'The Tony plan' – Forget asking Roberto De Zerbi about his Brighton future let's hear from Tony Bloom

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There's only so many ways Roberto De Zerbi can say, "I have two years remaining but I'm not really sure what I'm doing after this season."

The Italian has tried pretty much every variation his second language allows of late as each interview involves speculation on his future.

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The Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and perhaps Man United jobs could all be available this summer and if any make De Zerbi their No 1 target, it's very likely he will go.

Brighton's chairman Tony Bloom appointed Roberto De Zerbi as head coach in September 2022Brighton's chairman Tony Bloom appointed Roberto De Zerbi as head coach in September 2022
Brighton's chairman Tony Bloom appointed Roberto De Zerbi as head coach in September 2022

But that is by no means a certainty, which leaves De Zerbi in limbo – although the situation is far from terrible, he's still the manager of a very well-run Premier League club after all – as this week’s record breaking financial figures demonstrate.

Whether you agree with De Zerbi’s approach or not, his straight-talking comments make interesting listening for fans and press but often uncomfortable for owner Tony Bloom and his loyal deputy Paul Barber, who himself signed a new five-year contract this week.

“For me, I have not decided,” De Zerbi said last week. “I want to speak with Tony (Bloom), my club, to understand their plan, to understand his plan, the Tony plan. Then we take the decision together.”

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Which begs the obvious questions, what is Tony’s plan, how does it differ from De Zerbi’s, why did contract talks collapse … and does it matter a jot anyway if one of football’s giants make a firm move for De Zerbi?

There's no doubt he has impressed since Bloom and Barber took a punt on the then out-of-work coach and entrusted him to replace previous boss Graham Potter after he abruptly left for Chelsea in September 2022.

De Zerbi came into a team on the rise and the tricky bit was not to mess that up… and, for the most part, the upward trajectory has continued impressively. And most likely it would have kept going this season had Brighton not lost their best players Moises Cacideo and Alexis Mac Allister in the same window and then sustained major injuries.

With De Zerbi at helm, Brighton qualified for the Europa League in style and topped a group that included Marseille, Ajax and AEK Athens. Then came perhaps the most painful defeat of his career as Brighton were soundly beaten 4-0 by Roma in the first leg of the round of 16. It was supposed to be something of a homecoming for De Zerbi, a moment to say to his countrymen, this is my Brighton team and this is what I have achieved since leaving Sassuolo to join Shakhtar Donetsk in 2021.

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The Italian didn't take the defeat well. The owners and club were criticised for the "mistakes" made during their first season in the Europa League. Talk of a rift between Bloom and De Zerbi is maybe overstating it but it’s fair to say their working relationship is now more awkward.

De Zerbi has though worked well within Brighton's transfer policy. He has improved and extracted the maximum from the senior professionals of Jason Steele, Lewis Dunk, Solly March, Pascal Gross and Danny Welbeck, while superbly developing the likes of Kaoru Mitoma, Evan Ferguson, Julio Enciso, Simon Adingra, Joao Pedro and Jack Hinshelwood.

De Zerbi has also been backed in the transfer market to an extent but the lack of replacement for Caicedo and Mac Allister has proved a major problem. Young midfielder Carlos Baleba joined for around £20m from Lille last summer but has taken time to settle – his best will likely come next season.

Brighton's recent transfer strategy is a well publicised success story and Bloom is unlikely to deviate too far to accommodate any head coach – even one as talented as De Zerbi.

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In fact the two players De Zerbi likely pushed for last summer – Mo Dahoud (free transfer from Dortmund) and Ansu Fati (loan from Barcelona) have failed to deliver.

Brighton are clearly very good at what they do, so much so that even if their much-admired head coach exits this summer, they will likely receive more than £13m from his release clause – a manager they picked up for nothing remember after banking more than £20m in compensation for Potter and his crew from Chelsea.

The Italian is and will remain one of the best managers ever to serve at Brighton and it's highly likely he will have a brilliant career elsewhere when does go. De Zerbi though wants to hear "the Tony plan" before deciding anything. We all want to hear the Tony plan!

Talks on a new contract clearly did not go well and nobody quite knows why… and while that's the case, every press conference between now and the end of the season will involve more ways to say, "parla con Tony."

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