Brighton are ‘prepared’ for the departure of Roberto De Zerbi, club CEO Paul Barber has revealed to talkSPORT.
But, the Seagulls chief has insisted the south coast side will fight to keep the Italian coach for a great deal longer amid prying eyes from other clubs in England and his homeland.
De Zerbi’s work at the Amex Stadium has seen the 44-year-old linked with a host of jobs over the last six months, including AC Milan and Napoli in Serie A, plus Premier League rivals Tottenham.
He has even been tipped as a future manager of Spanish giants Real Madrid and a potential replacement for Pep Guardiola at Man City.
Many thought it was game over for the overachieving club when Graham Potter was pinched by Chelsea in September 2022, but De Zerbi has taken Brighton to new heights since he replaced the Englishman in the dugout, with the side enjoying the first European campaign in their history this season.
De Zerbi became available when the war in Ukraine led to the termination of his contract in charge of Shakhtar Donetsk, but while he was a largely unknown figure at the top level of coaching when he was appointed, he was certainly not unknown by Brighton.
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Barber reveals De Zerbi was at the top of their list of possible future managers long before Potter’s departure – with preparation for eventual exits ‘critical’ to the club’s model, which has stood them in good stead so far.
And the chief admitted that, while they hope De Zerbi will be going nowhere anytime soon, they have a similar list right now as they plan for the worst, admitting it is no secret that some of the world’s top clubs have their eye on the manager.
“Good players and good staff will always be looked at by competitors, and we’re prepared for that, we’re realistic about that and we try to plan for those eventualities,” Barber told talkSPORT football correspondent Ben Jacobs at the 2023 Soccerex event in Miami.
“When we unfortunately lost Graham Potter to Chelsea it was a difficult period, because you don’t want to lose your head coach one month into the season. We always have a small list of coaches that we would look to move to if we had to, Roberto was top of that list.
“So far things have worked really well, we’re enjoying what Roberto is doing for us and what this squad of players is delivering. Roberto has done a fabulous job and I don’t think anyone in world football hasn’t seen the way he plays and the way we play.
“The biggest conundrum with our model is the better we do, the more vulnerable we become, because people look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, the people who are doing it for us, and they want them. We’ve seen that many, many times, whether it’s Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool, Moises Caicedo and Graham Potter to Chelsea, Yves Bissouma to Tottenham, and staff we’ve lost along the way as well, Dan Ashworth to Newcastle – it’s on and off the field.
“But I take that as a big complement to the progress we’re making and it’s incumbent on me to make sure we’ve got succession plans in place to manage and overcome those bumps in the road, because at the end of the day every football club will lose players and staff at some point, we just have to make sure we’re ready and prepared for it when it happens to us.”
Asked if Brighton already have a replacement in mind in case a big club comes calling for De Zerbi, Barber said: “Absolutely.
“That’s part and parcel of looking at the top 20 or 25 positions in our club all the time and identifying who’s vulnerable to being taken by somebody else or who may simply just want a change in lifestyle and making sure we know if that happened who would be coming in to replace them. That might be an internal appointment or an external appointment, but the most important thing is that we have an idea who it would be.
“There’s nothing worse than suddenly facing a change and then having a gap because you haven’t done the homework to consider who would replace that person. Preparation is critical.”
That’s not to suggest Brighton will just roll over and let him go without a fight, though.
“No, definitely not,” Barber added.
“We protect ourselves as far as we can contractually and financially, and also we try to create an environment where our best people want to stay with us, and that’s served us well over many years now, but we’re also realistic when they want to move on.”