How do Brighton and Brentford stay one step ahead?

Teams like Brentford and Brighton have to be smarter than their Premier League counterparts. They can’t match the transfer budgets or pay structures of many other clubs, but they have created incredibly successful models, as evidenced by their position on the table and their player sales history.

Brentford sits eighth and Brighton one place above Liverpool, Chelsea and others who spend much more. They are constantly improving, always looking to the future. Recruiting teams will have players defined in each position if they sell one for the right price.

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Last summer, Brighton sold Marc Cucurella to Chelsea for a fee that could reach £62m, a year after paying less than a third to sign Marc Cucurella from Getafe. Moisés Caicedo and World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister came from South America and were associated with expensive moves for fees that would have made Brighton a substantial profit. Brighton doesn’t have a huge stadium or huge international jersey sales; Like Brentford, they rely on player sales to maintain their business model.

Brentford’s transfer success is equally prolific, as evidenced by the strikers they have bought and sold. Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins were carefully monitored and produced what was required before it was sold for big profits and replaced by a cheaper option.

Goals are often set through statistical analysis by recruiting teams who do in-depth research into what an individual has to offer. The idea is to find someone who plays in markets where the bigger clubs are less focused or undervalued. Analytics are a valuable tool but I also like the old school scout going to matches to see how a player moves and specs on the field. Not everything can be seen on a computer screen.

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Brighton owner Tony Bloom and Brentford counterpart Matthew Benham also have clubs in other countries. Bloom has the Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium’s top flight and Benham has Midtjylland in Denmark. This expands their networks and allows young signatories to spend time in Europe to adapt and develop. For example, after coming from Nigeria, Frank Onyeka spent five years in Midtjylland before being sold to Brentford.

Allowing young players to gain experience abroad is nothing new, but it helps. William Saliba moved to Arsenal in 2019, but took back three loans in France before the club felt it was ready for the Premier League. That time was well spent because Mikel has moved into central defense without any problems this season to help Arteta’s team rise to the top of the league.

Targeting young players who can develop and increase their value is an important part of strategy at Brighton and Brentford, but these clubs are not rigid. Brentford signed Ben Mee for free for the summer, knowing what he could bring, not just for his defence, but also for his experience in the Premier League and his character in the locker room. Brighton did something similar with Danny Welbeck and has had great success since coming from Watford.

For such constructs to work, everyone needs to believe in the concepts. If a head coach and recruiting team can’t agree on what’s needed, they disband. When players arrive, their skills need to be developed and the work done by the coaches.

In Brighton, everyone was really worried when Graham Potter went to Chelsea. He did a great job there but the club had a contingency plan. They also made sure that Potter had a very good contract so that if someone wanted to hire him, it would cost them dearly.

Brighton brought in Roberto De Zerbi, who understands the model and what they’re working for, but adds his own surprises. They went a little more directly and looked more clinical – all this could have been part of the plan. If they chose the wrong coach, the structure would risk falling apart.

Looking at Brighton and Brentford’s success in the market, I wonder why their wealthier rivals weren’t able to bring out these players instead of paying a lot more for them a few years later.

Roberto De Zerbi (right) shakes hands with Graham Potter.

Brighton received a large compensation from Chelsea for Graham Potter (left) before replacing him with Roberto De Zerbi. Photo: Jed Leicester/Shutterstock

Benfica’s star conveyor belt is brutally efficient. They signed Darwin Núñez from Almería and quickly turned him into a £85m Liverpool forward. Enzo Fernández brought in £7m from River Plate last summer and has since won a World Cup and attracted the attention of Chelsea, who are ready to pay big bucks for him. Borussia Dortmund is another club that makes good decisions about when to buy and, more importantly, when to sell, to make a profit for Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland and sooner or later Jude Bellingham.

There are deals to be made if the recruiters are smart enough. Club owners are business people and don’t want to overpay for anything. If someone buys a house and finds out they could have paid 80% less six months ago, they’ll be furious. They would realize the need to research the market more carefully in order to be more efficient.

Brentford and Brighton set the standard for others to follow, though not as simple as using statistics. Its strategies are complex and constantly evolving to keep them one step ahead. The playing field is uneven, but leveling up through clever thinking and hard work isn’t impossible.

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