Brighton squad audit: What the new manager will have at their disposal

The next head coach of Brighton & Hove Albion will inherit a squad rich in potential, with a few old heads to guide them and a void between the two extremes.

This is by design. They are not in the habit of signing proven performers in their mid to late twenties with a hefty price tag to match, whether that is the transfer fee, the salaries players of that profile can command or both.

In the squad graphic (below) containing 30 players, half are aged 23 or under, including five teenagers. At the opposite end of the scale, six players are aged 32 or older. Only three of the nine players in their mid or late twenties were over the age of 24 when they were signed.

A disagreement over recruitment policy was the fundamental reason for Roberto De Zerbi leaving by mutual consent at the end of the season. There was a good example of this when the Italian spoke about 22-year-old Ivory Coast winger Simon Adingra after the 1-0 home win against Aston Villa in May.

De Zerbi said: “Adingra was the best player for us. He can improve. There is a difference between Adingra and (Kaoru) Mitoma. Age (Mitoma is 27) and the number of games they have played. We have to give the right time to improve, to progress.”

De Zerbi’s successor may have a different opinion about certain players, providing some with a route to more regular game time, or making others fearful of losing a regular spot.

Here, The Athletic explains the situation of every member of the Brighton squad. Bear in mind with the graphic the fluidity of the formation, the number of players that can play in multiple positions and the scope to show midfielders only in groups apart from one another, not alongside each other.

Goalkeepers (x 4)

Bart Verbruggen (contract expires 2028)

It took the Netherlands international a little while to adapt to De Zerbi’s way of playing out, but he improved as the season progressed. Competent with his hands and his feet and still only 21 years of age, he is in a strong position to establish himself as the No 1.

Jason Steele (contract expires 2026)

Vulnerable to slipping down the pecking order now that De Zerbi has gone. The Italian was so impressed by the 33-year-old’s understanding of the ‘keeper’s role as an extra defender in build-up play that he started almost as many matches in the 2023-24 campaign as Verbruggen (23 compared to 27). The epitome of a team player and a good influence in the dressing room.

Carl Rushworth (contract expires 2027)

His top-flight time has come after successful loans at Walsall in League Two, Lincoln City in League One and Swansea in the Championship, where he worked with England goalkeeper coach Martyn Margetson. But Verbruggen is in the way. It boils down to another loan at home or abroad, or selling for a substantial profit.

Tom McGill (contract expires 2025)

The Canadian’s future could be impacted by what happens with Rushworth. It is not viable for a 24-year-old to hang around for much longer as a third choice who hardly ever plays, particularly with the 2026 World Cup in mind (hosted by Canada with the United States and Mexico).

Full-backs (x 5)

Jack Hinshelwood (contract expires 2028)

A revelation as an adventurous right-back, popping up in the opposition penalty area with three goals, until a stress fracture of the foot cut short the 19-year-old’s breakthrough season in February. His long-term future is in his natural position in the centre of midfield, although he has a big future regardless of where he plays.

Tariq Lamptey (contract expires 2025)

Injuries had not been an issue before long-term hamstring damage sustained in 2020 stunted his electrifying impact. He has never been quite the same force since then, a succession of less serious injuries limiting him to 14 starts last season. With a year left on his contract, a fresh start elsewhere could suit everyone.

Joel Veltman (contract expires 2025)

A fantastic buy for just £900,000 in 2020 after a long association with Ajax. He will be 33 in January and does not have the legs to get up and down the pitch, but he is still solid defensively. A good back-up option at right-back and good to have around with his vast experience.

Pervis Estupinan (contract expires 2027)

His effective partnership with Mitoma on the left flank played a big part in the sixth-placed finish in 2022-23. Injuries interrupted his rhythm and form this season. An ankle injury suffered in April has ruled him out of Copa America for Ecuador and the start of next season. The next head coach will need him firing again.

Valentin Barco (contract expires 2028)

The main signing of the January 2024 transfer window was a bone of contention for De Zerbi. He did not regard the 19-year-old from Boca Juniors as being ready to be thrown in, but Barco showed enough in three starts and four substitute appearances to suggest he can grow into both an attack-minded option down the left and a crowd favourite.

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Barco is very much seen as a future Brighton star (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Centre-backs (x 4)

Jan Paul van Hecke (contract expires 2027)

The 23-year-old Dutch prospect made huge strides under De Zerbi, especially in possession, following loans to Heerenveen and Blackburn and a vacancy created by Levi Colwill’s return to parent club Chelsea. He combines uncompromising defending with sound passing and comfort in carrying the ball forward. The most improved player in the 2023-24 campaign.

Adam Webster (contract expires 2026)

He has been hampered by a series of niggling injuries, which have coincided with the emergence of Van Hecke. The 29-year-old demonstrated in the last five matches when Van Hecke was absent with a muscle injury that he can still be a decent alternative if he can stay fit.

Lewis Dunk (contract expires 2026)

Oh the irony. Back in the England reckoning at 32 after years of being bafflingly overlooked and after a season when, by his own high standards, he has made more mistakes leading to goals than normal.

In his defence, the back four (or sometimes five) has been unsettled. He is still a reassuring presence and the starting point for the build-up with his range of passing (his total of 3,212 passes in the Premier League this season was exceeded only by Rodri’s 3,633).

Igor Julio (contract expires 2027)

The Brazilian fell slightly outside of the recruitment modelling as a then 25-year-old (26 now) with a muscular physique when he was signed from Fiorentina last summer.

Having said that, he has done OK as a left-sided successor to Colwill across 33 appearances in all competitions. The addition of Barco means Igor is less likely to be needed filling in at left-back, which is not a natural role for his build or attributes.

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Igor Julio will hope to play more at centre-back next season (David Horton/Getty Images)

Midfielders (x 6)

Pascal Gross (contract expires 2025)

A total of 15 goal contributions (10 assists and five goals) out of an overall tally of 55 goals in the Premier League exemplifies the influence of the German craftsman.

Former team-mate Adam Lallana described him as a “manager’s dream”. De Zerbi’s successor will surely still want Gross around after playing for the host nation in the European Championship this summer and before the 32-year-old heads back to his homeland in a player-coach role.

Billy Gilmour (contract expires 2026)

The Scotland international playmaker forged a good understanding with Gross, seizing the opportunity created by the exits last summer of Moises Caicedo to Chelsea and Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool.

The downside when they operate in tandem is a lightweight feel in terms of physicality in the centre of the park out of possession.

Carlos Baleba (contract expires 2028)

A mixture of greenness and promise in 27 league outings split between starts and substitute appearances. That is understandable considering the 20-year-old Cameroonian was a new recruit from Lille last summer.

His blend of athleticism, powerful running and combativeness offers hope that, given time and learning, he will become just as important as Caicedo.

Jakub Moder (contract expires 2025)

The versatile Poland international has the feel of a new signing after 20 months out from April 2022 to November 2023 with serious knee damage.

He improved with the build-up of minutes in eight starts and 11 substitute appearances in the second half of the season. His adaptability to a variety of roles in midfield or slightly further forward makes him a useful member of the squad.

James Milner (contract expires 2025)

The 38-year-old will probably struggle to make the 20 Premier League appearances needed to overtake Gareth Barry’s all-time record total of 653, but he sets an amazing example to the young members of the squad with his professionalism and nous.

It was a shame hamstring trouble kept him out for the business-end of the season from February onwards.

Mahmoud Dahoud (contract expires 2027)

A rare recruitment blot. De Zerbi wanted the free-transfer-but-wage-expensive capture from Borussia Dortmund, but he only made nine starts under the Italian before returning to the Bundesliga on loan to Stuttgart, where he also struggled to make an impact.

It leaves the club with a 28-year-old with no resale value and another three years on his contract. Ouch.

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Mahmoud Dahoud — a rare error in Brighton’s recruitment? (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Wingers/attacking midfielders x 7

Kaoru Mitoma (contract expires 2027)

A massive miss when it mattered most. A back problem ruled the Japanese left-winger out of the last 20 games, at a time when progress beyond the last 16 of the Europa League and the FA Cup, plus qualifying for Europe again via a high league finish, were all plausible.

Ten goals and 10 assists in 52 league appearances in two seasons reflect how important he is to the Goals For column. A resumption of that type of output will be valuable for the new head coach.

Solly March (contract expires 2026)

He was in the best form of his long career at the club under De Zerbi. Although his main position is on the right-wing, he can also play on the left and is defensively equipped to operate as a full-back as well.

The question is whether, at 29 years of age, he can get back to where he was after his knee injury.

Simon Adingra (contract expires 2026)

One of the heroes of Ivory Coast’s Africa Cup of Nations triumph in their homeland at the start of the year, his emergence was timely without Mitoma and March.

He is not at the same level yet as that pair — with room for improvement in his final ball and decision-making — but the 22-year-old is the kind of exciting prospect that the club specialises in unearthing.

Julio Enciso (contract expires 2026)

Another of those badly missed through injury. The 20-year-old Paraguayan was out from August until February with a torn meniscus. Anxious to make up for lost time, he tried to do too much on his own when he returned, but he was sensational for an hour in the final away game of the campaign at Newcastle (1-1 draw).

Representing his country at Copa America could put him in prime condition for a big 2024-25.

Facundo Buonanotte (contract expires 2027)

Earning a place in the senior squad of the world champions last year speaks volumes for the talent of the 19-year-old Argentinian. A high proportion of the 50 appearances he has made since signing from Rosario Central in the January 2023 transfer window have been as a winger, but his future lies more centrally as an inventive No 10.

Ibrahim Osman (contract expires 2029)

Wrapping up the signing of a player one transfer window in advance is a very Brighton way of working. The 19-year-old Ghana forward is the latest example.

Osman was bought in February from Danish club Nordsjaelland for around £16million, but he does not officially become a Brighton player until the summer transfer window opens on June 14.

He is following the same pathway as Adingra, from the Right To Dream Academy in Ghana and Nordsjaelland. Only time will tell if he is another young gem.

Jeremy Sarmiento (contract expires 2027) 

Helped Ipswich to promotion from the Championship with three goals and two assists in 20 appearances on loan from January, having spent a less fruitful first half of the campaign on loan to second-tier rivals West Brom.

Hurt by injuries prior to that, the Ecuador international will increase the attacking options of the new head coach. Assuming, that is, that the 21-year-old does not feel he will get more opportunities under Kieran McKenna at Ipswich or somewhere else. In those circumstances a sale for a sizeable profit is conceivable. His future will be clearer after representing his country at Copa America.


Sarmiento impressed with Ipswich, but what next? (Hannah Fountain/Getty Images)

Strikers (x 4)

Joao Pedro (contract expires 2028)

He has more than justified the club-record outlay of £30million to buy him from Watford, with 20 goals in his debut season.

That is even more impressive than it looks on paper. The 22-year-old Brazilian missed two months of the campaign at a crucial time, between early February and the beginning of April, with a hamstring injury.

Mobile and skillful, the added benefit is that he can be used as a No 9, No 10 or in wide areas.

Danny Welbeck (contract expires 2026)

It makes sense to have stretched his stay beyond his 35th birthday with a new two-year deal. Injuries have affected his career, but he keeps himself in great shape and his under-stated influence in the dressing room will be even more of a factor after the departure of former England team-mate Lallana.

Evan Ferguson (contract expires 2029)

From 10 goals and three assists in 25 appearances to six goals and one assist in 36 outings — what has gone wrong for the Irish whizz-kid?

Increased competition for places with the arrival of Joao Pedro, De Zerbi’s rotation policy to deal with eight extra matches in Europe and a persistent ankle problem, dating back to April 2023, have been contributing factors to the downturn in numbers.

The hope is that he returns from surgery fit, refreshed and eager to make a mark again under De Zerbi’s successor.

Deniz Undav (contract expires 2026)

It is not surprising that he wants to stay at Stuttgart after helping them to qualify for the Champions League with a remarkable 18 goals and 10 assists in 30 Bundesliga appearances. Such prolific form has also earned him a place in the Germany squad.

An undisclosed buy option would lead to a substantial profit on the £6million paid to Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise for the 27-year-old in January 2022. His future will become clearer after the European Championship.



Brighton season review: De Zerbi’s departure, much missed Mitoma and European adventures

(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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