My time at Brighton & Hove Albion was, without doubt, the best with regards to performance and playing systems. All aspects of our game were primarily based on looking after the ball.
Ending the play with possession
We, as a team, really looked after the ball. We never lost it unnecessarily, and we hardly ever gave the ball away to the opposition. But we didn’t keep possession for the sake of it. We always had the idea of creating a numerical advantage in order to go forward, and when we could, we wanted to end the play moving up the pitch, on the front foot so to speak.
In order to do this, in any situation and regardless of the opposition, we had a great understanding of the game, the players knew what they had to do most of the time in order to achieve our objectives.
I remember after one of our matches I got the chance to see our rival’s notes on us. The notes said: BE CAREFUL, when Brighton play out from the back, they have a plan A, B, C and D, and sometimes they will even play long balls in order to get out.
You need time to achieve it
I have never been able to replicate the understanding between the way we see the game, and the way the players achieve this vision on the pitch, at other clubs, for several different reasons. Fighting against relegation in the Premier League, the quality of the players, the unique character of the club… all of these affected it, but I think the main reason for not being able to replicate this style is lack of time. With time you can gradually improve at your own pace, add players with the right traits and, of course create a relationship with the players, etc.
As I said, we had our own style of play, regardless of who we played, we kept possession and became dominant in attack, no matter how our opposition were playing. It didn’t matter if they were pressing high up the pitch, or if they were putting everyone behind the ball, we knew how we wanted to play.
This was gradually created thanks to our understanding of each other, and thanks to the players. For example, when we prepared for one match, the opposition completely changed its style of play once the game had started. So, our players had to improvise (something that we later worked on in training but wasn’t expected for this particular game) and work out how to play themselves.
The understanding between the staff and players during my time at Brighton will stay with me for ever.
I must say that to this day my relationship with the majority of the players from my time there is great. I love meeting up with them because there’s always a story that comes out about one of the many great games we had. We had a great time just watching from the bench!