Brighton chief executive officer Paul Barber tells CBS Sports no offers have been made this January for World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister or talented Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo.
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Brighton do view the January window as a seller's market, but are hoping to keep both players in January, especially with Roberto De Zerbi's Seagulls flying high in eighth place and challenging for European football next season.
"We always want to keep the best possible squad together for as long as we can," said Barber, who joined Brighton in 2012 and was awarded an OBE in the New Year Honors List. "But we also have to be realistic that players will have ambitions since they want to play at the highest level. And in those situations, it's up to us, from a business point of view, to maximize the value of those players.
"We are blessed that our owner Tony Bloom doesn't put us under pressure to sell players and we are very comfortable with our financial model. So if we do sell, it will be because it's right for us and right for the player and because we've realized the value we think is the best we can get at that particular point.
"We always try to avoid doing business of any kind -- outgoing or incoming -- in January. It tends to be more of a seller's market. And the problem with that is if you do sell then need to replace, you move into the buyer's market which is a more difficult place to be.
"So at this stage where we've had a very good start again to the Premier League season, if we can retain all of our key players during January, that would ideal. But, of course, the more successful you are, the greater the profile you have and the more interest there is.
"We are very realistic that we are going to have interest in Alexis. We are going to have interest in Moises. We are going to have interest in Rob Sanchez. We had eight players at the World Cup, more than any in the club's history combined. So this has been an exceptional period for us. We know that our players are being looked at. But it doesn't change anything. If it's right for us, we will do something. If it isn't right for us and if it isn't right for our player, then we certainly wouldn't. So we have no plans to do anything in this winter window of any note, but, of course, you can never say never about anything in this business."
Brighton's pride at having a World Cup winner
Brighton midfielder Mac Allister is in high demand after winning the World Cup with Argentina in Qatar.
The recently-turned 24-year-old played six matches and started the final against France, assisting Angel Di Maria's goal. He also scored against Poland in the group stage and finished the tournament with an impressive 89% pass-completion.
Mac Allister has also scored five goals in 15 Premier League appearances this season and got a brace in the 5-1 FA Cup third-round rout over Middlesbrough.
Such a rich vein of form has seen Mac Allister linked (to varying degrees) with Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and PSG. But he only signed a new contract in October, keeping him at Brighton until at least June 2025. And there is a club option to automatically extend the deal by a further year, leaving Brighton calm about Mac Allister's short-term future. A "happy" Mac Allister told Brighton's club channel, Albion TV, he's not reading "too much into any speculation" and does not "have any rush to leave."
"It's really special to have a World Cup winner," added Barber. "It's something that everybody at the club can feel very proud of. I've just travelled here to Middlesbrough for our FA Cup game and I spoke to Alexis for the first time in person since his World Cup win. He's still beaming with pride."
Brighton are not planning to sell Mac Allister anytime soon and are yet to receive any formal offers for a player they paid just $8.5 million to Argentinos Juniors for in 2019. A summer sale remains more likely than now and only a massive offer, in excess of $70 million, could change that. That's almost double his current market value.
🗣️"We worked hard before the World Cup to agree a new contract with Alexis and we're glad we did that..."— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) January 7, 2023
Brighton CEO Paul Barber tells me he's "very realistic that we're going to have interest" in Alexis Mac Allister but says Brighton remain calm about his future.🇦🇷 pic.twitter.com/IaHbb226Gt
"We worked hard before the World Cup to agree a new contract with Alexis," said Barber, who joined Brighton from Vancouver Whitecaps. "We worked with his father and his agent to come up with a deal that suited everybody. And we are glad that we did that not just because Alexis ended up winning the World Cup, but we wanted him settled to give him the best chance of having a great World Cup.
"We also wanted to give him that sort of comfort going into the rest of the season with us that he had a long-term future plan all mapped out. What happens this window, next window or the window after, none of us can predict. But what I can say is that Alexis is delighted to be back and we are delighted to have him back. We are looking forward to seeing more football from him in the second half of the season."
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No offers yet for Moises Caicedo
A more imminent departure could be in line for Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo, who became the first Brighton player to score at a World Cup when he netted against Senegal in the group stage.
The 21-year-old Caicedo joined Brighton from Independiente del Valle for just $6 million in February 2021 when now-Chelsea manager Graham Potter was still in charge. And a reunion with his former boss could well be on the cards.
Sources tell CBS Sports there is a real chance Chelsea make a move for Caicedo, especially as efforts to sign Benfica's World Cup-winning midfielder Enzo Fernandez have stalled.
Brighton don't want to sell Caicedo in January and he remains contracted until 2025. As a result, $85-plus million would be required to get a transfer done this month. Brighton have received no offers to date, contrary to suggestions Liverpool have already tabled two bids.
"I'm pleased to say we haven't had any [offers]," revealed Barber. "Maybe they [Liverpool] haven't got my email because I haven't seen any."
Reports last summer emerged suggesting Liverpool had also tabled a $50 million (£42 million) bid prompting Potter to jokingly respond, "You'd probably get his boots for that from the chairman -- maybe!" And since then, Caicedo's valuation has only rocketed.
"I am not sure £42 million will even include the boots now, maybe just the laces," laughed Barber. "But joking aside, every player's value is ultimately determined by the market. Graham's comments were part in jest but part serious because Moises has been an exceptional player for us.
"Since he came to the Premier League, he has developed all the time. He's a young man with a great attitude, fantastic work ethic and a very nice human being off the pitch. So all those things contribute to the value of a footballer should it come to that moment to sell."
Chelsea are monitoring the Caicedo situation with a view to both January and the summer and Potter is keen on a managing him again.
Liverpool's interest is really more historical than active. They seriously considered signing Caicedo before he joined Brighton, but a deal back then is described as "messy" by sources. Although his transfer fee proved exceptional value in 2019, Caicedo was represented by multiple agents each claiming a cut adding cost and complication to any prospective deal.
Caicedo has now switched agents, perhaps preparing for a move in 2023. Epic Sports, who look after Bayern Leverkusen pair Piero Hincapie and Sardar Azmoun, will act on his behalf from mid-January. Should a deal become both simpler and more cost-effective, Liverpool could revisit the situation this summer, especially with a need to strengthen in midfield.
How do Brighton do such good business?
One of the reasons why Brighton are under no obligation to sell Mac Allister or Caicedo is due to a string of high-profile sales over the past two years.
Marc Cucurella ($70 million, Chelsea), Ben White ($61 million, Arsenal), Yves Bissouma ($30 million, Tottenham), Dan Burn ($16 million, Newcastle) and Neal Maupay ($12.5 million, Everton) have all been sold since the summer of 2021.
Cucurella's switch to Chelsea last August is a prime example of Brighton getting a tremendous fee (significantly above the Spaniard's market value) and being able to replace him (even before Cucurella actually left) with Ecuador international Pervis Estupiñán, who joined from Villarreal for just $18 million.
"Marc's sale is a good example of where you sometimes have to match a player's ambitions with your own business needs," explained Barber. "It was just good timing. From our point of view, Marc had enjoyed a fantastic season with us and was in high demand, not just from Chelsea who ultimately bought him but other clubs [Manchester City] as well.
"This enabled us to get a good transfer fee for him. And one of the most important parts of our model is knowing when to sell, and also making sure we've got that plan in place to replace the outgoing player so there is no diminution to the coach's ability to win football matches. That's an important part of what we do.
"We can't get it right every single time. There's always going to be moments and set situations when it doesn't quite work to everyone's advantage, but it did in this case. It's good to see Marc playing regularly for Chelsea and in the Champions League. And for us, Pervis has come in and done exceptionally well. Everybody in this situation seems to have benefited.
"As for the fee, the market determines the price just like any other commodity. If you have got a rare talent, who is in high demand or under a long contract, or if there just aren't many players in that position, the price can be whatever it needs to be."
Is Chelsea owner Todd Boehly playing Football Manager?
The fee Chelsea paid for Cucurella certainly some raised eyebrows within the industry. Manchester City were not prepared to go above $48 million, but Boehly gladly tabled a far higher package. And he also reportedly verbally promised Benfica $127 million for Fernandez over the festive period.
Yet sources tell CBS Sports, Chelsea never intended to trigger Fernandez's release clause or pay a record Premier League-record fee to sign him and CBS Sports transfer insider Fabrizio Romano revealed Chelsea's actual formal offer was "only" $90 million.
Excl: Chelsea official proposal for Enzo Fernández was never €120m or €127m. The final proposal made to Benfica was €85m fee. 🚨🔵🇦🇷 #CFC— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 4, 2023
Chelsea have never discussed €120m release clause.
There’s NO agreement at all after new meeting in the afternoon, as revealed earlier. pic.twitter.com/tGJpQe8Vmp
Chelsea also walked away from deals last summer for Milan's Rafael Leão, Leipzig's Josko Gvardiol, Juventus' Matthijs de Ligt (now at Bayern) and Manchester City's Nathan Ake because in each case they felt the asking price or release clause was just too high. On this evidence, it's unfair to paint Chelsea's American owners as serial-spenders or suggest they are somehow getting swindled on value. Barber, with first-hand experience, maintains Boehly is a far tougher negotiator than he's being given credit for.
"Todd's a very successful businessman and you don't get to be a very successful businessman unless you are also a smart person. He is certainly not a pushover in negotiations -- far from it. And he's a very professional individual. He's got high integrity and we have enjoyed the dealings we've had with Todd. We wish him nothing but good fortune.
"It's also not easy to come in from the other side of the world and buy a football club which is already successful and make it even more successful. That doesn't happen overnight. It requires a lot of skill, patience and hard work as well as a bit of luck along the way.
"Expectations on a club like Chelsea are always going to be high. So when their new owners have got such big ambitions, in many ways that just adds profile and pressure. Todd and his group have spent a lot of money in buying the club and in improving the squad. It does take a while for all of the things they are trying to bring together to have the effect they are hoping for. It's a long-term project and football is not easy -- there are no short-term fixes.
"Of course, you can you can make changes and amendments quickly, but the results they bring can sometimes take longer. So it still remains to be seen where Chelsea go, and good luck to them. They are one of our big competitors in the Premier League. But we like to have good relationships with all clubs. After all, there's a relatively small number of clubs across the world that we will do business with, either buying or selling, so it's important to have good relationships with as many as possible."
What can Brighton achieve this season?
Brighton's respect for Chelsea is mutual, hence why the West London club moved not only for Potter and Cucurella but also highly-respected recruitment specialists Kyle Macaulay and Paul Winstanley, with the latter taking on a new role at Stamford Bridge as Director of Global Talent and Transfers.
"We hired a coach from Brighton and we think they are one of the best-run teams in the Premier League," Chelsea's majority owner Behdad Eghbali told Sportico. "The owner is from a sport-gaming and data background. He spends 10% of the payroll, wins almost as much [as those who invest more] and has a stable, mid-market, mid-table and very profitable club."
Brighton's ninth-place finish last campaign was their highest in the top flight and they are now challenging for Europe. But should they qualify this season, their business model won't significantly change.
"We have a very strict business plan and model in terms of the way we want to work," said Barber, who was previously an executive director at Tottenham Hotspur between 2005-2010. "We have to be smarter and fish in ponds other clubs tend not to even look in. That's been part of our policy and philosophy all along.
"We try and buy younger players and then use our own coaching skills and expertise to develop them. If that means that they make it into our first team, it's fantastic. If it means we sell them to other clubs along the way, that also helps to bring in the income that enables us to complete the cycle.
"And really what we're looking at is trying to reduce the amount of money we spend on transfer fees and develop our own talent and then actually profit from transfer fees by selling those players at the right time, because they've all got big ambitions to play at the highest possible level, and we understand that.
"Then from a financial point of view, we know how difficult the Premier League is. And we know how small margins can be the difference between success and failure. So we are much more conservative than planning, financially-speaking, to finish tenth. But having said that, we know how valuable each place is in the Premier League is.
"Overall, it's a combination of making sure we maximize our revenue streams and minimize our cost base, trying to be as efficient as we can in everything we do. And if that ultimately comes together, as it did last season, and we finish in ninth, or 10th and above in any given season, then that is a very successful financial year for us.
"Ultimately, on the football side, we would love to be playing in European competition and love to be the group of directors, coaches and staff that secure the first [cup] silverware for the club. All those things are really, really important to us. But this is a long-term project. It's not something we expect to get immediate results or immediate success from.
"So I'd like to think our business model wouldn't change if we do qualify for Europe this season. We know that it would bring extra demands on us. But we also know it would be an exceptional achievement and not something necessarily that we could count on every season. So we would certainly maintain our model and cost structures.
"And, fortunately, we have got a lot of experience in the club now through myself, our technical director David Weir and head coach Roberto De Zerbi, who have all been involved either playing, coaching or administrating in European football at previous clubs. If it happens it would be a fantastic thing: we would embrace it, look forward to it and manage it."
Brighton is one of the most likable and sustainable clubs in the Premier League. And with eight league wins so far, compared to their 12 in 2021-22, they are already on course to improve on last season and in doing so potentially upstage some of the Premier League's biggest spenders.