'Change my head' – This is what Brighton ace Deniz Undav said on a January loan amid 'difficult' times

There was plenty of excitement when prolific striker Deniz Undav reported for pre-season training at Brighton and Hove Albion ahead of the 2022-23 campaign.
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The German striker had spent the previous season rattling in the goals for Union SG as he netted 29 goals from 36 appearances in the Belgian top flight.

Brighton paid around £7m for his services and and were so confident in his talents they allowed Neal Maupay – their top scorer in the Premier League for the previous three seasons – to move to Everton for £15m.

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Brighton fans, it’s fair to say, have been a little spoilt of late when it comes to new signings making an instant impact. Marc Cucurella and Moises Caicedo both made the Premier League appear easy following their arrivals – so much so, Cucurella moved to Chelsea for £64m and Caicedo is tipped as the next big money departure with Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Real Madrid all linked with the Ecuador international. But it’s not always so simple.

Deniz Undav of Brighton & Hove Albion has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League so far this seasonDeniz Undav of Brighton & Hove Albion has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League so far this season
Deniz Undav of Brighton & Hove Albion has struggled to make an impact in the Premier League so far this season

Undav, who spent much of his youth career at Werder Bremen, has struggled to make an immediate impact in the top flight. He has just one goal in the Carabao Cup at Forest Green and is yet to start a Premier League match – with head coach Roberto De Zerbi opting for Danny Welbeck, Leo Trossard or Kaoru Mitoma ahead of Undav. Even when main striker Welbeck was unavailable for the Chelsea match, Undav remained an unused substitute."It's hard for me, especially when you come from a season in Belgium playing every game,” Undav said after the 2-1 loss to Aston Villa just prior to the World Cup break.

"But it's life, that's football. I'm a little bit disappointed, yes, but I just try to be positive, to work hard, to be there for my team-mates and when I maybe get the chance to start again to be ready."It's now my third season as a professional really. I thought it would be hard, but it's even harder than I thought.

"It's an opportunity for me to be even more ready than before and, if I get the chance, to play. It's not the farmer's league, it's the best league in the world. I have to give everything now I know the league and maybe be even more ready than I was.”

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Undav has noticed the step-up in intensity not just on the pitch but also in training as well. Albion will be back in action after the World Cup, firstly in the Carabao at Charlton Athletic on December 21 and then the Premier League starts again on Boxing Day at Southampton. The former SV Meppen man has plenty to prove to De Zerbi and admits he will change his mindset in order to work even harder."In training, everyone's aggressive, really, really good,” he added. “There's no time to relax in training or take the foot off the gas, so that's hard. The intensity is really, really hard.

"You have to get used to it at some point. Even when I've come on for a few minutes, it's always hard against the defenders. When you come on you think you are ready, but they don't care.

"They are 100 per cent ready. I may have to change my head, to work even harder. I think so far I'm disappointed, but I don't give up just because I'm not playing that much.

"I'll try to give everything for the team, so that if the coach picks me I'll be ready.”

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It’s not the first time Undav has had to adapt to a new environment and he admits he also struggled in his first season in Belgium before becoming one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. He accepts thriving in the Premier League will be his biggest challenge of his career and signalled his intention to fight for his place rather than head out on loan this January.

“The Belgium League was hard for me in the beginning too, because it was my second year as a professional,” the 26-year-old said. “Now it's the Premier League. That's why I took the challenge.

"If I'm not playing from the start in six months or the first year it's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm trying to do something that's really hard. From Belgium to the Premier League is like five, six levels higher.

"I want to stay positive, work hard, not think about this kind of stuff. I'll just try to fight for my spot, I don't want to give up. But, in football, you never know. The first choice is, of course, to stay here and fight for my spot. That's why I came here. After six months, to go out, for example to another team on loan, it's not like giving everything."So, the first year for me is to see how it goes, to see how the Premier League goes, and then we will see. Maybe it will be better in six months, one month, you never know."