REVEALED: The reason behind Roberto De Zerbi’s explosive clash with Alexis Mac Allister last season… and the advice Pep Guardiola gave him after Brighton went toe-to-toe with Man City
- Brighton boss revealed why he clashed with former player Alexis Mac Allister
- Roberto De Zerbi, 44, confronted the Argentine star before facing Newcastle
- WATCH: ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ – Episode 1 – Mail Sport’s brand new football show
Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi has revealed the reason why he clashed with Alexis Mac Allister last season, resulting in benching the World Cup winner.
Mac Allister left Brighton this summer for Liverpool, having become one of the most sought-after midfielders in Europe.
But no player under De Zerbi has free reign to walk into his team and Mac Allister was told exactly that before a clash with Newcastle, leading to a frosty exchange in the manager’s office.
Speaking to Italian newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport, De Zerbi explained: ‘Before a match with Newcastle, I told him: “Alex, you need to rest tomorrow, so you’ll go on the bench.”‘
The midfielder is said to have responded, ‘if you want to lose, make me rest.’
Roberto De Zerbi takes a hard line with his players and rarely makes exceptions for his stars
The Brighton boss (left) has now reflected on a clash with Alexis Mac Allister (right) last season
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De Zerbi continued: ‘I hit back smiling and saying: “I am surely not second to you in terms of personality, now go out of my office.”
‘The following day, he was on the bench.’
Brighton would go on to lose heavily – 4-1, in fact – with Mac Allister only coming on late on from the bench.
But De Zerbi stood by his decision to protect a player that was at risk of burnout with all the matches.
In a wide-ranging interview with the newspaper, De Zerbi reflected on the inner workings of his coaching philosophy that led to Brighton’s sixth-place finish in 2022-23 – their most successful season – as well as the anxiety attached to top flight management.
Departures of Moises Caicedo, who made a £115m switch to Chelsea, as well as Mac Allister, leave holes in Brighton’s side and De Zerbi has declared that this season is the litmus test for the Seagulls’ progress.
‘Anxiety has always accompanied me in this job,’ he added.
‘We are beginning the most crucial season because we have to confirm ourselves. We lost three key players such as Mac Allister, (Levi) Colwill and Caicedo.
Brighton have lost a number of key players during the summer transfer window, including Levi Colwill to Chelsea and Argentinian Mac Allister to Liverpool for a £35million fee
‘Big clubs can’t buy our souls. In footballing terms, this Brighton side does not entirely reflect me, but we have the same soul.’
He claimed he does not feel the week-to-week pressure of results and will never call out his players for playing ‘s***’, instead focusing on ‘improving the identity’ of his team.
One of his big personal challenges this season, as well as juggling European football with Brighton, is to improve his English language skills, having struggled to communicate with his players last season.
A pivotal moment in De Zerbi’s career, he pinpointed, was a game against Pep Guardiola’s formidable Manchester City. After an early season struggle, including two draws and three defeats, a turning point emerged.
‘We lost 3-1 to Man City,’ De Zerbi recalled, ‘and my staff and I had doubts while preparing for the game. Be courageous or sit back?’
The fiery determination that defined De Zerbi’s career was ignited within him.
Brighton boss also reflected on his friendship with fellow Premier League boss Pep Guardiola
He added: ‘I threw my mobile phone against the wall shouting: “I didn’t waste 10 years of my life. If we lose, I want to do it my way. We’ll play openly, attacking Man City in their box.” Nobody had ever done it.’
His strategy impressed Guardiola, with the Man City boss lauding his ingenuity for the first time. The following week, Brighton’s went on to secure an emphatic 4-1 victory over Chelsea.
De Zerbi remembers Guardiola’s encouraging words: ‘if you need anything, don’t hesitate to call me.’
Brighton will face Wolves next up as they look to build on their opening-day win over Luton Town.
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