Everything Roberto De Zerbi has said about Chelsea and new job amid next manager decision

Roberto De Zerbi
-Credit: (Image: David Rogers/Getty Images)

For a man who has not been in England for long, Roberto De Zerbi has spent a remarkable amount of time talking about his future. Less than two years on from arriving in the Premier League with Brighton, he is already looking for a new club.

He is one of four men on a shortlist being considered by Chelsea, understands, and more established at the top level than Kieran McKenna or Enzo Maresca. Thomas Frank has pedigree thanks to his fine work at Brentford but has not delivered a finish as high as De Zerbi last year.

After taking over from Graham Potter in September 2022, the Italian has had a remarkable rise - and subsequent fall. He led the Seagulls to a sixth-place finish, securing a first-ever European campaign for the club, as well as reaching the FA Cup semi-final only to narrowly miss out on penalties against Manchester United.

His first (and only) full season on the south coast didn't go as planned though with key players being sold and not replaced as well as injuries derailing progress. Brighton only managed to reach 11th in 2023/24 before announcing that they would part way with the 44-year-old.

It came amid talk of an exit for most of the season. De Zerbi was linked strongly with Liverpool after Jurgen Klopp's departure in February was confirmed, but he is yet to have a new team snap him up just yet.

"There isn't any club - no-one offered [anything]. At the moment, nothing," he said after the final day defeat to United last weekend. "I hope to work in the Premier League again. I don't know where or when. But it was an honour to work in the Premier League."

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He is not worried about spending time out of the game either. “For sure, if I have to stay at home three, four, five months, it should be not a problem because I will work," he explained of his position. "I will work studying different games, different teams, the style of different coaches.

“Football is in development. Every year it is different and you have to keep the level if you want to stay at the top. Without football, it’s not so easy for me but I will smoke more cigarettes!

"I hope to find the solution before the season starts. But at the moment, there isn’t any team. Yes, I hope to work but otherwise I will watch 100 games per week, more or less, waiting for the next chance, the next solution.”

Upon the announcement of his exit he also gave an insight into what his plans moving forward were. “I am very sad to be leaving Brighton, but I am very proud of what my players and staff have achieved with the support of everyone at the club and our amazing fans in the past two historical seasons," he reflected.

“I have really enjoyed an intense and challenging two years working in the Premier League, not least competing in four major competitions this season. Leaving now provides me with time to take a break before deciding on my future plans.”

De Zerbi was unable to replicate his first-year success at Brighton with the added demands of Europa League football and heightened expectations. Having become the darling of England for his slick style and entertaining football, even those that cheered his name at the Amex Stadium had become frustrated at the way things halted.

With links to other clubs emerging early into his 18-month tenure, some Brighton fans even questioned his commitment to the club. At a forum with De Zerbi and influential chief Paul Barber earlier this year he hit back.

“I’m not working for the career," the former Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk boss said. "I’m working to wake up happy, and if I’m happy in Brighton there’s not one club can get me, but if I don’t feel the motivation, it can change."

"I must be able to give my best. If I'm able to give my best, I can push the players, otherwise it's tough because I can’t change my face."

Being unable to hide his emotions has been both a blessing and a curse for De Zerbi. Many have loved his charisma on the touchlines while others become angered at his talk of moving on.

Throwing shade at the ambitions of the club, in December he said: "We are speaking about the new contract but at the moment we are only speaking. At the end we have to analyse the target.

"If the targets are the same as the club's, it's an honour for me to work in Brighton. I don't try to reach the higher level. It’s important for me to fix an important target."

This has been a common tone for De Zerbi, but he has also invited questions over his future as well. "When I hear that big teams are interested in me it is an honour," he admitted in February. "I am proud, but my focus is on my work day-by-day.

"I would like in my career to compete to win the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga, Champions League but there isn't a time when you have to go and compete, or to wait some more time. Milan for me is not a normal club because as a player I was born in AC Milan."

He continued: "For my life I will always be grateful for Milan. I love my country, I love Italy, I love Italian football. For sure one of my targets is to go back and work in my country, but I don't know when is the time."

That isn't the only occasion he has spoken about moving back to his homeland either. “As an Italian and a lover of Italian football, of course I still miss Serie A," he has also said. "I don’t know if I’ll return, but I would like to experience football in Germany and Spain in the future, because only those experiences abroad complete you as a person. That’s why I always admired Claudio Ranieri, who has worked everywhere."

His assistant, Andrea Maldera, has said as much too. "He is in love with Italy," admitted the coach. "It is his country and Napoli is among his favorite teams. We’re fine at Brighton.

"We have another two years on our contract, then if a proposal came from Italy, and also from Naples, Roberto would take it into consideration. I don’t know, but why say no to a place like Naples?"

Roberto De Zerbi
Former Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi was mooted as a contender for the Liverpool job -Credit:Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The flirting with a return to Italy as well as an insistence on reiterating the need to 'be happy' are perhaps two things that might worry Chelsea fans. For all the times he had been clear of his passion for the Sussex side - "We're going to speak with Tony [Bloom, owner], I think I would like to stay in Brighton because I love my players. I love this city. I love my club, my fans." - De Zerbi still departed in acrimonious fashion.

"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." This much is a quote that appears to sum up the Chelsea target. And then there is this:

“I really like the Premier League, there’s very little stress, more fun, courage, and enthusiasm, all of which suits my philosophy," he mused last year. "Of course I want to win, but the result isn’t everything about football. It is important for a coach to adapt to his players, but not transform his philosophy, as I’ve had the same ideas from Serie D to the Premier League."

He added: “Italy is always my country and home. I would and will return, hopefully in the future. But I also came [to Brighton] with some fears, a different language, a different league, without having done the training camp and with a very difficult schedule. Instead, I’m having a great time, I’m enjoying this experience, I’m really enjoying it.”

It is also interesting to note that in April last year he spoke about Potter's Chelsea sacking. “I am sorry and it's bad news for the coaches," he said.

"You give too much importance of the coaches, because the players are always the most important and I don’t like when the coaches are sacked because the responsibility is not only theirs – it’s the players, the club, it’s not very good news. In Italy we are used to changing coaches every season. The Premier League is different, but I think it’s changing.”

Chelsea are now putting a lot of importance on their next coach. Judging by what De Zerbi has had to say, it's hard to tell just whether it will be him.