Levi Colwill on Brighton and Chelsea: ‘This club trusted me when others didn’t’

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As sales pitches go, Levi Colwill could not have done more to encourage Brighton & Hove Albion in their desire to keep hold of him for at least another year.

Halfway through an exclusive interview with The Athletic, the 20-year-old central defender had to be reminded that he is, in fact, a Chelsea player, such was his enthusiasm for every aspect of the club where he is reaching the end of a productive season on loan.

“I forgot for a minute,” Colwill chuckled, before continuing to wax lyrical about his team-mates on the south coast, and playing for Roberto De Zerbi.

What a season it has been, for Colwill and for Brighton. He was speaking after another composed contribution, this time to a 1-1 draw against newly-crowned Premier League champions Manchester City at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday, a point which made sixth place and qualification for the 2023-24 Europa League mathematical certainties for De Zerbi’s vibrant young side.

“Amazing,” said Colwill. “When Roberto came in (last September), he just changed things. His mentality as a manager is world class and he is definitely going to be one of the best managers in the world — if he’s not already.

“That’s what you need at a club like this, that’s what you need to take us to the next level. I never realised how good the players are and he’s come in and playing the style — oh, it’s amazing.

“It fits everyone in the changing room. That’s why they are all playing outrageous football.”

Brighton know it won’t be easy to deliver the wishes of De Zerbi, who has said of Colwill: “I would like to work with him for another two, three, four years, because it’s difficult to find another left centre-back with his quality.

“He’s a good guy. I think he’s improving a lot this year. His improvement has been fantastic. I hope he can stay with us.”

Chelsea will, of course, have a say in that.

Mauricio Pochettino is expected to be confirmed as the new head coach at Stamford Bridge soon and is understood to be keen to build a squad around a core of home-grown players, with Colwill a part of those plans.

Chelsea don’t want to sell, but there is also concern within the west London club about Colwill’s situation. He has two years left on his current contract. A new deal has been on the table for a while, but he hasn’t shown any desire to sign it without assurances he will play regularly next season from a club he is yet to even make his senior debut for.

Can Pochettino promise that, especially after Chelsea bought 22-year-old France international centre-back Benoit Badiashile for around £33million ($40.1m at current exchange rates) from Monaco in January?

That’s not the only reason Colwill will take some convincing that his future lies back at Stamford Bridge, rather than the Amex, say.

Chelsea cannot offer him European football next season as they languish in 12th place, 19 points behind Brighton, in the final week of a wretched campaign under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. They’ve had three managers during it — Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and current interim Frank Lampard — with nothing to show for their exorbitant, haphazard recruitment.

The contrast with Brighton. where Colwill made his first three appearances under Potter before the coach left for Chelsea in September with five of his staff, could not be starker.

Colwill was one of six exciting talents aged 21 or under who went toe to toe with three-in-a-row title winners City last night.

The six also included 19-year-old Paraguayan Julio Enciso, who latched onto Colwill’s pass to bend in a spectacular equaliser from 25 yards in the first half — a goal as good if not better than the same player’s similar strike on April 15 that sealed a 2-1 away win over Chelsea.

Colwill, reflecting on a loan spell which concludes at Aston Villa on Sunday, said: “It’s been amazing — every part, on the pitch, off the pitch. I’ve learnt so many things. I’ve grown, not just only as a player, but as a man too, and I think it’s due to the manager and the players. I’ve just loved every minute of it.

“I’m not someone to predict the future. I take it day by day, but it’s been an amazing journey.”

Colwill emphasised the scale of his potential with the role he played in the 3-0 away win over then-title contenders Arsenal earlier this month.

He was not just a central defender that day, he was also an attacking midfielder, squeezing the space for Martin Odegaard to orchestrate the home side’s play. Colwill was so effective that Odegaard, Arsenal’s captain and a player instrumental in them being above City at the top of the table for most of the season, was a peripheral presence and got substituted when it was still only 1-0 to Brighton.

De Zerbi said afterwards: “The best example of the courage was Colwill, because we defended man to man. The man for Colwill was Odegaard and Colwill went 90 minutes to defend with Odegaard — 80 metres from (Brighton goalkeeper) Jason Steele. This is the courage.”

Colwill, in his 21st appearance of this season across all competitions (would he get that many back at Chelsea?), was asked by De Zerbi to perform a similarly demanding task against City, pushing up sometimes on Kevin De Bruyne or Ilkay Gundogan.

“We want to be an aggressive team,” Colwill said. “At times, we can go man for man, hopefully press and win the ball high up the pitch. We’re never going to be a team that sits off.

“It’s obviously tough work. I was blowing out of my arse! But apart from that I do enjoy it. It’s aggressive. It’s showing you want to win the ball back as fast as possible. When you do, you hear the fans roar. It’s an amazing feeling and you want to do it again.

“It’s aggressive and I love it.”

Colwill was involved in one of the main talking points of a high-quality contest, appearing initially to have lost Erling Haaland when the City striker headed in a Cole Palmer cross with 11 minutes left. He protested immediately that his shirt had been pulled by Haaland. Referee Simon Hooper agreed after he was advised by VAR Chris Kavanagh to review the incident on the pitchside monitor.

Correctly reprieved, Colwill celebrated with his team-mates at the end of the game.

“The changing room is the biggest part,” he said. “These players are amazing. They are there for you, to put an arm around you, to give you advice, to tell you off. It’s just a perfect balance and I appreciate it so much. As a young player, for all of us, for everyone in the changing room, this is what’s going to take us to the next level.

“People just being on us every day, that’s what you need. I might not have liked it at the start of the season, or last year (when he helped loan club Huddersfield Town reach the Championship play-off final. This year, without him, they were almost relegated). I’d be thinking, ‘Why are these players always on to me?’, but I came to the realisation that I want them to be on to me, because it shows they care.

“I appreciate that so much. I’d never take that away from anyone. When they care, every day, it’s only going to improve you. I just love it.”

Where does Colwill see his future now?

He said, tellingly: “Brighton have done a lot for me. They put their trust in me when others didn’t and I’m a person that loves to repay that. We’ll see.

“I don’t know what is going to happen (at Chelsea). I’m still here until the end of the season. I just focus on that, then I’ve got the Euros (the Under-21 European Championship with England) in the summer.

“After that, we’ll see what happens and go from there.”

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Brighton will have a bargaining chip with Chelsea.

Their former first-choice goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was absent from the squad against City for the fourth game in succession, having refused to sit on the bench as cover for Steele. Sanchez had a very close relationship at Brighton with goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts, who went to Chelsea with Potter and is still there. Chelsea are expected to go shopping for a new No 1 ’keeper in the coming transfer window.

Or maybe another loan will suit both parties? “Who knows, we’ll see what happens in the summer,” added Colwill. “I love the Brighton fans, I love everything about them (the club). I’ll take that into consideration.”

(Photo: Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

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