Roberto De Zerbi gives firm answer on Brighton future: I love this club and I want to stay

Plus: What Roberto De Zerbi feels he needs to succeed and how he might come to a final decision on his Brighton future; watch Brighton vs Aston Villa on Sunday Sunday live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 1pm; kick-off 2pm

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Roberto De Zerbi wants to stay in Brighton, saying he loves his players, the city, the club and the fans

Facing the press for Friday’s media duties at Brighton’s training ground may have felt a little more manageable this week for Roberto De Zerbi.

The Italian had already come through quite a grilling from some of the club’s fans at an open forum at the Amex Stadium earlier in the week. Top of their list of questions – and they asked a number of tough ones – was unsurprisingly the speculation around his future.

Over the last few months, De Zerbi has been linked with some of the biggest jobs in Europe. His contract at Brighton runs until 2026, but when asked a few months ago, his answer was “not close to signing a new one,” which only fuelled speculation over an early exit.

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His answer for the supporters this week was simple that if he is happy in his work, he stays. Perhaps not the absolute guarantee the fans were looking or hoping for.

But De Zerbi went further at the very end of our interview.

“We’re going to speak with Tony [Bloom, the Brighton owner],” he said. “I think I would like to stay in Brighton because I love my players. I love this city. I love my club, my fans.

“I said in the meeting with the fans, if I’m happy, there isn’t any club can bring myself to change a team but I want to keep my passion always.”

So the question is if you are Brighton how do you keep De Zerbi happy?

“I want to be happy because I would like to compete every game with all my potential qualities in the players, the squad, the style of play, the quality of the players and this season, especially in the last three months, we couldn’t do that,” he added.

“I think the squad we had when we have started this season, was enough to compete. If you can rotate the players, you can reach the crucial part of the season in different way.

“Some of my players like Pascal Gross, Lewis Dunk, Danny Wellbeck, Jean Paul van Hecke, Billy Gilmore, they played every game for three, four months. It’s normal to reach March and April in the not perfect condition.”

Paul Barber, Brighton’s chief executive, was alongside De Zerbi at the fans forum. He joked with supporters that he was keeping the Italian on side with coffee and croissants every morning, but also pledged to give “Roberto the tools he needs” to get into the position to qualify for Europe.

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Highlights from the Premier League match between Bournemouth and Brighton

“I think they know what we need,” De Zerbi said. “They know what we need to improve this season.

“We can’t forget we are Brighton. We are not a top team. We have to accept our policy at the club because we love working in Brighton, but if we can compete for a higher level, we have to compete without problem.

“I don’t like it when people are beaten before they start. We have to keep our motivation, our ambition high, and then we will see what we are able to do.”

Barber reiterated to the supporters who have seen their club flourish beyond their wildest dreams in the last few years and who are desperate to push on, that the financial model which has served Brighton so well will remain.

When asked how Barber will make that work with such an ambitious head coach, De Zerbi replied: “We have to speak with Tony, with Paul because I can’t forget what has been Brighton for me, what has been Paul Barber and Tony Bloom for me.

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Earlier this season, Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi said he is hoping his side can qualify for European football again next season

“I work with all my qualities. I spent a year and a half of my time thinking only about Brighton. We wrote the history of Brighton together. Not the players, not the staff, not the club, but all together.”

Is there another chapter of this story to be written, I ask, hoping for a little more clarity on his future.

“If you keep a motivation, the job is never finished. If you have the right motivation and you fix the target, higher season by season, respecting the history of the club, the policy of the club, the quality of ourselves as a coach, as a player, the motivation can change the football life.

“I am suffering because I’m hungry. If I think what was my dream before the season, I feel pain. I can’t be angry because I know I’ve done all my energies, the players and the club are the same. We made mistakes, but mistakes are part of football and life.”

With those mistakes and challenges in his second season – Brighton have won once in nine – and having set the bar so high last year, does De Zerbi feel his reputation has suffered at all?

Image: Brighton have made history this season – but have struggled in recent months

He jokes about standing in the mirror and looking more handsome after a win, and not so much after a loss, but he is the same person.

“I would like to play better, to win more games, to make our fans happy, to live in different atmosphere, but not for myself.

“I’m old enough to understand the world around the football. If you win or you lose, it can change everything. You can win and the day before you can lose, but you are the same. You are the same person and maybe when you are losing, you are working harder than you are winning. You have to accept the criticism.”

For De Zerbi, it is now about finishing the season well. On Sunday, Brighton host Aston Villa, live on Sky Sports, and he is looking for a response from his side who have lost their last two games by an aggregate of 7-0.

Then will it be a chance to take some time off? De Zerbi laughs and shakes his head: “I love my work and for me, it’s not a sacrifice. We will see in the next meeting with Tony and Paul, but I usually work in the holiday to prepare the next season to build the new squad.”

Image: Roberto De Zerbi says he will listen to his head and heart as he decides on his Brighton future

De Zerbi is someone with a who has a clear vision of what he needs to be a coach and be ‘happy’. So how does he go about making a decision as to whether he stays or goes, does he reach out to anyone?

His answers: “No, just me and Roberto.”

I look puzzled and he continues: “Me and myself. In the mirror, one says something different and the other listens and answers. It’s because I have to find the balance between the heart and the head.

“There is a part of myself who pushes with the heart and the other more calm side, who analyses the situation better.

“Last season, we reached the Europe League and the expectations are different. For us, it is the same but we know the problems we are finding this season and they are not always clear for everyone so I need to find the balance between my relationship with everyone inside of Brighton, the fans, the club, Tony and the players.”

For De Zerbi, happiness is about passion, motivation and a contentment in his work, but being happy is also having a sense of trust and confidence. In the next few weeks, perhaps we will understand a bit more if Brighton’s head coach has that too and commits to the club long term.

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