Ben White voted Brighton player of the year but where's Pascal Gross?
Ben White, Brighton & Hove Albion Player of the Season 2020-21. Who saw that one coming, unless you live in Leeds and were party to the apparent vote rigging going on that would make Kim Jong-un green with envy?
Don't get me wrong, White has been very impressive. He has been a consistent presence who has barely put a foot wrong whilst playing more Premier League minutes than any other Brighton player.
His ability to cover multiple positions has proven to be extremely useful and ultimately, he has ended up becoming only the second Albion player ever to go to an international tournament with England after Steve Foster.
Despite all that, you could make a stronger case for six of White's teammates to have won Player of the Season over him. Yves Bissouma, Lewis Dunk, Pascal Gross, Robert Sanchez, Joel Veltman and Solly March could all feel harshly done by that their efforts were not recognised. As anyone who watched One Direction come third in The X Factor 2010 knows, there is always a risk when it comes to a public vote.
Judging by the reaction to the news of White's victory and people revealing who they voted for, it seems as though Bissouma and Dunk were the two favourites amongst Albion supporters. For me, the winner should have been arguably the most underrated player in Graham Potter's Brighton squad - Herr Gross.
Cast your mind back to those dark days of early winter. Brighton set a new club record for their worst ever start to a top flight season, winning just two matches out of 18.
Most people were expecting the Albion to kick on in 2020-21 after the impressive way they had ended the previous campaign post-lockdown. Instead, it was back to the grim results Potter had been delivering before the pandemic arrived and the season had been suspended in March 2020.
In mid-January, something changed. The Albion suddenly started winning games, seven from their final 20 fixtures to be precise including impressive wins over Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester City. Despite registering such a poor return over the first half of the season, Brighton managed to equal their best Premier League points total to end up 13 clear of the relegation zone.
So, what changed? It was three things actually. Just like when football returned in June, Potter dropped his obsession with possession and adopted a more pragmatic style. Less of the ball, do more with it. Brighton are a better side when they play more on the counter rather than attempting to dominate, which makes it all the more strange that the manager tried to implement a style of play we already knew doesn't work with this group of players over the first 18 matches of the campaign.
Potter also took a significant risk with his goalkeeping selection. Out went the experienced Maty Ryan and in came Sanchez, a 23-year-old who had hardly set the world alight on loan with Rochdale and Forest Green Rovers in the previous two seasons. It was a massive decision for Potter to take but one that paid off handsomely. Suddenly, the defence looked a million times more secure and Sanchez recorded 10 clean sheets in 27 matches.
Everyone knows the difference Sanchez made and it was worthy of him being a contender for Player of the Season. The impact of Gross seems to have slipped under the radar a little bit in comparison. For some unknown reason, Potter barely used the German playmaker during that disappointing start to the season. Gross had to wait until November 1st to make his first start when, predictably, he claimed an assist as Brighton were beaten 2-1 at Spurs.
That was the beginning on a mini-run of games for Gross, six appearances yielding two goals and two assists including in the Albion's second win of the campaign away at Aston Villa. Following defeat at Leicester, Potter jettisoned Gross and he spent another five games on the bench, except for when being given 90 minutes in a much-changed team for the visit of Arsenal.
Gross next returned to the XI away at Leeds. Brighton won 1-0, their third victory of 2020-21 and from that point on, Gross started every remaining Premier League match. This of course coincided with Brighton's resurgence, which would not have been possible without the three goals and 10 assists Gross contributed over the whole campaign.
Bissouma, Dunk, Veltman, March, they all played throughout the Albion's record-breaking poor opening three months of the season. Even Sanchez was in the side for over a month before the form turned around with that win at Elland Road. Results undeniably show that the once Gross was a permanent member of Potter's XI, Brighton were a much better team.
And that is why Gross should have won Player of the Season for my money. He played a massive role in transforming the Albion's season to the point that by the end of the campaign, Potter handed him Der Kapitan's armband when Dunk was suspended.
White may go down in the record books as Player of the Season, but just like One Direction in 2010 or when Kimberly Walsh lost out to Louis Smith in Strictly 2012, in my mind Gross will always be the real winner.
Article courtesy of: wearebrighton.com