Tony Bloom: Brighton owner excited about Europe and shocked by Roberto de Zerbi's impact

Brighton owner Tony Bloom (centre)
Tony Bloom (centre) has been chairman of Brighton since 2009, taking over from Dick Knight

Brighton owner Tony Bloom has bankrolled the club to the eve of their first-ever European campaign.

A lifelong fan of the south coast club, Bloom has told BBC Radio Sussex Sport he feels "quite proud and full of excitement" before the Europa League encounter with AEK Athens on 21 September.

"When the game kicks off, the emotions will be very high," he said.

But the game itself - the opening match in a mouth-watering group that also includes past European Cup winners Ajax and Marseille - is only part of a staggering journey, which many supporters can scarcely believe given how close the club was to going out of existence in the late 1990s.

"I would tell the fans to enjoy the fact we are in Europe for the first time, enjoy the occasion, be in the moment and hopefully the players will give them lots of moments to enjoy, in the Premier League and in Europe."

Shocked by De Zerbi impact

Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi
De Zerbi (centre-left) took over at Brighton in September 2022 having spent the previous year managing Shakhtar Donetsk

Bloom confirmed the club's legendary planning meant they were in position to react when Chelsea made their approach for Graham Potter almost a year ago.

Italian Roberto de Zerbi was out of work, having left Shakhtar Donetsk following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Before joining Shakhtar, he had caught the eye with successive eighth-placed finishes in Serie A with unfancied Sassuolo.

"He has been pretty amazing," said Bloom. "His track record, when we looked into it in a lot of detail, was exceptionally good.

"But I didn't quite realise the impact he would have when he came in. He has been hugely influential for so many players. He is so good at improving them.

"The quality of the play and the risk taking at the right times to create opportunities for the players to create chances and his tactical abilities are superb.

"He pushes everyone to go as far as they can. We are very fortunate to have him at the club. We love having him here. Long may that continue."

Moving late for Ansu Fati

Ansu Fati (right)
Fati (centre-right) joined Brighton on deadline day on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season

The AEK Athens game could mark the home debut of possibly the most exciting signing Brighton have ever made.

Ansu Fati has been feted as the successor to Lionel Messi. The Spain international was given Messi's famed number 10 shirt by Barcelona when the Argentine superstar left for Paris St-Germain in 2021.

Injury and loss of form meant he agreed to spend a year away from the Nou Camp on loan and Brighton made their move.

"It wasn't one we had really talked about much until the last few days of the window but when we heard about it, Roberto was really keen and I was extremely excited.

"We managed to get a deal done very late. It is a wonderful thing for our football club to do. Not so long ago he was considered the best young player in the world."