Brighton’s recruitment model is a lesson in how to be successful without having the backing of Oligarchs and foreign billionaires

Varun Pai
By Varun Pai
17 Min Read

Before understanding how Brighton & Hove Albion functions as a football club, it is necessary to understand that each club measures success in a different way and everybody has different ceilings and parameters. 

While Manchester City would only consider a Champions League as success, newly promoted Norwich City would consider it a success if they stay up next season and stave off relegation. This difference in parameters is due to financial constraints, something every club live by and will continue to do so.

However, rather than thinking about what you can do to acquire more money, Brighton live by the ideology of ‘make the best out of whatever you have’. Fans, in today’s age, often long the day when their club is taken over by a billionaire who can invest a lot of money into the club. However, there have never been such voices from outside or inside Brighton because of the way their club works and the certain principles that have been put in place to do.

There have been several players over the years who Brighton have signed based on potential and future performance rather than proven material. Potential is a variable term because it differs from perspective to perspective. For example – Leicester City were targeting both Patson Daka and Odsonne Edouard at the start of the current summer transfer window and both are potential superstar strikers. However, Leicester signed Daka, because they feel that his ceiling is higher, and he would suit their style of play more than Odsonne Edouard would. 

Similarly, Brighton are in the market this season for 18-year-old Alan Velasco (Independiente) because they feel that he would suit the style of the club and has the potential to become a great player. However, Brighton are also aware that sometimes they might miss the mark by signing such players because there are several things that could go wrong when signing a potential star. He might not fit into the English league, there could be personal problems because of which he might not be focused while his strengths might also not be what Brighton think they are.

However, their guess is as good as any, and they believe in the signings they make. You cannot sign the best players in the market, but if you are clever enough, you could sign the player who you think you can turn into a great player. Brighton know that they do not have the finances to buy the best players in the world, but they do have the capability to sign players who they think they can train and develop into one of the best players. This is the scouting side of it, while transfer negotiations are completely different.

Brighton wanted to sign Joel Veltman a season before they actually signed the Dutchman. This is because there was a clause in Veltman’s contract which allowed him to leave for a bargain of £900,000 in the following season. Brighton capitalized and signed the player, and the defender is one of the best players in Graham Potter’s setup today. 

The Three-tier model:

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In an interview with The Athletic, Dan Ashworth, technical director of football at Brighton, talked about the club’s recruitment model and how they scout players. “It would very much depend on the age of the player. If you are talking about the here-and-now first-team ready player at 25, 26, then there’s probably three different bands.

“You’ve got the top six, next tier down I’d put West Ham, Everton, Leicester, Wolves — although I wouldn’t know exactly their budget but just my gut instinct on it — and then you’ve got the bottom third of the Premier League from a financial point of view.

“Ourselves, Southampton, Burnley, Newcastle — I’m not sure, maybe they’d be that higher one up. If we are going for a 25-26-year-old who is Premier League ready, I’d say two-thirds of the Premier League would be able to outbid us from a transfer fee and wages point of view.

“Our recruitment strategy has got to be a bit different. If we go fishing in the same pond as them, we may not get the player we want.

“Hence, we’ve tended to either go to a different market or buying potential rather than performance. The danger of that is you are buying potential, so you don’t quite know; they don’t always come to what you’d hope they’d be.”

This has been Brighton’s secret all along. They are realists. They know their limits and they function within it, but cleverly. The Seagulls do not rush into deals, and they make ‘calculated’ risks. The transfer market is a multi-million dollar business, and you are bound to have some hits and misses, and everybody has them. Manchester City have Benjamin Mendy as a £50 million mistake, while Arsenal are yet to reap the fruits from their £74 million investment in Nicolas Pepe. 

Minimalizing the risk:

Brighton, thus, work on the policy of high returns with low risk. It is like investing in stocks – you study the market, you look at which stock is going up and which is going down and why. The added element in football is that you make a decision with market knowledge as well as your emotions or your gut feeling because there are people involved in this process and they have a lot more variable factors than stocks. 

However, Brighton have found a sweet spot, where they also believe that you need to invest at the right time, but at the end of the day, every transfer has a 50/50 chance of working out in your favour, especially when you invest in potential talents, something Ashworth also explained during his interview.

“The advantages are you’ve got ones below market value if they become what you hope they’d be,” Ashworth says. “Jakub Moder is one, for example, that looks like he is going to work out for us because the level of player I think he will become and what he has certainly shown in the second half of the season would be higher than the value that we paid for him (£6 million).

“There are others that maybe haven’t worked out quite as well. That’s the trade-off, I guess.”

However, Brighton have found a system that works for them, and they are building on that. 

A Project that is attractive to young players:

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There was an important moment last year when Chelsea right-back Tariq Lamptey, signed for Brighton in January 2020, only a month after he inspired a 2-1 win for his boyhood club against rivals Arsenal under club legend Frank Lampard. It rarely gets better than that, but Lamptey knew that this was a rare occurrence, and he would not play as often even if he had scored the winner in that game. 

Chelsea were already grooming Reece James to take over from Cesar Azpilicueta in that role, and while James is an excellent player, Lamptey would have to be sacrificed for this. Thus, Lamptey left the club, and while he had several options, he signed for the Seagulls.

Here is an important question, ‘Why?’

Brighton came in with an attractive project that they knew they could sell to players like Lamptey. Youngsters need game-time, and Brighton sold exactly that to Lamptey. They ensured him that he would be the club’s starting right-back next season if not this one, no matter what his age is. If he proves his talent, he will start every game. 

Again, this is easier said than done. Harsh decisions have to be taken when you are fending off relegation, but Brighton stuck to their word. The 2020/21 season saw Brighton start Lamptey in the right-back role, and ironically, their first game was against Chelsea, and Lamptey showed his class against top-class wingers. Although Brighton lost the game, Lamptey won a place in Graham Potter’s starting lineup. 

This is where Graham Potter has been influential to Brighton’s methods of recruitment. He has delivered the promise the technical director has made to the players when they signed for the club. Thus, today Brighton have examples to sell to the other young players who they want to sign. They can show the example of Tariq Lamptey and several others, showcasing that we deliver on our word, and we have a manager who likes to give a chance to quality players, regardless of their age. 

This, however, has not stopped Brighton from bringing in talent from their own academy as well, evidenced by players like Ben White and Robert Sanchez, who represented the club last season while White is imminently on his way to Arsenal for £50 million. This is incredible profit, but it has taken years of patience and development into youngsters. Another player who could fetch Brighton a similar amount is Yves Bissouma, who Brighton signed from Lille in 2018 for a paltry £15 million.

Why are these players working out? There are two clear reasons for it:

A) They are quality players and have received the proper training and a platform to showcase their talent

B) Graham Potter has shaped his team in a way that allows them to express their best qualities freely while also working towards incorporating more players into the team.

Ashworth also shed some light on this topic by talking about the academy’s role in this setup: “John Morling (academy manager) and the academy have done a brilliant job. We’ve had nine Premier League debuts in the last two years that either we’ve recruited or have come through the academy.

“It’s all very well saying to a young player we can give you an opportunity, we have actually got a story to tell now. These are players that have played, we’ve got a manager that will play young players, a system that will help you get there.

“We think we’ve got a really good development pathway for young players, but they have to be good enough to take that opportunity.”

He understands that a player’s development begins in the academy, thus, Graham Potter’s job becomes relatively easier if the academy does their job well. It is departmentalized process, and everybody needs to do their job well. The recruitment department needs to find the right players with potential, while the academy needs to take this a step further by honing their talent and their best qualities. This is then taken up by Graham Potter, who builds a team to suit the abilities of every single player, after which, if they do perform to their potential, the richer clubs come knocking, which is obviously proof that Brighton’s system works.

This was explained by Ashworth in detail: “If we are identifying and developing players either through the academy or the recruitment system that are attractive to top clubs around the world, what a lovely problem to have. I’d take that problem all day long.

“We’ve got a number of really good young players that will play to a really high level and let’s hope that’s with Brighton. We’re in the best league in the world and let’s hope we continue to build and grow.

“We’re also realistic and if one of the top clubs comes in, it’s a brilliant move for the player and it’s financially right for us, then no problem.

“If the players are being courted by the top clubs, then that means Graham and the staff are doing something right because we are identifying and developing players that are able to play at the very top level.”

Timely turnover:

Eventually, Brighton also sell their players, but only at the right price. Arsenal, who on the brink of securing Ben White, had to pay up the entire £50 million as the Seagulls played hardball until the Gunners coughed up the entire sum. 

Brighton can now reinvest this money to sign some of their transfer targets, like Odsonne Edouard (who Leicester passed upon) and Nat Phillips (a huge presence at the back for Liverpool last season), while they could also subsidize their pandemic losses. 

This is possible due to timely turnover. Brighton need this because this is how they bring in the next best players and build their attractive project.

“It’s continually trying to push and prod, and develop and improve, as well as review and understand the bits we’ve done well and not quite so well,” Ashworth says.

“But it’s such a tough league. Norwich and Watford were both in the Premier League last year. They are coming back up with strong squads in a decent financial position.

“But if we keep running the club sensibly, identifying the right players and staff to come into the building, keep managing those players and staff in the right way and trying to get the maximum out of them, hopefully, those performances and results will follow and we’ll keep progressing.”

 Thus, it is a sustainable model, and Brighton make it work because everybody is clear about their job. What you need and what you get can be different because you can always develop the player you get into the player you need. Brighton have cracked the code, and the fact that they have stayed in the Premier League for half a decade now proves that they have been successful – It is all about perspective. 

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