When Adam Lallana left the action holding his thigh after 29 minutes of Brighton & Hove Albion’s 2-2 draw at Leicester City in January, there was no indication that the problem was severe enough to question whether the midfielder would play for the Seagulls again.
It came as both a surprise and a serious blow then when Roberto De Zerbi revealed in his press conference before Fulham’s visit to the Amex a month later that Lallana may be out for the rest of the 2022/23 season. “Lallana has a big injury,” De Zerbi said. “We lose him for a long time. Lallana’s is a big problem. It is months not weeks.”
“It could be he is finished for the season,” Brighton’s head coach further elaborated following his side’s 1-0 defeat to the Cottagers. “It is bad news for us because Adam is one of the most important players for us. We can win without Adam but he is very important. You have to ask the medical team but they told me the possibility of him playing this season was not so likely.”
With Lallana out of contract in the summer and one of the highest earners at the Amex, Brighton face a difficult decision about whether to offer him a new deal and on what terms. What Lallana himself wishes to do is also unclear; having achieved more than most in his playing career, will he want to battle back from another long term injury when he turns 35 in May?
De Zerbi has made his feelings clear on the matter. Judging by the mood amongst Seagulls supporters, most seem to be in agreement with their manager. So, what does the future hold for Lallana?
Speaking again after the Fulham game, De Zerbi said: “I want Lallana with me, for sure, 100%. I already spoke with Tony [Bloom] and I told him to extend his contract.”
This will not have come as a surprise to anyone who has watched Lallana since De Zerbi took the reins at the Amex. The midfielder has been in the best form of his Albion career, thriving thanks to De Zerbi deploying him exclusively as a number 10 in contrast to Graham Potter chopping and changing his role on a weekly basis.
Having scored just once from 59 appearances over two-and-a-bit seasons under Potter, Lallana had three goals in 15 matches playing for De Zerbi. More important than his scoring return, however, is the way he’d linked the play and always picked the right pass; an essential ingredient in the DeZerbiBall system of keeping possession, drawing the press and attacking at lightning quick speed.
Before Lallana was injured at Leicester, Brighton had scored more goals than any other team in the Premier League since the winter break. Without Lallana, the Seagulls output has dropped significantly to three in four top flight matches.
Brighton are still creating chances and playing superb football, granted. But it is no coincidence that they have not been quite the same side since Lallana was put on the shelf. He is integral to the way De Zerbi plays and his experience and leadership are vital in what is one of the youngest squads in the top flight. It is little wonder that the Albion boss and the majority of the club’s fans want to see him remain at the Amex.
When Brighton signed Lallana in the summer of 2020 from Liverpool, eyebrows were raised by the Seagulls offering a player who had spent most of the previous three seasons injured a three-year contract.
The capture of Lallana was always about more than what he could bring on the pitch, however. As one of the most intelligent players in English football, Lallana looks like future manager material. Brighton were keen to snap him up so that when the day came for him to retire, they could be the club who benefited from this by beginning his coaching career if that were the path he chose to go down.
Lallana has already had a brief taste of what management entails. He was named as part of Under 21s boss Andrew Croft’s interim coaching team when Crofts was put in temporary charge following Potter walking out for Chelsea.
De Zerbi has also talked of how relied on Lallana after first arriving at Brighton. Speaking in October, he said: “Adam is one of the players with who I have built one of the best relationships here. He has helped me a lot, including my staff. I think he can become a very good head coach but for now, he is still a very strong player and I believe I can count on him a lot.”
A player-coach role would presumably allow Brighton to reduce Lallana’s weekly wage, enable De Zerbi to see if he comes back the same player for next season after such a long layoff and help the midfielder take his first steps in his post-playing career. Lallana a future Brighton manager? You heard it here first.
Lallana told BBC Sport Sussex in February 2022: “I still think I have got a few years left playing at the moment so I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I am fully focused on contributing on the pitch for Brighton and we will see what happens in the long-term future.”
If Brighton decided to go against De Zerbi’s advice and not offer Lallana a new contract, then he would not be short of offers elsewhere. Players of his quality, experience and leadership are worth their weight in gold – as long as a club are willing to accept they will be ruled out from time-to-time with injury and need resting, as the Seagulls have.
Could he go back to where it all started and help newly-relegated Southampton secure an immediate Premier League return? When Lallana scored in Brighton’s 3-1 win at St Mary’s on Boxing Day, he refused to celebrate out of respect for the club he once captained.
Lallana’s performances for Brighton this season show he can still perform at the highest level, let alone the Championship. And whilst it would be gutting for supporters to see him leave the Amex, he has been a fine servant for Brighton. Nobody could begrudge him wanting to eke a few more years out of his fantastic career.
And what if Lallana decides this thigh problem is an injury too many? If he were to retire and not want to move into coaching, there would be numerous media outlets wanting to benefit from his knowledge.
Lallana has already turned his hand successfully to print and broadcast media, offering insightful and intelligent takes of the sort you would expect from a man tipped to go far if he decides to go into management.
Glenn Murray has become an exceptional pundit since retiring. Lallana could be the next ex-Seagull to make a successful permanent move into the media. For now though, Brighton fans will be hoping that his role writing in The Times remains a part-time one fitted in around playing for the Albion in Europe in 2023/24.