Arguably the biggest Premier League success story over the last few seasons, outside of Man City’s continued dominance, has been Brighton. The Seagulls have continued to thrive, despite being known as a selling club.
During the summer of 2023, there were big changes at the club as they sold a couple of their influential midfielders, Moisés Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister. But with a positive start to the 2023/24 season, the Seagulls don’t appear to have missed a beat.
What could lie ahead for Brighton?
A model for success
There is always a risk for a club when dipping into football’s transfer market. On the surface of things, Brighton appear to continuously pick up absolute gems of players on the cheap, and then turn them into top-class stars.
There’s perhaps no bigger example than the £4m they paid for Caicedo from Independiente del Valle in 2021. The Ecuadorian defensive midfielder was sold to Chelsea for more than £100m in 2023, plus another £15m in add-ons.
However, this doesn’t tell the whole story behind Brighton’s success — they actually run quite a high-risk transfer model.
Risk and reward
Brighton take more risks in the transfer market than is apparent. Since 2017, only Chelsea have logged more new player arrivals than Brighton among Premier League clubs. But there is a vast risk-factor imbalance between the two clubs.
Chelsea gamble with massive transfer fees. Brighton’s volume of players, in contrast, are through smaller trades and their £30m signing of Joao Pedro remains the club’s record signing.
There are many moves, therefore, that don’t work out. The picture of Brighton getting every transfer perfect isn’t a true one. It’s just that when they do come off, the club laughs all the way to the bank.
Imagine if Caicedo had gone straight from Independiente to someone like Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea. His playing time may have been a lot more limited than what he got at Brighton and he may not have been where he is today.
There’s another hugely important factor embedded in Brighton’s success — U23 playing time. Both Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister spent time as U23 players. There’s no immediate rush from Brighton and the patient building in depth and investing in playing time is paying dividends.
At the end of the 2022-23 season, Brighton managed to play their way into the UEFA competition for the first time in their history. Now that the Seagulls have crossed that border, it puts new burdens on the club. It increases the pressure on their squad depth, due to the extra fixtures.
But there is something to be gained from this first foray into Europe — valuable experience. Ultimately, what could come next season is more important for Brighton, because there are potentially bigger fish ahead to fry than the 2023/24 UEFA Europa League.
The UEFA Champions League is expanding for the 2024/25 season, and the Premier League is likely to get five spots in next season’s bigger competition.
Had those changes come a season earlier, Brighton would currently be in the Champions League club. That looks like the big target, and getting this debut European campaign out of the way can be a springboard for achieving that.
Just seven years ago, Brighton were playing in the EFL Championship. The way they are heading, the Seagulls could potentially be welcoming the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus to the Amex. It has been a tremendous tale of steady growth, with a setup that is the envy of a lot of clubs — it has made the Seagulls everyone’s favourite ‘neutral’ team.
A tale of caution and the Champions League
Ultimately, given the gulf in financial clout between the Premier League’s Big Six and the rest, the ceiling for the Seagulls may be in reaching the UEFA Champions League. But as Leicester City showed in that epic 2015-16 title-winning season, miracles can happen.
But there is also a tale of caution in dreaming big. Leicester’s title booked them a spot in the UEFA Champions League for the first time, but it was costly for the Foxes as they slumped to domestic struggles during that 2016-17 season.
Subsequent flurries of Europa League and Conference League action came along, but the distractions arguably played a part in Leicester’s ultimate relegation from the top flight in 2023.
Brighton seems to have a model for flying high in place. As long as they don’t get too close to the sun, they may be able to sustain their strengths for many seasons to come.