Deniz Undav is good enough for Germany – so should Brighton have let him leave?


Brighton & Hove Albion score more goals under Roberto De Zerbi than they ever have during seven years back in the top flight.

Their output would probably have been greater this season, however, if they had retained the services of Deniz Undav.

Hours before last night’s 1-0 win over Roma, which marked the end of the club’s Europa League adventure at the last 16 stage after the 4-0 defeat inflicted in the first leg,  Undav was called into the Germany squad by Julian Nagelsmann, joining club colleague Pascal Gross for friendlies against France and the Netherlands later this month.

The prospect of representing the host nation in this summer’s European Championships represents quite a turnaround for Undav, who has been in prolific form on loan to Stuttgart.

He scored eight goals in 30 appearances for Brighton last season. Only nine of those appearances were starts after signing for £6million from Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, where he had two prolific campaigns with the club part-owned by Brighton chairman Tony Bloom.

Brighton’s signing of Joao Pedro last summer from Watford, for a club record £30million fee, left Undav fearing that even with the addition of European competition he would be squeezed for game time again.

When Undav joined Stuttgart in August on a season-long loan, De Zerbi said: “It is with some regret we decided to let Deniz go and play. Last year he was crucial for us in achieving our goals, but he deserves that chance.”

The regret must be greater now. Undav has 19 goal contributions in 21 Bundesliga games for Stuttgart in the current campaign, comprising 14 goals and five assists.

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Deniz Undav has been in fine form for Stuttgart (Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images)

Those figures have boosted Stuttgart’s chances of  qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in 15 years whilst catapulting Undav into the plans of national manager Nagelsmann.

Undav’s contribution is all the more impressive considering the way his loan started. Knee ligament damage delayed his debut for over a month until mid-September.

His bubbly character has made him a popular figure at Stuttgart. Undav is an incessant talker in the dressing room, on the coach on the way to matches and during games.

His excitable nature stems from his unconventional route to top-flight football. Undav was released by Werder Bremen as a 14-year-old, because he was too small. Instead of going through an academy system, he used to wake up at 4am in the morning, working full-time as a machine operator in a factory to supplement modest earnings with TSV Havelse in Germany’s lower leagues.

A source at Stuttgart, granted anonymity to protect relationships, says: “His outlook is different to others, he enjoys life and appreciates his career in a very relaxed but positive way. He never worries about missing chances and doesn’t lose his confidence when things don’t go his way. He has a very different perspective on things.”

The jump to the Premier League and a slow start at Brighton unnerved Undav. He had to wait until February to make his full league debut after 27 goals in 41 games in his final season at USG.

Undav admitted in an interview with The Athletic: “I thought it would be hard, but it’s even harder than I thought… It’s not the farmers’ league, it’s the best league in the world.”

In spite of his limited involvement, Undav was regarded internally as Brighton’s best finisher in training. There were glimpses of that prowess when he played, such as the delicately taken second goal within four minutes of his introduction from the bench in a 3-0 win against Arsenal at the Emirates in May.

Undav was as popular in the Brighton dressing room last season as he has become at Stuttgart, a positive character who was not backward in coming forward. He was involved in player negotiations on bonuses and was appreciated for a mischievous sense of humour.

Joao Pedro has been a revelation, the currently hamstrung Brazilian top scoring for De Zerbi’s side with 19 goals in 32 appearances, including 10 penalties.

But goals from the other forwards have been in short supply. Ansu Fati has scored four times in 22 outings since an expensive season-long loan move from Barcelona, completed a month after Undav departed back to Germany.

Welbeck, who struck a superb winner against Roma last night, has five goals in 28 games, while Evan Ferguson’s six goals in 35 appearances all came by November. Julio Enciso (no goals in eight appearances) has only recently returned from a meniscus tear suffered by the Paraguayan prospect within a fortnight of Undav leaving.

Fati and Ferguson, both out of form, struggled to make an impact when De Zerbi brought them on in the second half against Roma. Ferguson is still only 19 with huge potential, but Fati has been a big disappointment.

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Brighton exited the Europa League to Roma (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Whether Undav ever pulls on a Brighton shirt again remains to be seen. Stuttgart have an option to buy him permanently. Although the details of the arrangement are unclear, Brighton would make a healthy profit if that situation materialises.

Brighton have not been struggling for goals under De Zerbi, although they have dried up in a key period recently, with his side scoring just three in their last six matches which have encompassed exits from the Europa League and FA Cup.

Overall, though, they are the seventh highest scorers in the Premier League with 50 goals in 28 fixtures. It has been a similar story in Europe, where they found the net 11 times in eight matches.

Even so, it would have been handy if their most natural finisher had still been around to inflate the total.

(Top photo: Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images)





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