Brighton Gave Manchester United A Lesson In More Ways Than One

On the pitch and behind the scenes, the Seagulls are superior
10:00, 18 Sep 2023

It is an accusation constantly thrown at Manchester United fans whenever they criticise the way their club is run. Rival supporters will always bring up the fact the Red Devils have spent £1.5 billion in transfer fees in the decade since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. They will use it as evidence that the Glazers have done all they can to make United competitive again. 

Brighton & Hove Albion demonstrated once and for all why such talk is reductive. The Seagulls have spent a fraction of United’s massive outlay but have used their money brilliantly. This bore out on the pitch as Brighton eased to a 3-1 victory at Old Trafford. While United’s expensive ensemble faltered, Roberto De Zerbi’s comparatively-frugal army ran rampant.


Brighton have made it their stock in trade to unearth nuggets and, once they have benefited from their on-pitch expertise for a while, sell them on for profit. This summer, Moises Caicedo joined Chelsea for a British record £115 million fee. The 21-year-old had been purchased for just £4.5 million two years ago. Alexis Mac Allister, a World Cup winner no less, was sold to Liverpool for £35 million which could rise to £55 million with add-ons. He was purchased for less than £7 million by Brighton in 2019.

By contrast, United are among the highest payers in transfer fees. But their ability to sell at a profit is almost nonexistent. Players actively become devalued under the United umbrella. Paul Pogba joined for a then-record £89.5 million and left for free. Cristiano Ronaldo rejoined the club in 2021 for £12.9 million and departed for nothing after an explosive TV interview. Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Angel Di Maria and Fred are just some of the other players allowed to leave at a significant loss or entirely for free. 

This would be less of an issue if the Red Devils were squeezing every bit of worth out of them during their tenure. But every player listed above comes with some sort of caveat. Pogba never performed consistently, Ronaldo’s goals dried up a season in, Sanchez looked desperate, Lukaku faded, Di Maria gave up and Fred never had the ability to match his energy. Not only are United making a loss on almost every transfer, they’re not even benefitting from their buys on the pitch.


Brighton have somehow perfected the art of doing both. Marc Cucurella looked ten times the player he does at Chelsea when he operated on the south coast. There are early signs they got the best of Caicedo too. Joao Pedro, scorer of their third against United, was a summer buy from Watford. If he continues in this vein, you have to imagine De Zerbi’s side will net more than the £30 million they paid Watford when the time comes to sell.

Yes, United have spent a significant amount of money over the last decade. But their plight, witnessed in microcosm as Brighton pulled them apart on Saturday, proves that money isn’t everything. Brighton have done a lot more with a lot less. Nowadays, football is all about marginal gains. Who has the best scouting department? Who can find the next big thing rather than chuck £100 million at the current one? Chelsea are falling into the same trap as United, chasing their tail by trying to buy the latest on-trend item. For that reason, they have bought a number of Brighton players. 

But the key to Brighton’s plan is to always have another one on the production line for when the big boys swoop. Having won four and loss just one game so far this season, that plan is working even after another summer of significant sales. United meanwhile, propped up by loan signings like Sofyan Amrabat and Sergio Reguilon, constantly just trying to get through to the next window, could not be more different. It is this fact, not the billion-and-a-half spent, that is holding them back.

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