While results have not been the best of late, overall, have you been pleased with the way things have gone this season?
If, at the start of the season, you’d have said we’d be mid-table to anyone at the club, the fans included, we’d probably have bitten your hand off. The club’s fought against relegation for three or four years, but I’ve been here long enough to know that we’re going in a fantastic direction, and from top to bottom, it’s as well as I’ve seen a club run. The manager’s also got a lot of praise and rightly so – he’s building a fantastic squad with great balance.
It’s not a case of sitting on our laurels though, is it?
We do still need to add more belief but that comes with time, with the development of players and with confidence. The more times we play well, the more we’ll get that belief, and with that we’ll score more goals and get more wins, but we need to be a little bit patient. We can’t expect everything all at once. Empires aren’t built in a day, but how we are building at the moment is really reassuring and we’re going in the right direction.
So what’s the target between now and the end of the campaign?
In-house we just want to stick to our fundamentals, our basics, how we want to work; and as long as there are gradual improvements, then that’s an important way for us to look at it. We want to see an increase on the total number of points we got last season, the total number of wins, clean sheets, data like that. If we can work towards that, a result will hopefully see us finish higher up the table.
On the outside there was talk of Europe at one stage. The players don’t get wrapped up in all that, do they?
The Premier League is a very, very competitive league and it’s important that we, as a group, keep our feet on the ground. You want to take the good performances, the best bits of them and use it, but when we have a setback, not get too downhearted because there are going to be setbacks, given there are so many good teams in this league.
You mention a well-run club. Did that help in your decision to join from Liverpool?
I knew that before I joined, but yes, it’s a big part of why I joined. When you come in to work, it’s an environment where you can really feel that positivity. Whether you’re in the canteen, the gym or in the office areas, where all the analysis is done, you really do get the feeling that this is a great place to work. There’s no politics about the place, no egos, it’s run smoothly with every department having their own roles and responsibilities.
What’s Graham he like to work with?
From my experience of him, Graham is very calm, a very deep football thinker, who focuses on the tactical side a lot. I look at the way Pep [Guardiola] plays his football, he’s always been on the tactical side of it, and Graham’s more like that than other managers, which is a huge, huge compliment. He’s different to other managers I’ve had, and I’ve been lucky to have worked with a lot of good managers. There are plenty of ways to be successful and he is putting down his own marker, his own views into Brighton, and the trajectory is going in the right direction for sure. I’m lucky enough to have worked for four or five world-class managers and if I can take little bits from each of them, I’m sure the older I get, I’ll be a wiser person.
It’s a serious business, management, isn’t it...
Along with his staff, Graham does 12-hour days at the football club which, if you want to be the best, has to happen. You have to leave no stone unturned really; there’s so many different dynamics to the team that you need to look at. You haven’t just got 11 players, you’ve got a squad of 25 and each individual will be going through different stages of their careers, different problems, and Graham and his staff really do cover all bases. The matches and the analysis run alongside that as well.
How do you assess your season-and-a-half at the club?
It’s been everything I expected and more. It’s been a great year-and-a-half, I’ve loved every minute of it, as much as I did my time at Liverpool. Obviously it’s a different football club with different challenges, different goals, but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying the journey as much. I came here not knowing anyone in the squad but I’ve built great friendships. I’ve got great relationships with the lads and the staff. I speak to the staff quite a lot, being a senior player, and I’m starting to get a glimpse of what it looks like over on the ‘other side’, and they’re absolutely great with me.
You’ve made over 20 appearances this season. That must please you...
The staff manage me well; my availability and my fitness has been as good as it’s been for probably four or five years. I’m contributing and that’s credit to the club for helping me regain my robustness. I’m playing a slightly different role too, which is great stimulation for me. I always feel like I’m learning and looking to improve different areas of my game and using my experience to help a good bunch of these young lads develop into top Premier League players. I’m enjoying my football as much as I’ve ever done in my career. Long may it continue.
It sounds like you’re really in a happy place at the club...
I love football at the end of the day. Playing football under [Mauricio] Pochettino or Nigel Adkins at Southampton, I was loving it there; at Liverpool, under Jurgen Klopp, when I was fit and firing I was loving there – even in my last year when I wasn’t playing and had a role off the bench and a big role in training, we were winning trophies. It’s just the same here, it’s a football club that’s looking further up the table now and being a big part of that is enjoyable. I get a lot from it. I’m at a different stage of my career now but enjoying it just as much.