Brighton’s hidden aces
The talent factory's only secret is it knows how to play its cards.
Brighton find talent in obscurity and consistently flip it for record sales, leaving many to wonder at their secrets.
But there’s no sleight of hand; the club just know how to play their cards. Billy Carpenter explains.
Charlie Munger said “the stock market is filled with individuals who know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”
It can be said that many top clubs fall into this description. Despite the monstrous sums of money changing hands every window, and the self-assuredness and rosy optimism of fans and brass alike, half of all Premier League transfers fail. Many of them, spectacularly so.
This is not entirely the fault of the clubs; much can be explained as simply part and parcel of dealing with human beings and all their complexities.
Brighton & Hove Albion aim to acknowledge, then exploit, these risk factors. As a seaside club not too far removed from playing in League One at Withdean Stadium — a multi-use athletics complex and former zoo which earns a coveted ★☆☆☆☆ review from the passionate denizens of FootballGroundMap.com — they have completed their unlikely ascent to European football.
Chairman Tony Bloom described the approach like this:
“When it comes to football, people get very emotional. When I’m watching a game, I’m as emotional as the rest of them. But running the football club, it’s really important to get that emotion to the back. Otherwise you’ll end up doing what a lot of chairmen always do and make some horrendous decisions. I don’t quite understand why a lot of successful businessmen get into football clubs and sometimes make a pig’s ear of it.”
Applying the data-driven models he’s used to exploit inefficiencies in the betting markets, the approach is described as such:
They learned to overcome [some of] their own biases, among them the biggest one of all in football: the idea that every team ultimately get the results that their performances deserve. “People say that good luck and bad luck evens out over the course of the season, and that the table never lies,” Benham said. “But that’s simply not true.”
But Bloom, after all, is no humble owner of a corner grocery. He’s a secretive and sagacious billionaire who made his fortune by professionally turning the odds against the oddsmakers. He is literally known as “The Lizard.”
He is “under-resourced” only when compared to petrostates, really. Indeed, he helped rescue the Amex Stadium project by personally funding much of the project with an interest-free loan of £80m. As seen in the Swiss Ramble report today, he provided £406m of “owner debt” to the club over a 10-year span, and bought another (Royale Union Saint-Gilloise) along the way.
In reality, it’s been more about making intelligent bets — managing risk while leveraging the reliable misjudgments of the market. But it is betting, nonetheless.
The broad strokes of his club’s approach are lore at this point:
Buy an unknown, diamond-in-the-rough from an underappreciated market
Step number two — “???” — is neither as mysterious or magical as it seems. How Brighton go about developing players from “promising talent” to “your club’s next expensive signing” is no sleight of hand; it’s merely understanding what cards they hold and playing each at the right time.
Before we explore their hand — and the four hidden aces Brighton utilise better than anyone else on the market — we must interrogate the first question.
Are Brighton really able to identify players who no one else is aware of?
There is some truth to this perception. Brighton takes a wide, “proprietary” approach to identify transfer targets, and then acts decisively once a suitable transaction is found. But as always, the reality is more complex.
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