In my first blog for WAGU back in July, I spoke about a rumour concerning Michael Owen signing for the Albion. I described this as ‘farcical’, because anyone with any sense could see that Owen was far too good to even consider joining us. Had there been a similar rumour at the same time regarding Vicente Rodríguez, I would have said exactly the same.
Nothing at this football club surprises me now though. Frankly, I have no idea how Gus Poyet and Tony Bloom have managed it, but the Valencia legend will be in our squad at Bristol City this Saturday, having signed a one-year contract last Friday.
The more you look at facts and figures, the more extraordinary the move appears. Ten years ago, when Vicente made his international debut for Spain in a friendly against then world champions France, Brighton had recently drawn 1-1 at home to York City. A few months earlier, Kidderminster Harriers triumphed in front of a few thousand die hard fans at the Withdean in a game that saw the Seagulls nearly hit the bottom of the Football League. Injuries may have blighted his last few seasons at Los Che, but we are told that he is now fully fit, and he still managed to make sixteen appearances in La Liga and the Champions League last term. He would regularly rotate with Juan Mata, who has just joined Chelsea in a multi-million pound deal.
So, what on earth possessed a player with such a glittering CV to join a side that was in English football’s third tier last season, ahead of other interested clubs such as Blackburn, Everton and Leicester? Well, as we have already seen with the signing of Craig Mackail-Smith in the summer, Poyet and Bloom are masters at their craft when it comes to selling Brighton and Hove Albion to potential signings. Their intent seems perfectly clear – they want the club to reach the Premier League, and they don’t intend on hanging about.
Vicente has only been here a matter of days, but already he has spoken about playing for the club at the highest level. You suspect that he wouldn’t have signed for us if he didn’t genuinely believe this was possible. For the first time, I’m starting to believe it really can happen too.
In that blog back in July, I predicted a 12th place finish, and said this would represent success for Poyet. I’m not so sure about that anymore. A near perfect start to the season, coupled with the Vicente signing, has pushed expectation levels through the roof. The 3-1 win at Cardiff was spectacular, and was possibly the most complete Albion performance I have ever witnessed. I can’t remember a better individual performance than what I saw that evening from Mackail-Smith. I have never seen a player run in the way he does – the pièce de résistance came when he chased a lost cause for 50 yards, pinched the ball from under Mark Hudson’s nose and then drew a foul to earn the penalty from which we scored our second. No wonder Peterborough fans nicknamed him the Energiser Bunny!
The 2-2 draw at home to Blackpool was a mere blip, before a comfortable 2-0 win against Peterborough sent us to the summit of the Championship, and to our highest league position in 28 years. It feels just like last season all over again, with Nigel Adkins’ Southampton trying to keep up with us!
Away from our league exploits, we had the small matter of a Carling Cup encounter with Premier League Sunderland. It is saying something when a win against a side from the top tier feels so routine, but that’s exactly what it was. Mackail-Smith’s extra time winner gave us the win we richly deserved, and set up a dream tie with Liverpool.
It is at this point that I have to make a confession. As a young boy, Liverpool were my ‘Premiership team’. With my Dad supporting Brighton and my Mum a staunch Liverpool fan, I was torn. Mum tried her best (there is a family photo on our mantelpiece at home where I am wearing a Liverpool training top), but thankfully Dad won the battle, and I’ve been completely dedicated to the Albion from about the age of nine. Ever since then, I’ve dreamed of this fixture.
Kenny Dalglish will be sure to put a strong side out – with no European action for the Reds this season, this competition represents one of their main hopes for some silverware and it promises to be one of the best nights in the Amex’s short history. With games against Leeds and Crystal Palace also within the same week, it is going to be some few days at our sparkling new home.
Now all that remains to be seen is how Poyet manages to fit all of our attacking strength into his line-ups. With Vicente, Mackail-Smith, Ashley Barnes, Will Hoskins, Kazenga LuaLua, Will Buckley, Ryan Harley and Craig Noone all jostling for positions, there are going to be some disappointed players sooner or later. That’s unless Poyet’s next masterplan is to play a 2-4-4 formation!
Written by Liam Dawes – We Are Going Up’s Brighton and Hove Albion Blogger