MATT BARLOW: From Bognor to one of Europe’s best, Lewis Dunk is the John Terry of Brighton… he has ridden the setbacks and the Seagulls miss his personality when he is not there
- Dunk is in the England side having played in the last two international breaks
- From League One to Europe, he is the perfect man to be leading his Brighton side
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
Not everything went to plan for Lewis Dunk between his appearances for England against Scotland and Australia.
There were six goals conceded by Brighton at Aston Villa, an injury ruling him out of the occasion of his hometown club’s first European tie against AEK Athens then a costly mistake against Marseille in the second.
At 31, however, the defender is at the right end of his career to ride the setbacks and it is a fine asset for any captain to remain clear-minded when problems descend.
In between those two England caps, he might also point out he led Brighton to another victory at Manchester United and came up with a goal to clinch a point against Liverpool.
On Saturday, he went toe-to-toe with Erling Haaland, spearhead of the Premier League’s most destructive attacking force. On Thursday, he will take on Ajax on another of those nights to have Seagulls supporters pinching themselves.
Lewis Dunk has become a regular for England thanks to his positive performances for Brighton
He has ridden the setbacks and come back better – marshalling Erling Haaland (left) well against Manchester City on Saturday
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It is a healthy reminder of how defenders in particular are likely to mature and improve with age and experience.
Craig Dawson is another good example, thriving at 33. Neither Dawson nor Dunk boast the effortless aesthetics of Thiago Silva but they are all defying our twin obsession with ‘the next big thing’ and lightning quick centre halves.
For all the millions they have spent on fresh defensive talent, Silva at 39 is still the most reliable defender at Chelsea.
Dunk started in League One when Brighton were in their temporary home at the Withdean Stadium, and played his first senior football on loan at Bognor Regis Town in the Isthmian League.
Early in his career, he was criticised for over-playing in dangerous areas, taking risks on the ball, and prone to emotional reactions, accumulating too many yellow cards and bans.
A decade on and Roberto De Zerbi rates him as one of the top five in his position in Europe.
Brighton’s evolution under De Zerbi has certainly brought greater recognition because he performs a pivotal tactical role in a team committed to taking the ball from the goalkeeper and passing out from the back. The modern way, if you like.
After the first eight rounds of Premier League fixtures this season, no one had made more passes than Dunk’s 756 and these are not all just passes rolled safely sideways to his full-backs because he is brave on the ball and always tries to play forward and break the lines.
No one had made more passes thank Dunk’s 756 in the first eight rounds of Premier League fixtures this season
Moreover, Brighton miss his personality when he is not there in a way Chelsea would miss John Terry when new managers swept in as they did, frowned at his limitations and lack of pace and tried to leave him out.
Difficult as it is to accept when data has become so vital, some players simply add an intangible ability to make the team around then stronger.
Whatever the key, Dunk seems now to have convinced England boss Gareth Southgate, who knows the position well.
Not to the point where he has displaced Harry Maguire as first choice, of course, but enough for some overdue international caps as reward for his years of steady improvement and excellence in the Premier League.
When Dunk doesn’t play for Brighton, they miss him in the way that Chelsea would miss former captain John Terry (pictured)
Roberto de Zerbi (left) has transformed Brighton and led them into their first ever European campaign this term
Plymouth icon Leslie finally has his story told in full
The first I heard of Jack Leslie was when my boss sent a Daily Mail cutting from 1978 and told me to get him a posthumous England cap, a challenge I promptly failed to complete.
Jack Leslie’s story is told in full in the new book ‘The Lion Who Never Roared’
Plymouth Argyle, where Leslie had been a prolific inside-left, and West Ham, where he later worked for 15 years on the groundstaff and in the boot room, liked the idea but the Football Association dismissed it as a non-starter.
Just as they did when Argyle fan Matt Tiller approached them with the same idea. Fortunately, Tiller refused to take no for an answer. Not only did he secure that honorary cap for Leslie, called up by England in 1925 only to be deselected when the committee realised he was black, but he was one of the driving forces behind a magnificent statue outside Home Park and a book, out on Monday.
‘The Lion Who Never Roared’, published by Pitch, tells the life of the Londoner who ought to have gone down in history as England’s first black international, more than half a century before Viv Anderson achieved that honour. It also provides a glimpse into professional football between the wars, when Leslie had no say in transfer interest from Everton and when Argyle embarked upon a gruelling pre-season tour to Argentina. They sailed from Southampton and returned 72 days later, having spent the best part of six weeks of the summer at sea and the rest of the time in South America, where they beat Olympic champions Uruguay 4-0.
‘The tour will do the players more harm than good,’ noted the Devon and Exeter Chronicle, a sentiment echoed almost a century on when Premier League teams circle the globe in the name of commercial expansion. Some things have changed but not everything.
He has been given an honoury England cap and inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame
Quiet in Milton Keynes
There were more than 83,000 fans at Wembley to see England reach the Euro 2024 finals by beating Italy so perhaps not surprising fewer than 2,000 turned out on the same night to see the Under 20s (now called the Elite League Squad) play Portugal in Milton Keynes. It is hardly the sort of intensity to prepare for life in the glare of international football.
England lost 2-1, and there was a first goal at that level for Emran Soglo, an 18-year-old born in France who spent six years at Chelsea and is now on the fringes of the first team at Marseille.
Former Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe made a return to professional football last week, signing for Ebbsfleet United in the National League.
Ibe, 27, played 45 minutes in an FA Cup replay at Slough Town but was spared Saturday’s trip to Fylde to work on his fitness levels after almost two years out of the game.
Former Premier League winger Jordan Ibe has made a return to professional football in signing for Ebbsfleet United
And so is Waddle!
Storm Babet doused rumours in Sheffield of a sensational comeback for Chris Waddle, at the age of 62.
Waddle has registered for Hallam FC, formed in 1860 and the second oldest football club in the world behind Sheffield FC. They play in the Northern Counties East League and are in the midst of an injury crisis. Former England international Waddle, who lives nearby and still plays among friends, was ready to answer the call.
But Hallam’s FA Vase tie at home against Coventry United was postponed and is rescheduled for Saturday.
Former England forward Chris Waddle had registered for Hallam FC amidst an injury crisis
More issues have arisen at Alkmaar, where West Ham players confronted violent supporters last season
More aggro at Alkmaar
The quintessential Dutch town of Alkmaar, famed for its cheese market, has become home to one of the most notorious away fixtures in European football.
Families and friends of the West Ham players were attacked after a Conference League semi-final against AZ last season and, in the same competition this month, two Legia Warsaw players were arrested and detained after post-match clashes with AZ staff, sparking angry claims and counter-claims about who did what.
Aston Villa are next to run the gauntlet of the gouda, the bad and the ugly.
Success for the Mellons
What a weekend for the Mellon family. Dad Micky returned to football as manager of Oldham and started with a 4-3 win at Rochdale while son Michael, on loan at Morecambe from Burnley, celebrated his first Scotland U21 call-up by scoring a penalty in a 3-2 win at Sutton.
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