Dan Ashworth: The brilliant transfer legacy he left at Brighton and what Newcastle United fans can expect

A full range of emotions have been on display over the past week in reaction to Dan Ashworth resigning from his position as technical director of Brighton & Hove Albion.
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Ashworth will now spend the next six months or so tending to his garden like a less-attractive Charlie Dimmock before taking up a similar role with a “rival Premier League club” who the world and his wife know to be Newcastle.

For some Brighton fans, the departure of Ashworth is a loss the likes of which we have not seen since Woolworths disappeared from the high street. Others have criticised Ashworth for jumping ship for more money, including coming up with the incredibly immature and yet at the same time enjoyable nickname of Dan Cashworth.

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And then there are those who are nonplussed by the whole situation. After all, Brighton have lost talented managers and executives in the past without the world caving in. Cashwo…. sorry, Ashworth might be extremely good at his job but he is by no means irreplaceable.

Dan Ashworth has left a lasting legacy in place at BrightonDan Ashworth has left a lasting legacy in place at Brighton
Dan Ashworth has left a lasting legacy in place at Brighton

Include me in that final bracket of those sorry to see him go but not willing to lose any sleep over it. The reason? Brighton have got their moneys worth out of Ashworth in his three years at the Amex. In that time, he has done exactly what Tony Bloom appointed him for in the first place.

As important as Ashworth might be, even more important are the structures he was introduced. He has revolutionised the way the Albion are run, implementing a much more holistic approach which will remain in place even as he departs. The framework built by Ashworth sets the Seagulls up for success for years, whether he remained at the club or not.

Let us start by looking at the academy. Under Chris Hughton, only two youth team products were given league debuts by Brighton over the course of four-and-a-half years. James Tilley received a token couple of minutes in a dead rubber on the final day of the 2014-15 season at Middlesbrough. Rob Hunt meanwhile got a whole 17 minutes after replacing the injured Bruno away at Burton Albion in September 2016.

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Compare that to what has happened since Ashworth arrived, working with a manager like Graham Potter more inclined to give young players a chance. Ben White has come through and been sold for £50 million. Steve Alzate, Robert Sanchez, Jeremy Sarmiento and Aaron Connolly have all become full internationals.

Central to this is the pathway Ashworth has helped introduced. Brighton players now have a clear route to the Premier League, via loan spells working their way up through the lower divisions to gain experience and test their abilities.

The concept sounds simple and obvious enough when you write it down, but before Ashworth arrived there was no such joined-up approach to bridging the sizable gap between development and first team football. Now there is and the result is the Albion’s academy being the envy of a lot of bigger, richer clubs.

This type of integrated thinking now flows through the club. Each Brighton team from the youngest kids through to the senior set up play the same positive, passing style of football that Potter’s first team squad have made their hallmark.

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Players can move seamlessly through the ranks, knowing that at every level they go the demands will be the same. It is a system engineered to give everyone on Brighton’s books the best chance of progressing.

Recruitment too has been altered. Brighton now try and find young players from across the globe with potential, sign them for knockdown fees because of their age and then polish them into diamonds who can be sold for huge profit.

The consequence of this is that the Albion have gone from having one of the oldest teams in the Premier League pre-Ashworth to one of the youngest and most exciting post-Ashworth.

Tariq Lamptey is the best example of the benefits of this approach, a signing made for under £5 million who will at some point be sold for at least 10 times that.

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Over the coming years, Brighton may make significant returns on their modest investments in the likes of Jakub Moder, Alexis Mac Allister, Moises Caicedo and many others. All that money then gets reinvested in new young talent and so the cycle starts over again.

Introducing these approaches and processes was the difficult part. Now they are in place, Ashworth’s successor simply has to build upon them. Had Ashworth departed 18 months ago to spend more time with his rose bushes and busy lizzies with the job only half done, then his resignation might have been hard hitting to the Albion.

There is further encouragement to be taken from what has happened at the FA since Ashworth left St George’s Park to take the Brighton job. Some predicted that the Albion snaring him from England would be bad news for the national football team and its set up.

England though have gone from strength-to-strength, culminating in that Euro 2020 final appearance last summer. Everything Ashworth introduced remains and as long as those structures are there, his departure has not been keenly felt.

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There is no need to think it will not be the same for Brighton. Ashworth has set up Brighton to succeed. It will take more than him having his head turned by Saudi riches (or mowing his lawn) to bring it all crashing down.