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Verbruggen was Brighton’s star player at Euro 2024

Verbruggen was Brighton’s star player at Euro 2024

What is it with Ollie Watkins and Albion? The Aston Villa forward loves to score against Brighton goalkeepers and apparently that trait extends to international level as his 90th-minute winner brilliantly slotted past Bart Verbruggen to secure England a place in the Euro 2024 final at the expense of the Netherlands.

There was nothing Verbruggen could have done about it. Not that it stopped him from being inconsolable at the final whistle.

Brighton captain Lewis Dunk showed a touch of class as he went to chat to Verbruggen before joining England’s celebrations.

An example of real leadership from Dunk, thinking of his Albion team-mates when the natural reaction should have been elation at being part of the first England team to reach a final on foreign soil.

When the pain finally subsides for Verbruggen, he will be able to look back on his performances at Euro 2024 with pride. He was by far Brighton’s best player at the tournament, cementing his reputation as one of Europe’s most promising young goalkeepers.

Without Verbruggen, the Netherlands would not have made it to Dortmund. He made some important saves in the 2-1 win over Poland in the opening group game.

Then came an impressive clean sheet against France and their array of attacking talent. Yes, we’re ignoring the fact that the French were bloated during their time in Germany.

The round of 16 brought a meeting with a Romania side that impressed in Group E with their commitment to all-out attack. Verbruggen recorded another shutout as the Netherlands eased past them 3-0.

It was in the closing stages of the quarter-final against Turkey, however, that Verbruggen really came into his own. Having trailed 2-1 going into the final 20 minutes, Stefan De Vrij headed a Dutch equaliser before Liverpool striker Cody Gakpo forced opposition defender Mert Muldur into an own goal.

Turkey did everything they could to spoil the Dutch comeback, with Verbruggen making a superb one-handed save from Kerem Akturkoglu’s shot to secure the Dutch’s place in the semi-finals.

Watching the maturity and composure with which Verbruggen played during Euro 2024, you would think he was a veteran with 100 international caps under his belt.

Not a 21-year-old installed in the starting line-up by Ronald Koeman in March, in the process becoming the Netherlands’ youngest number one since the 1960s.

It’s also easy to forget that Verbruggen didn’t have a great start to his Brighton career following his £17million move from Anderlecht last summer.

He struggled with the amount of responsibility Roberto De Zerbi placed on his goalkeepers with the ball at their feet.

There were high-profile errors that cost goals against Plucky Little Bournemouth, Liverpool and Crystal Palace. Other errors were redeemed by team-mates or Verbruggen himself, making good saves to redeem a misplaced pass.

The improvement Vebruggen showed in the second half of the season was impressive. By the beginning of March, those nervous moments whenever he had the ball at his feet were gone.

He even managed to convince De Zerbi to abandon his controversial goalkeeping rotation policy, except when Jason Steele was somewhat harshly selected to face Manchester City and Manchester United.

Verbruggen is certain to enter the 2024-25 season under Fabian Hurzeler as Brighton’s number one. And if he continues to progress at his current rate, it could be his final campaign with Albion before a big-money move to one of the European Super League’s Elite Six.

It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that there are already tentative links with Chelsea. Indeed, the Blues were interested in Verbruggen last summer, before he joined Albion and before Todd Boehly, so perhaps this is a rare example of them not simply copying Albion’s homework.

A more likely destination would be Liverpool. Alisson Becker is not getting any younger and is attracting a lot of interest from the Saudi Sportswashing League.

With the Redmen now managed by a Dutchman in Arne Slot, you can put two and two together and make five, suggesting the Dutch connection could see Verbruggen arrive at Anfield.

Brighton seem to have known all along that Verbruggen’s talent was so great that he would only be at the Amex for a few years.

The club has assembled some of the best young English goalkeeping talent and has a clear succession plan in place for when Verbruggen leaves.

Carl Rushworth is currently next in line, having been the Championship’s top goalkeeper last season. Another loan, either abroad or to a fellow Premier League club, would complete his education, leaving Rushworth perfectly placed to take over as Brighton’s number one should Verbruggen leave next summer.

And then we have James Beadle. An equally talented and slightly younger goalkeeper who has earned rave reviews as he has come through the divisions with Crewe Alexandra, Oxford United and Sheffield Wednesday.

Albion fans should keep an eye on Beadle as he could be the real deal. For now, though, it’s all about Verbruggen.

He did his country proud. He did Brighton proud. Now he’s back at Albion and continuing his journey to become one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.