Lewis Dunk pauses as he ponders how to answer. Have the Brighton players talked about Europe?
He knows what to say, what players always say, that all they think about is the next game and nothing more. One game at a time.
He just can’t bring himself to do it. He captains Brighton and they have just done the league double against Manchester United with an Alexis Mac Allister penalty in the 99th minute.
They were sixth in the table until Tottenham beat Crystal Palace to take them over on Saturday, but they have three games to go, starting at Everton on Monday, and are playing some of the most exciting football in the Premier League under Roberto De Zerbi .
So, did Brighton mention Europe? “Errr, sometimes… of course,” says Dunk. ‘Would you?’ If you were Dunk, why wouldn’t you? Brighton has never played in Europe.
Brighton captain Lewis Dunk has admitted his team dreams of European competition
Roberto De Zerbi’s team defeated Manchester United 1-0 on Thursday and did the double over them
The Seagulls are now in seventh place but have three games left against sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur
It was just a few days ago the 26th anniversary of their 1-1 draw against Hereford at Edgar Street to avoid relegation from the Football League and possible obscurity. Dunk is also a boy from Brighton, who joined the club at the age of 12.
The club played in League One when he made his debut against Millwall at the end of the 2009–10 season and, apart from a brief loan spell at Bristol City, has been there ever since and their captain for the last four years with over 400 appearances for the club. club.
Now he and Brighton are on the verge of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Hopefully it’s not once in a lifetime,” the central defender intervenes with a grin. “Hopefully we can be there next season. It’s a great time. I have been traveling with this club and fighting for Europe with six games left in the Premier League.
“When I first came over, I probably would have laughed at you. But now it’s a reality and I’m enjoying every moment, leading the guys out, keeping them positive and fighting for everything. How can you not enjoy what I do? We are aware of where we are, but we don’t get carried away. It shows how we are as a team.’
Dunk is still on a high after the incredible finish to their victory over United. Brighton had created plenty of chances but looked destined to be thwarted… until Luke Shaw raised his arm in second-half stoppage time to conced the crucial penalty.
“There’s no better feeling than winning at the last minute,” says Dunk. “They are the most beautiful moments in football and when you do it in front of your home crowd.
“Alexis stepping forward and putting it in the top corner in the last minute shows cojones… can I say balls? Balls. Big balls! I was sure he would throw the ball into the back of the net. He’s been busy for us.’
Even though World Cup winner Mac Allister needed a moment to calm down before firing the ball past David De Gea. ‘It took him a little too long, though,’ Dunk laughs. “I think the stadium was silent for 10 seconds. I was ready to run in for the rebound. Next time I’m going to ask him to go a little faster!’
The 31-year-old central defender has played more than 400 games for his home club
England manager Gareth Southgate watched Dunk and Co beat United at the Amex Stadium
The match was generally not so jovial. Dunk was booked for a clash with United winger Antony, as both players and fans grew increasingly frustrated with referee Andre Marriner.
“Antony kicked Alexis, I’m the captain, I don’t let him kick my teammate, so I passed,” explained Dunk. ‘It was kind of nothing. I’m booked for it, so we’ll move on. I don’t really want to talk about the referees. I prefer to talk about winning a home game to get us higher in the league.’
It was also a result that saw some revenge after their defeat to United on penalties in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, a result they followed up by losing to Nottingham Forest.
Since then, however, Brighton have responded with two wins, including a 6-0 destruction of Wolves. Dunk remains the rock at the heart of the defense, a sight Gareth Southgate couldn’t miss from his seat in the Amex on Thursday.
They have a chance to make it a third successive victory against relegation-threatened Everton on Monday night.
‘They had the disappointment of the semi-final and then the disappointment in Vorst. We weren’t, I think we carried over a bit of that (FA Cup defeat). To bounce back with two huge wins shows the character and struggle we have to keep fighting for this European place.
“We have another huge game on Monday, it will be another test and we will have to be ready to beat Everton.”
Brighton passed most of the tests under De Zerbi, a manager so passionate about football that he went to bed with a pen and paper beside his bed to jot down the ideas that would wake him up in the middle of the night. night and such a clear plan.
Their success is based on recruiting and scouting stars like Kaoru Mitoma and Moises Caicedo
Defender Dunk added that the unknown prodigies they are unearthing is a credit to the club
So obvious, in fact, that Dunk admits he can play in attack when De Zerbi is desperate. Add that to their remarkable recruiting record, led by owner Tony Bloom’s secret algorithm that analyzes players to spot the brightest talents before anyone else like Moises Caicedo and Kaoru Mitoma.
“It is to the club’s credit that those young people come from nowhere,” says Dunk. “When they come in I feel bad, but I don’t know where they came from, but you see them in one workout and you understand why they’re there.
“And the way this manager works, everyone knows every position on the pitch and everyone knows what they should be doing.
“I could play number 10 for this manager because I know what I should be doing. I wouldn’t do very well, but I know what to do! Everyone is eager to learn, even the seniors are willing to learn like the young boys.’
It is for all those reasons – the recruitment, the manager, the talent and the desire – that Brighton are no longer a plucky minnow blessed to pick a point here or there against the big boys, but a team that is more than stand against them and believe that they can.
With Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City still to play in their quest to bring European football to Brighton, Dunk knows they need to keep that positive attitude.
“When I first came into the Premier League after promotion, we came to those games and hoped to win, which is the reality when you’re a promoted side,” says Dunk.
“It’s tough and I don’t know how long it took us to beat a top team. Now we are in a different place as a club and as a team and as a group. We have confidence against everyone and we can feel that we can beat anyone on our day.”