Brighton's £50m Carabao kids offer tantalising glimpse into Albion's bright future
Twelve Great British pounds does not get you much these days. A couple of pints in a Brighton pub. Three bags of Minstrels at the Amex Stadium. Under 10 litres of unleaded.
If you were one of the Albion fans who made the journey to Cardiff City on Tuesday night, then for a ticket price of only £12 you were given a glimpse into the Seagulls’ future. And boy, did it look good.
Graham Potter took the opportunity presented by a League Cup tie against opponents whose only concern this season is to win promotion out of the Championship to throw in some of the young talent currently sat in the club’s under-23s.
Okay, so Mick McCarthy may have made countless changes of his own and named four teenagers in his Bluebirds starting XI.
Take nothing away from Brighton though: with 10 outfield players with an average age of 20.5 they still managed to beat one of the better second tier sides.
What were you doing when you were 20 years old? I was at university getting excited about Brighton becoming Ipswich Town’s nursery team as a succession of loan players like Dean Bowditch, Matt Richards, Ian Westlake and George O’Callaghan rocked up at Withdean to try to help Dean Wilkins’ Albion to the League One play offs.
That seems a world away from where the Seagulls are now, churning out homegrown products like Haydon Roberts, Antef Tsoungoi and Marc Leonard. All three have only been old enough to enter a nightclub for a little over a year and yet here they were playing as a defensive unit good enough to keep a clean sheet away from home against decent opposition.
Alongside used substitutes Andy Moran, Odel Offiah and Evan Ferguson, all played under-18 football last season. To have five teenagers involved in a victory is extraordinary at any level and a sure-fire sign that Brighton are doing something right at their Lancing training ground.
Of course, making homegrown players is not the only approach the Albion have to development.
They also hoover up some of the best young players from across the world and that meant that despite making 11 changes from the weekend win over Watford, Graham Potter could still name a starting XI in Wales which cost approaching £50 million to put together.Players like Enock Mwepu, Jakub Moder, Michal Karbownik and Moises Caicedo are all full internationals already.
That individuals of their ilk are only considered good enough to start League Cup games at this moment in time tells you everything about the squad depth currently available to Potter.
It was these bigger-money imports who combined to provide the goals which sent Brighton through. Mwepu played an outrageous 30 yard through ball from right back to send Moder away for the first.
Caicedo then rode a couple of rough Cardiff challenges to feed Andi Zeqiri, who beat Alex Smithies with a clinical finish.
Clinical finish and Brighton & Hove Albion player are words which used to go together about as well as Phil Mitchell and bottle of vodka. In a game of few chances, Moder and Zeqiri took their opportunities superbly. Perhaps the Seagulls do possess players who can do radical things like find the back of the net with only a goalkeeper to beat?
With three wins from three games now on the board, there is a feeling among Albion fans that we could be about to witness something special in 2021-22. Much of that talk has focussed on finishing a lot higher up the Premier League than has been the case since winning promotion, but the League Cup presents an opportunity to make genuine history.
Brighton have never won a major trophy in their 120 year existence, unless you are willing to count the Charity Shield of 1910. While other clubs treat the League Cup with disdain (until the latter stages at least), it presents a genuine opportunity for someone lower down the Premier League pecking order to reach a Wembley final.
If Brighton reached said Wembley final, then Potter and his players would find themselves only 90 minutes away from making history. They’d also be only 90 minutes away from qualifying for Europe which, let’s be honest, is the thing that the majority of Albion fans would be most interested in.
The night out in Cardiff after the final whistle on Tuesday was good; imagine a few days in Kazakhstan or Albania either side of Thursday evening European football next season? Now that is a prospect.
Brighton’s young guns will face sterner tests than Cardiff the longer they stay in the League Cup. Potter showed with his selection against the Bluebirds that he knows how to strike the perfect balance between naming a young side good enough to win games in the competition and resting his frontline players to keep them fresh for the rigours of Premier League football.
The Albion look to have a squad who can compete on numerous fronts. The ability of players coming through the development set up is frightening. The future for Brighton looks brighter than the goalkeeper kit worn by captain-for-the-evening Jason Steele at Cardiff. A good League Cup run could be just the start of a very special time.