New-look Albion won't be built in a day but De Zerbi is keen to make his mark

Roberto De Zerbi is in charge at Brighton. Picture BHAFC/Paul Hazlewood
Roberto De Zerbi is in charge at Brighton. Picture BHAFC/Paul Hazlewood

It is a long time since an Albion boss took over a team who were going well during a season.

You have to go back almost 20 years to Mark McGhee.

Roberto De Zerbi finds himself in that position now - albeit two divisions higher and on a much bigger stage.

He has come into a situation where Albion have lots to build on but also something to lose.

It is not just a case of rip it up and start again.

This is not a case “old coach bad, new coach good” as sometimes seems to be the way things are painted when there is a change in a dugout.

That is why, as he faced the media yesterday, De Zerbi was talking about a balancing act.

He wants to change things, especially how Albion work with the ball.

But he cannot do too much too soon.

And has no pressing need to in terms of how results have gone this season – and indeed since April.

De Zerbi takes charge for the first time as Albion go to Anfield today.

He has been out on the training pitch with some, but not all, of his coaching staff.

Several players have been absent on international duty.

He told reporters yesterday he would not change too much straight away.

But there is no doubt he sees ways to improve and evolve from what are very strong foundations built bit by bit over recent years.

De Zerbi gave his first Albion press conference 11 days ago.

He was dressed in suit and tie and was flanked by the senior figures at the club – Tony Bloom, Paul Barber and David Weir.

His first pre-match media session yesterday was in the same room but felt a bit more like business as usual.

He was dressed in training gear, ready for work and with just his interpreter – whose services he used often but not always – alongside him on the top table.

There were one or two jokes and smiles.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he effectively said in Italian when he was asked about footage of him joining in a training session with his boots on.

But he left no doubt there is serious change coming.

He said of his first few days: “It was a period when you feel like you are under water.

“There is so much work to be done.

“The club is very well organised and we have a lot of work to do.

“Yesterday (on Thursday) I had two meetings about things away from football - questions with other coaches and Premier League rules.

“But I want to stay with focus only on the pitch.

“The players are brave, they trust in themselves, they know they are a good team.

“But we have to be all together very humble.

“They have their heads on their shoulders and they know where they have come from.

“Apart from the mentality, I want to add something of my own.

“My situation at the moment is not easy.

“I’ve come into a team which was already doing well, which has changed head coach, but I don’t know how to do things like Potter.

“I can only do, and I hope do well, what I know.

“I have a lot of thoughts about not to do too much but, at the same time, I want to do something.”

That “something” has included meetings with senior players.

He said: “I have spoken a lot of times with the defenders - Lewis Dunk, Joel Veltman and Webster.

“They for me are the most important players in the squad, because from them we start, they start the build-up, they start us being able to dominate the game.

“But I have spoken with Mac Allister and Caicedo on Thursday, when they got back from their national teams.

“I have spoken with March as well because, for me, Solly is a key player.

“I want him to understand why he will be important for me.

“I want him to have responsibilities that will help increase the number of goals, because I fully trust him. I have spoken with Trossard as well. The conversation was more or less the same as what I said to Solly.

“I have spoken with Welbeck, Estupinan, Lamptey and with the younger players.

“The day is long, 24 hours, so I have plenty of time to talk to the players, to talk about every single detail.”

He was later asked specifically about Billy Gilmour. He replied: “I like Gilmour very much. I have spoken with him as well.

“It is clear that Mac Allister, Lallana, Caicedo and Gross have many more games played than Gilmour.

“But, when I prepare the line ups and starting XI, I am not looking at their identity cards.

“So, if he deserves to, he will play, as well as (Levi) Colwill, who is a very good player. He is young but he is in my consideration.”

De Zerbi will split the group in half next week and take two sessions a day to give more time to each player.

Work has started. But the new Albion won’t be built in a day.