Roberto De Zerbi has said Pep Guardiola is ‘still No.1’ and revealed the Manchester City boss inspired him to become a manager, after Brighton held the champions to a 1-1 draw.
Guardiola praised his counterpart in the build-up to the game at the Amex Stadium, describing the 43-year-old Italian, who guided Brighton to the Europa League next year, as “one of the most influential managers ” of the past 20 years.
De Zerbi responded after the pair clashed on the south coast, where Julio Enciso’s superb goal nullified Phil Foden’s opener in a frenetic game, and said he still considered the former Barcelona and the Bayern Munich as the best in the world.
“I became a coach thanks to him,” he told sky sports. “I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but I became a coach for him because I liked his Barcelona and I studied him a lot.
“I don’t like to copy anyone, but I took [things from him] when I started to coach, and before too, when I finished as a player. Pep is still number one.”
The draw saw Brighton finish sixth, making it the club’s best season in history, and De Zerbi was proud of the ‘courage’ his players showed in coming up against Guardiola.
“It was very tough,” he said. “We knew playing against Man City is always difficult. We played very well, we deserved to get our point across – and we deserve to play in the Europa League.
“When the going was tough, we didn’t lose our style. Pressing Man City man-to-man on either side of the pitch, I think is courage.”
De Zerbi, who also hailed Enciso’s superb equalizer as ‘incredible’, admitted he didn’t think a Europa League finish was possible when he took the job following Graham Potter’s departure in September .
“No, but I didn’t think of the table,” he said. “I wanted to work and analyze the team, the players, understand a new country, a new league. And then, in February, I started thinking about the goal.
“I’m lucky because I’ve found a fantastic group of players. I’m a good coach but without the players… When I have to analyze something in football, I always start with the players.”
Pep: We drank all the alcohol in Manchester
Guardiola, meanwhile, spoke of De Zerbi’s Brighton again after the game and also declared his pride in his side’s performance so soon after celebrating their Premier League title triumph.
“Outstanding game,” he said sky sports. “Congratulations to Brighton on their deserved Europa League qualification.
“The game we played, 40 hours after I think I’ve had all the booze in Manchester, showed why we’re the champions. I didn’t see any drop in intensity in our idea. They had chances, we had chances.
“This team destroys other opponents, the way they play, and they did that at times tonight, especially the last 10 or 15 minutes of the first half, when we struggled. But in the second half time, we adjusted and we did very well.
“It’s normal that you can lose points or a bit of intensity being champions, but I haven’t seen it. Now, during the week, you have to rest and recover mentally.”
Rosenior: De Zerbi an absolute genius
Former Brighton defender and current Hull City manager Liam Rosenior was part of Sky Sports’ punditry squad and was impressed with what he saw from both sides, describing De Zerbi as an ‘absolute genius “for the way he transformed Brighton.
“Watching the game as a young manager, the bravery of the two coaches, the pressure they put on the game, the fact that they were ready to face the best striker on the planet, that’s bravery,” did he declare.
“That says a lot about how De Zerbi coaches this team. I think he’s an absolute genius.
“I know Pep said it yesterday, and I’m going to say it now, there are certain coaches who come – [Arrigo] Sacchi with Milan, Pep arrived and changed the game…
“What De Zerbi is doing with this Brighton side is something different, something new in provoking the press in the way they build, they scored from the goalkeeper again tonight.”