It was Zamora though who received the most nominations of the holy trinity of Brighton strikers. The reasoning for this, we believe, is because DeZerbiBall creates so many different types of opportunity and Zamora was the master at scoring every type of goal as he fired the Albion to back-to-back Division Three and Division Two titles.
You see this chance creation variety born out in an Evan Ferguson highlight reel. Bullet headers, poacher’s finishes inside the six yard box, powerful strikes on the angle, cheeky backheels… Ferguson has scored them all because DeZerbiBall has created them all.
Zamora did similar. From the spectacular of the volley against Halifax Town to the audacious lob at Bury to scoring from a yard against Rushden & Diamonds, he could provide every sort of finish possible. Under De Zerbi, 31 goals per season could have been 40 plus.
And yes, this does appear to mean we are effectively comparing Ferguson to Zamora. No pressure for next season or anything, Evan…
Long before he was predicting defeat for Brighton every week on the BBC Sport website, Lawrenson was considered the greatest Albion player ever for his part in the club’s first rise to the top flight during the late 1970s.
Lawrenson was in many ways a player before his time. As well as being a rock solid defender, his ability on the ball was such that he could also play in midfield. No Brighton player possessed an eye for a pass quite like Lawrenson, and he was a centre back.
Ultimately, that led Liverpool to pay £900,000 for his services in 1981. Watching Lewis Dunk and Levi Colwill play their way out of trouble has been enthralling because they are so good at it. Whisper it quietly, but Lawrenson would have been even better.
It would be 29 years between Lawrenson moving to Liverpool and the Albion signing Gordon Greer from Swindon Town before Brighton possessed another true ball playing centre back.
Pep Guardiola had already begun reinventing how football was played when Greer signed for the Albion, but even so it was pretty much unheard of for a League One defender to be stroking passes around the back as Greer did.
That is ultimately why Gus Poyet was so determined that Brighton sign him. And why once Poyet did get his man, he instantly handed him the captain’s armband.
De Zerbi often speaks about how much he values the leaders in his squad and that is another reason he would have loved Greer. But the biggest indication of how good Greer could have been under De Zerbi is the influence he still has on Brighton to this day.
Dunk learnt an awful lot about being a ball playing centre back playing and training alongside Greer after coming into the senior squad, not to mention the Scotland international being the first captain Dunk played under for the Albion.
Not sure what De Zerbi would have made of Greer’s hair transplant, mind.
In the name of Percy Tau, amen! Having waited two and a half years for the Lion of Judah to qualify for a work permit, Potter promptly binned him off within seven months of his arrival in England.
It was a colossal waste of time for both the Albion and Tau himself, who worked through half of Belgium on loan to make it to the Premier League.
For the grand total of 102 minutes of Premier League action Tau was afford, he actually looked quite good. An encouraging full debut away at Manchester City and an assist in the 1-1 draw with West Ham United at the Amex showcased a skillset which suggested he was something different to any other forward in Potter’s Albion squad.
Here was a quick, direct player who wanted to run at opponents. Of course, this was too different for Potter with his distrust of such attributes and a general phobia of out-and-out wingers.
De Zerbi on the other hand loves such players to break through defences once the Albion have lured the opposition into pressing in their own third. Tau would have been well suited to playing as an inverted winger.
Tau’s army of always loyal and often insane South African supporters were unwavering in their certainty that Brighton would win the Champions League with the Lion of Judah. They might well have been proven right had De Zerbi been manager when he arrived rather than Potter.
Propper played a proper important part in helping establish Brighton in the Premier League. His handsome looks were matched by a style easy on the eye that oozed football intelligence and technical ability.
Sometimes I wake up having dreamt about that outside of the boot cross from which Pascal Gross scored away against Manchester United in January 2019. Quite possibly the best pass ever made by a Brighton player.
Propper at times made football look easy in a Chris Hughton setup manufactured to grind out 1-0 wins. Just imagine what the Dutch midfielder could have done playing DeZerbiBall.
He would have been well suited to either midfield role in De Zerbi’s 4-2-3-1; popping short, sharp passes in front of the back four or attempting riskier balls as a number 10, ala his assist at Old Trafford.
The one criticism often levered at Propper was that he did not score enough, just like Solly March and Adam Lallana before October 2022. An unshackled, attack minded Propper with goals unlocked from him by De Zerbi would be quite something.
Like Vicente, Izquierdo’s Brighton career was impacted by injury. The difference being that Vicente arrived in Sussex a crock.
Izquierdo in contrast suffered from terrible mismanagement by both the Albion and the Colombian international medical teams which meant he never recovered from a cartilage injury up at the 2018 World Cup, resulting in his release by Brighton in 2021.
Colombia made him play through the pain in Russia. Brighton put him through multiple operations and rushed him back to try and help them avoid relegation at the end of the 2018-19 season.
Watching him hobble around against Newcastle at the Amex, clearly not fit but with the Albion desperate for survival was painful. God knows what it was like for the bloke with the broken knee.
Before that World Cup injury ruined him, Izquierdo had shown the Albion faithful what he was about in that 2017-18 season. And what he was about would have suited DeZerbiBall to a tee.
Exhibit A comes from his Goal of the Season scored in the 3-1 home win over West Ham. Right footed player collects ball out on left wing, cuts inside and shoots into the top corner. It doesn’t get much more inverted winger than that.
Exhibit B is his pace, balance and unpredictability reminiscent of Kaoru Mitoma. The last of those traits was more unique to Izquierdo. It looked at times like he didn’t know what he was doing, in which case how could any opponent?
Brighton have scored some spectacular, unpredictable goals under De Zerbi. Mainly from Julio Enciso. Izquierdo stepping in from the left and onto his favoured right foot proven to find the top corner from distances of up to 30 yard would have been fireworks in DeZerbiBall.
One of the most underrated aspects of DeZerbiBall is the importance it places on creative wing backs. Everyone talks about the inverted wingers and drawing the press, but no so much is heard of how Pervis Estupinan racked up six assists from left back in 2022-23. And that is before we even go down the Pascal Gross at right back rabbit hole.
Logic therefore dictates that other flying full backs in Albion history could thrive under De Zerbi. Interestingly, nobody named Bruno.
Presumably, his desertion to Chelsea is not going to be forgiven anytime soon. Peter Smith was not mentioned once either, despite being the original swashbuckling full back and Brighton Player of the Season in the 1994-95 season.
Instead, it was a predecessor to Estupinan at left back who was brought up. No, not Joe Bennett (although that would have been interesting) but Wayne Bridge.
It was fairly obvious throughout much of the 2012-13 season which Bridge spent at the Amex that he was a class above any other defender in the Championship.
Defensively, he was incredible. You do not play for England and only have your international career ruined because John Terry is a randy bastard for no reason.
But Bridge was just as good going forward. The Albion faithful thought Poyet had introduced attacking full backs with Indigo Calderon and Marcos Painter in that League One title winning season. Little did we know what was to come with Bruno and Bridge in tandem.
Estupinan’s ridiculous numbers could be easily transferable to Bridge playing in DeZerbiBall. Christ, De Zerbi would even find a way to turn Kerry Mayo into a Ballon d’Or contender, as someone put it rather brilliantly when nomainting the Ginger Prince as another to thrive in DeZerbiBall.
First things first. Knockaert in that 2016-17 promotion season was unlike anything ever produced by a Brighton player over the course of a 46 game campaign.
In every single match, he would deliver. Most of the time, his teammates would match his performances. But when the other 10 players on the pitch were below par for whatever reason, you could count on Knockaert to deliver.
Once he had helped the Albion reach the Premier League though, he was nowhere near as effective. Multiple reasons have been given for this.
The passing of his father. A better standard of full back. Players who domainte the Championships struggling in the Premier League, like Adel Taarabt. Hughton’s tactics becoming more conservative.
There would have been no such conservatism if Knockaert had played under De Zerbi in the Premier League. If any manager could have helped the French magician transition his Championship form into the top flight, De Zerbi was the man.
Sod it, have another inverted winger and this one from a time before inverted wingers were even a thing. The great Peter O’Sullivan played 491 times for Brighton, a figure which is second only to Tug Wilson.
Why would he have thrived under De Zerbi? Well, his wing wizardry was the stuff of legend. O’Sullivan scored 12 times from out wide as Brighton won promotion to the second tier in 1972-73.
Without the creativity of O’Sullivan, the scoring record of Ward would not look half as good as it does. Ian Mellor, Teddy Maybank and Malcolm Poskett all benefited from his creativity.
His versatility would have also appealed to De Zerbi. Alan Mullery often used O’Sullivan centrally during that glorious period when Brighton went from third tier to the old Division One in the space of three seasons.
But most of all, De Zerbi would have loved O’Sullivan’s determination. Or as the Italian refers to it, O’Sullivan’s “big balls”.
O’Sullivan was transfer listed by three Albion managers – Pat Saward, Peter Taylor and Mullery. The latter of those sold O’Sullivan to San Diego Sockers, only to realise his mistake and bring the winger back from the United States within six months.
It is often said of O’Sullivan that if records for assists had been kept through the 1970s, his numbers would be untouchable by any other Brighton player. Goodness knows how they would look if he played for De Zerbi.
Disclaimer – only one response named Paddy McCourt. But as long standing WAB readers will know, we need only the merest excuse to bring up the Derry Pele.
McCourt made only 10 substitute appearances in the Championship and all in Sami Hyppia’s reign of terror. He was one of the only bright spots during that ghastly few months, including “doing a Vicente” by dribbling around eight Middlesbrough players in a mazy run up the pitch and *nearly* scoring.
Hughton wanted disciplined individuals to get Brighton out of the Championship relegation battle after replacing Hyypia and a maverick like McCourt was never likely to fit.
What would De Zerbi have made of McCourt? The mind boggles. On the one hand, he was magnificent to watch. On the other, he would order three bottles of Jaegermeister in his home delivery from Sainsbury’s Haywards Heath.
Either way, it would have been fun to find out. Forza De Zerbi. And Forza McCourt.