Can Roberto De Zerbi succeed at the very top level?

Brighton Ex Manager Roberto De Zerbi

Several of Europe’s top clubs will be in the market for a new manager especially with Roberto De Zerbi out of a job this summer and that means rumours about potential appointments are starting to circulate.


Luckily for the aforementioned institutions, there are a number of promising managers on the rise who could look to take the step up at the end of this current campaign and slide into the hot seat of a footballing giant.

So who better to start with than the man who looks like he came 5th place on Pop Idol in 2002 and who has been impressing at the helm of Brighton and Hove Albion since his appointment last season, Roberto de Zerbi.



If Jurgen Klopp’s football could be described as ‘heavy metal’ then Roberto de Zerbi’s is hyperpop. It’s erratic and energetic, blending multiple different styles and taking teams to places they didn’t expect to go.

Also like hyperpop, sometimes his grand ideas do not gel well at all and it ends up in a less than desired result.

One week you can lose to Everton 5-1, the next you can beat Arsenal 3-0. That’s the De Zerbi guarantee.

Brighton Consistency Rate Card under Roberto De Zerbi

But I think as a spectator who has absolutely no horse in the race, I can say though that Brighton are always a fun team to watch, even when they’re struggling.

It might be the fearless nature of their build-up where they bait the opponent into pressing high to play through them or it might be their fluid attacking structure which allows any forward-thinking player to shine in the final third. Whatever it is, it makes them immensely entertaining to watch regardless of the result.

The question in many fans’ minds will be whether De Zerbi can impart his teachings and tactics onto another football team and luckily we have evidence to support this.



Firstly we can look at this Brighton side. Some of the ideas that dictate how this current side play were put in place by Graham Potter, but they have been built on and enhanced by De Zerbi’s coaching (Brighton now scores goals woo).

He achieves this by playing in a three-at-the-back formation, but it should be noted that this does not limit him.

He was able to implement the same tactics using a four-at-the-back formation at both Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk, which is probably what makes him such an attractive proposition to clubs, as they know they will not be boxed into buying and building for a certain formation.

I will not claim to have watched a lot of his Shakhtar sidebar a few clips here and there, but as an avid Serie A watcher, his Sassuolo side were a delight during the late 2010s.


Roberto De Zerbi Sassuolo and Shakhtar setup
Roberto De Zerbi Sassuolo and Shakhtar Setup

I recommend if you’re studying De Zerbi as a journalist or just for your own research, watch his Neroverdi side between 2018 and 2021.

However, while this answers the question of whether he will be able to employ his style in a different environment, it doesn’t answer the most important one – Can De Zerbi’s style succeed at the very top level?

Can Roberto De Zerbi manage a top side?


As mentioned earlier, De Zerbi’s results are erratic. While I love his Sassuolo side, they never broke up the Seven Sisters in Serie A, only managing at best an 8th-placed finish in consecutive seasons.

This could also be considered the case for Brighton. They finished the season in 11th having won 12, drawn 12 and lost 14. I think the best way to explain the extremes of their results is their two matches against Luton Town this season.

They won the first match 4-1, they lost the second 4-0. That is a massive swing and the sort that might set off alarm bells for top sides when you consider the level of consistency the top teams have had this season. Levekusen’s now broken 50 matches unbeaten juju sitting right at the very top.

Before we move onto the conclusion I think something I must add to the positives column for De Zerbi is his willingness to get on board with a club’s project.

Tony Bloom and the minds behind Brighton’s squad want to bring in young players from around the world and make them key parts of the first-team squad.

This would be the remit regardless of the manager, so De Zerbi shouldn’t be praised for it (at least not entirely), however, the Italian has taken the young squad in his stride. Shaktar and Sassuolo had a similar mission statement, so any club looking to bring through young players might find their perfect match with the spiky-haired coach.

So should top teams be looking at De Zerbi?


Well yes, but also no.

A club with an already-established squad looking to take that final step probably should steer away from the Italian and look elsewhere. His style of football does not show consistency and he would likely need to adapt the squad to fit his needs.

For a team starting their project (Chelsea), however, if De Zerbi fits the clear idea of what they want to do on the pitch, then he should be on their lists.

My personal opinion though is that De Zerbi should have stayed at Brighton. I think he has finally found a stable club that gives him the flexibility and the resources to play how he wants to, and the expectations of the higher-ups aren’t completely focused on the results.

However, ambition is sometimes the enemy of success. De Zerbi only has a £9m buyout clause from his contract and he sees  himself as a manager who deserves to manage one of Europe’s elite.  This is De Zerbi putting a lot at risk moving to a bigger club that will expect so much more from him.

Only time will tell what will happen in the managerial merry-go-round this summer. It is certain though that De Zerbi will be one of the managers in a new role at the start of the 2024/25 season, for better or for worse.

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