Brighton are gently pushing at a glass ceiling Newcastle have tried to smash through
Brighton & Hove Albion have been building towards the successes of this season for some time, and now all their long-term plans may be coming together.
The superlatives keep on coming, and a bit of a break for the EFL Cup final didn’t seem to do Brighton & Hove Albion any harm. A 1-0 win at Stoke to claim a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals and a 4-0 drubbing of West Ham United in the Premier League while many of those around them in the table crumbled was a perfect few days for the Sussex club, and a longer-term view of what they’ve achieved offers some insight into how they got here in the first place.
This is Brighton’s sixth consecutive season in the Premier League, and the arc of their net transfer spend over that time sells a story. Five years ago they made a loss of £65.26m, but since then those figures have been slowly reversing, down to £47.27m in 2020 and £7.01m in 2021 before starting to turn a profit since then, £3.11m in 2021 and £72.96m in 2022. As the team’s fortunes have improved on the pitch, so they’ve been able to sell for more money. Heavy losses slowly turned into a modest profit and then a heavy one.
And although they lost almost £43.5m in player sales over that period, their numbers compare extremely positively with others over the same time period. Of all the 20 current Premier League clubs, only Brentford have better figures over the last five years, having lost just £790,000. Of the clubs near them in the current table, Spurs have lost £335.88m, Newcastle have lost £353.6m, Fulham have lost £197.11m and Chelsea have lost £701.97m over the same period of time.
Perhaps the most jarring difference of all comes with Newcastle. Brighton remain three points and three places below them in the Premier League table, but a win in their game in hand would only leave them separated by goal difference. And while Newcastle’s player losses look modest in comparison with Chelsea’s, it is also worth remembering that almost half – £162.5m – have come in the last year alone, as Brighton were making a profit of almost £73m.
This isn’t just about Brighton now being in a position to be able to play neat and tidy football, either. They now have to be considered contenders, not just for a European place by the end of the season, but perhaps even for a Champions League place. There will be much talk of how Liverpool are ‘back’ based on their recent performances, but this season’s Brighton team haven’t really gone anywhere in the first place, despite losing their manager, much of their backroom staff, some key players and their director of football over the last few months.
Newcastle aren’t the only team above them over whom they have games in hand. Quite how Spurs are still clinging onto fourth place is one of this season’s more enduring mysteries, but Brighton have three games in hand on them and were they to win all three, they’d overhaul a seven-point gap, leapfrogging them into fourth place in the table and the final Champions League spot. Brighton supporters might not want to dare to dream, but the chance is now a very long way from impossible.
It doesn’t end there, either. The FA Cup win at Stoke might not have caused too many gasps of disbelief around the country, but it was vital. With a home match to come against League Two Grimsby Town in the quarter-finals they have an excellent chance of making a Wembley semi-final. On the 40th anniversary of their only previous appearance in a major cup final, they might even end up facing the same opponents, with Manchester United also remaining in the competition and with a home draw.
And if we do have to talk about ‘trophy droughts’, then Brighton can even teach Newcastle United a thing or two. Albion have never won a major trophy – unless we count the 1910 Charity Shield, which, let’s be honest, we do not – and their five previous appearances at Wembley have ended in a draw and four defeats, most recently against Manchester City in the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 2019.
In the build-up to the EFL Cup final, there was a lot of talk about how winning that competition would be a significant marker for Newcastle in the rapid progress made by the club’s Saudi owners took control in October 2021. It’s not difficult to imagine similar talk about Brighton should they get past Grimsby. Getting to an FA Cup final – or winning the FA Cup; why continue to temper the aspirations of a team on the up? – would be substantial reward for the club’s progress that few would likely begrudge.
And for all the talk of Brighton being routinely pillaged by clubs with deep pockets (but occasionally no discernible transfer policy), the club has managed to secure a couple of their higher-profile players on longer-term contracts already. Alexis Mac Allister, now a World Cup winner with Argentina, signed an extension to 2025 in October, while shortly before the West Ham match it was confirmed that Moises Caicedo has himself signed a new contract which ties him to the Amex until 2027, in theory at least.
Of course, either or both of these players – or more besides – could yet leave in the summer. That’s always a possibility if the price is right. But just to persuade these two players to extend puts Brighton in a stronger position in the transfer market in the event that vultures start circling again during the summer.
The longer contracts improve the club’s amortisation figures on the accounts and substantially improve the likelihood of them making another financial killing should these players be sold. One alternative possibility, that these two players might even have been persuaded that something really special can be built there should they stay, may be even more tempting to supporters.
Brighton aren’t the only club in the top half of the Premier League to be upsetting the odds in this way. Brentford and Fulham have had a similarly disruptive effect on this end of the table. But it’s been the systematic attempts at dismantling the constituent parts of this particular success story, from the director of football to the coaching staff to the players themselves, which have really ensured that this club has caught the popular imagination this season.
While other clubs play out increasingly dramatic looking psychodramas around them, they just keep on keeping on, reaping the substantial rewards of club policies that have been in the making for some considerable time.
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