Brighton completed an £20m swoop for Brentford’s Neal Maupay on a four-year deal this week and after two impressive Championship seasons, the former France under-21 international finally gets his chance centre-stage among England’s top sides.
After a progressive start Neal excelled at Griffin Park and even when his arrival was official, many admirers across Europe knew he wouldn’t be there long. That is testament to both his ability and potential to succeed at the highest level.
Last term, he was the club’s Player of the Year both by supporters and fellow teammates while also winning the 2018/19 EFL equivalent accolade at the London Football Awards. Such was his influence – 25 goals and eight assists in 43 league games – there was no debate he’d prevail.
Brighton’s long-standing interest in Maupay is true, dating back to when Brentford too were pursuing a move for him at Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne. He snubbed them for the Bees to join for a paltry £1.8m and despite being significantly weakened by his absence, they’ve now received an eyewatering profit for a prized commodity too gifted to remain there long.
Aston Villa and Sheffield United were among the other Premier League clubs interested in Maupay’s services. He rejected all advances for Brighton, who under Graham Potter, represent an exciting prospect going forward. He was quoted as saying:
“The head coach’s plans were the main factor in me deciding to join Brighton. We played Swansea three times last season, lost all three games. They were playing really good football, which I see myself being involved in.
I like possession-based football so when I met him [Potter] this summer, he told me he wanted me to bring that type to Brighton. Straight away, I thought he would be great for me and I’m excited to get to work.”
44-year-old Potter, who himself signed a three-year deal at the Amex earlier this summer to succeed Chris Hughton, has an ever-growing CV with successful stints with Swedish side Ostersunds and Swansea prime examples of his impressive managerial career to date.
Potter meanwhile said: “Neal is a talented striker, with good strength and pace and he’s a goalscorer. He will add an extra dimension to our existing forward options and we are delighted to have completed the transfer. His Championship record has been exceptional, with 41 goals across the last two seasons and now his challenge is to transfer that to the Premier League.”
Crucially, Maupay is under no illusions over the difficulty increase that awaits him in England’s top-flight. There are no weak teams, even if they may seem so on paper.
Maupay is a good finisher that can still improve, thrives in possession and is capable of being unselfish – teeing up teammates, or fashioning chances for himself. Being prepared to battle will quickly endear him to supporters, while learning from experienced veterans like Glenn Murray could see an attacking partnership blossom as he looks to succeed the 35-year-old in future.
After all, he was Brighton’s top goalscorer last season with 13 league goals, which is both commendable and an issue they have looked to solve. Murray turns 36 next month, Maupay will be 23 next week. Since Murray’s £3m move from Bournemouth in 16/17, Brighton have signed forwards Jürgen Locadia (£15m), Florin Andone (£5.4m), José Izquierdo (£13.5m) and most recently Alireza Jahanbakhsh (£17m).
The first two are centre-forwards, the latter two both wingers. Between the quartet, they have played 6,125 Premier League minutes but only combined for 12 goals and seven assists during that time. Either way you spin it, that’s just not acceptable and needs rectifying.
“I started my senior career at a really young age, this is my eighth season as a professional footballer. I have that experience, but I’m still young and have a lot of things to improve, so coming here is a good plan for me. You’ve got to be ready to fight and try to win some games – this is the country of football, everyone loves the game here.”
He’s their fourth summer signing after Adam Webster (£20m), Leandro Trossard (£18m) and Matt Clarke (£3.5m, loaned out to Derby) although they are prepared to still do business before tomorrow’s deadline is concluded with a range of names rumoured on the Seagulls’ shortlist.
Nonetheless, their most important piece of business is complete and in time to feature against Watford in their season-opener on Saturday lunchtime. After two seasons of Premier League obscurity, this could prove to be Brighton’s breakthrough campaign under new management.