August 10, 2022 4 min read
Since big money has come into elite football, clubs place importance on figures which were not even dreamed about in the olden days. It used to be that the core staff to support the players were the trainer, coach or physio. They were almost as important in the workplace as the centre-forward or goalkeeper. More recently, the nutritionist, commercial director, psychologist and data analyst have all come aboard as clubs catch up with the leaders of the pack on and off the pitch.
These days, it seems that a club’s pivotal figure is the Director of Football. It is he from whom fans demand new signings. What used to be known as the Chief Scout headed up an entire team of what Michael Calvin called ‘the Nowhere Men’ in his book on the subject. Now, in-person scouting reports run alongside analysis of many different performances tracked via video on platforms like Wyscout, while clubs like Watford have benefitted from the international nature of player recruitment. In the rush for new characters in the drama of the Premier League, fans have turned into scouts themselves, keeping tabs on clubs across Europe whose players and managers might benefit their quest for cups and winner’s medals.
The name Dan Ashworth is famous within the football industry but a casual fan would have trouble putting a face to the name when having a look at the executive seats at the AmEx this weekend. Brighton fans will know him well, because he was the man hired in 2019 to ensure the calibre of player was appropriate for a long stay in the Premier League.
It was Ashworth who in 2012 put together the famous England DNA document. Six years later the men’s side had reached the World Cup semi-final and, a decade on, the women were European champions. Ashworth is one of the best in class and, justifiably, he could not turn down an approach from Newcastle United to do the same with bigger amounts of money. Thus can this Saturday’s game be called the Dan Ashworth Derby.
Neither side are playing in European competition this season but both have aspirations to do so. After an awful season at home in 2021/22, Brighton fans hope to see more than five home wins (they won seven away games) and more than 19 goals at the stadium which hosted games during EURO 2022. As goes the natural order of things, their two best players have been poached: Marc Cucurella by Chelsea after one season as a dashing left-wing back; Yves Bissouma to Tottenham after four solid seasons in midfield.
In exchange, Brighton have received a vast amount of money with which to purchase new players, hire new analysts or attempt to improve club infrastructure. It is astonishing how different things are down on the South Coast in the decades since the team struggled without a home ground of their own. When Newcastle were fighting for the Premier League title back in 1995/96, Brighton were dumped into the fourth tier, Division Three. Worst followed and they finished the following season (1996/97) needing a point in the final game against relegation rivals Hereford United.
A quarter of a century on, the Seagulls have become a top-tier club for the first time in 40 years. This season’s first XI will include international talent from Spain (Robert Sanchez), Zambia (Enock Mwepu), France (Neal Maupay), Belgium (Leandro Trossard) and Colombia (Steven Alzate).
New signing Julio Enciso has come over from Paraguay to compete with a place in the line-up with German striker Deniz Undav. Chelsea have themselves helped to fill the absence of Cucurella by sending young defender Levi Colwill to Brighton, while former Blue Tariq Lamptey has declared for Ghana after a marvellous season on the right side of the pitch.
As for Newcastle, they are improving incrementally season upon season and will have a long-term plan to get into European competition and challenge for the title. The latest step includes bringing in a host of players with Premier League and international experience, three of whom played for Burnley. Kieran Trippier, Chris Wood and Nick Pope have all made the move up to the North-East. They have joined the two boys from Brazil, Joelinton and Bruno Guimaraes, and Enciso’s fellow Paraguayan Miguel Almiron. Dutchman Sven Botman is waiting for a senior cap to go with his age-level ones, and is one of those players whom Newcastle fans have pestered their Director of Football to sign to shore up the centre of their defence.
He will be needed this weekend in Brighton this weekend. Their hosts have been a bogey team for the Magpies in recent seasons. Since both sides were promoted to the Premier League in 2017, there have been five low-scoring draws and four wins for Brighton. After two goalless draws in the season which was disrupted by the pandemic, Brighton beat Newcastle 3-0 both home and away in 2020/21. Last season, a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 win at St James’ Park was a step in the right direction for Newcastle, whose fans will make their regular journey south to the beach with a victory over Nottingham Forest already on the board.
Brighton, however, had early success at Manchester United last weekend. Two goals from Pascal Gross gave them a 2-1 win, the first after he snuck in at the back post totally unmarked, the second a smart rebound when he was in the right place at the right time. Two Spanish goalkeepers, Robert Sanchez and David de Gea, started in either goalmouth, while Newcastle’s starting keeper against Forest was Englishman Pope, who will travel to the World Cup barring injury.
Newcastle would like an away win, especially given their victory back in March at home, but Brighton set themselves up very well and may prove as hard to break down as they were in Manchester. Fans of both sides can pick up a drink offered by Bohemian Brands and charge their glasses to Brighton and to Newcastle, whoever wins the Dan Ashworth Derby. We recommend a gin or a vodka for Magpies and this crystal crest-branded vodka for Seagulls.