De Zerbi

De Zerbi: ‘I know I didn’t get to the Premier League by accident or luck’


Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi believes he didn’t make it to the Premier League by ‘accident or luck’ and revealed that Pep Guardiola welcomed him to the country when he first arrived. De Zerbi took over the reigns at the Seagulls in 2022 and went on to lead them to their highest league finish, earning qualification to European football for the first time in the clubs history.

Speaking with La Gazzetta dello Sport, the former Sassuolo boss explained why it was a great pleasure to receive praise from Pep and why anxiety has always followed him in football, while also revealing that Brighton were following Manchester United midfielder Fred before his move to Turkey. He began by talking about Alex Mac Allister, who recently made the switch to Liverpool:

Let’s start with this jersey.

“Can you understand how gratifying it is to have coached someone who won the World Cup for me who, just 10 years ago, was starting to coach from the D league?”

Liverpool took him away.

“Heavy loss. He has personality to spare. His good fortune? An ex-footballer father who played with Maradona and let him do nothing wrong.”

An example of his personality?

“On the eve of the away match in Newcastle I tell him, ‘Alex, rest tomorrow, stay on the bench.’ And he said: ‘If you don’t want to win, then let me rest’.”

Nice response! And you?

“Laughing, I told him, ‘As a personality I definitely don’t come second to you, get out of my office.’ The next day I benched him.”

Result of the game?

“We lost badly.”

The guy wasn’t wrong.

“We were playing three games in one week and he had a physical problem.”

You handed his jersey to Enciso, the Paraguayan kid.

“He deserved it, I was hammering him in training. But first I asked him, ‘Who are you going to give your first number 10 jersey to?’ ‘To my mother,’ he says to me. ‘Correct answer, it’s yours.'”

How do you start over after such a season? Performance anxiety, confirmation stress?

“Anxiety has always accompanied me in this business. Right now we are starting the most important season, the confirmation season, and we lost three crucial players, Mac Allister, Colwill and Caicedo.”

Backlash in the team?

“I told my people that big clubs buy who they want, but they can’t buy our souls. That is not for sale. My Brighton is the team that least resembles me footballingly but most resembles me as a soul.”

Do you say relevant things to your people in English or Italian?

“I need to improve a lot in English. At the moment, the strong things I say in Italian. More than understanding what I say, I want them to look me in the eye. I have to transfer the blood to them, not the words. (He reads a news item on his cell phone) Holy shit!… Fred is done with Fenerbahçe…..”

Was he a target of yours?

“He was one of the favourites, we were following him with headlights off.”

As a coach, are you someone who tries to force the club’s hand or do you accept the business logic?

“If I like a player I call him, without even telling the club. Never talking about money, you can tell. I like to choose players, study their characteristics. When I was at Foggia I had called Roma for Paredes, who had just arrived, very young.”


“I think you set your sights a little too high….”.

Why didn’t you take him now, Paredes that is?

“Today at Brighton I need other characteristics.”

Granted that you wallow in pressure, how do you experience people’s expectations?

“The pressure of the result I don’t feel it. Never felt it. The only pressure is the one I put on myself. To improve the game, the identity of the team. One thing is certain: if the team doesn’t play well, I will never say I have shitty players.”

What will you say?

“That I was wrong in not giving them the right calm, that extra detail that would help them play better together.”

Has Guardiola’s praise reinforced or destabilized you?

“They give me pride: I am aware of what I can do. I may seem like a very full of myself, but I am honest and I know that I didn’t get here by accident or luck.”

That said?

“I am well aware that what I did until yesterday no longer counts today. My luck is that I grew up in the great Milan of champions, in the Capello era.”

The most magnetic of those champions?

“Boban above all. He had a liking for me. He used to call me ‘talent.’ A footballer and man of unlimited personality. Even after he stopped playing. Nobody like him, even in that Milan. A struggle between giants, if you think of the names. But Boban had that extra style, that directness….”

You willingly let yourself be seduced by what exceeds the footballer….

“It was for Boban, but also for Bielsa and for Maradona. However, you have to give me excitement even off the field. As a little boy, a huge Brescia fan, I was crazy about De Paola and Domini, two of great personality.”

As for Guardiola.

“He has been extraordinary with me. When I arrived in England he phoned me: ‘If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call me.’ A great gesture. Upon arrival here I was a zero. Now we are friends.”

Just a zero I wouldn’t say, you were coming from the Shakhtar experience. Short, traumatic, but one that made you known for more than just football stuff.

“The most formative experience of my life. A very strong team, the one that best suited my idea of football. I told the players that in two, three years I would take them to the Champions semi-finals.”

They didn’t give you the time. Things bigger than you and your dreams.

“The worst thing to accept was not the war. That was in the air. It was awful to take notice that your team, overnight, was gone. Erased. Gone.”

A black magic story.

“I was helped by the values of my dad Alfredo, and mom, Alviana. I felt a responsibility to the boys. ‘I’m not abandoning you, I’m staying with you until the end,’ I told them. While so many, including the club, said the war was not there, that it was just the flexing of muscles between the two sides.”

Has feeling responsible kept you safe from fear?

“I never felt fear. The only fear was the possibility of having to move toward the border, being stranded, without gas, in the cold, without food. And then, the gunfire, the rumors about Russian paratroopers descending into the center of the city to hit Zelensky and they could even get into the hotel where they kept us locked up.”

Your thoughts on this matter?

“One country was invaded by another. Period. Ukraine is defending its territory. Little else to say.”

Your return to Brescia?

“The first month and a half I felt terrible. My eyes would glaze over for nothing. I would not leave the house. I was thinking about my Ukrainian players. Sudakov, locked with his pregnant girlfriend in the basement of the metro. Mudryk, who would be sold for 100 million, alone in his house with his piano and cat.”

Did you get any offers?

“A very generous one from a Turkish club. I responded badly to it. I felt it was disrespectful. Everything had just happened.”

(Short pause. De Zerbi talks on his cell phone with Silvio Baldini). “Silvio as a man is a cut above everyone. I like myself as a person, I respect myself, but he is unmatched. His intransigence for many is a limitation, for me it is his great merit.”



Serie A obsessive.