(Photo by Action Images)
By Adam Virgo
THIS summer, Crystal Palace tabled a £7m offer for Lewis Dunk. Brighton were having none of it and sent their great rivals packing.
What a smart move that looks now. The 24-year-old has matured into one of the best centre-halves in the division and, if I was Seagulls chairman Tony Bloom, I wouldn’t accept a penny under £12m.
I still remember Lewis’ debut, away at MK Dons in my last season at Brighton. Gus Poyet was a massive fans of his. He was looking for centre-halves who could play out from the back and it was evident from the outset that Lewis fitted the mould.
Ability-wise, he was terrific. The problem was he always had a mistake in him. He’d be impeccable for 50 minutes and you’d be thinking ‘This lad is some player’.
Then he’d cost you a goal. Sometimes he was guilty of playing in the wrong areas. He’d get caught on the ball, misplace a pass or try to turn out of trouble in a dangerous area.
Someone with a bit more experience would have just cleared their lines.
Sometimes it was his discipline. He’d be on a yellow card and do something stupid, like at Brentford a couple of seasons ago when he disagreed with a decision and shoved Jota in the chest.
He got sent off again at QPR last year and got absolutely slaughtered by the fans. ‘He’s a joke’, ‘He should never play for the club again’, ‘He’s a great player but he’s cost us too many goals’ they said.
Gordon Greer was captain at the time and looking to get back into the side after injury. It would have been very easy for Chris Hughton to bow to the pressure.
But the difference between a manager and a fan is that we only see players once or twice a week.
They see them every day. Chris knew he was learning. He stuck with Lewis and, from that day, he’s got better and better to the point that he’s now an exceptional defender.
It’s probably taken him a little bit longer than some, especially on the discipline side.
But, all of a sudden, it just seems to have clicked. Some of that is obviously down to Chris, but Lewis has to take a lot of credit himself.
How good can he be? As good as he wants. Personally, I’m convinced he’ll be an England international one day.
He’s got pace and height. He’s a goal scorer, a ball-player. His attacking side was never in doubt but now he’s learned to be an all-round defender.
The Championship is a hard division to sell yourself as a top-class defender. In the Premier League, you get loads of time on the ball and space to show off your skills.
If you’re playing for Man City and a struggling side comes to your ground, you can practically play in the opposition half.
In this division, you’re facing more chances, more crosses coming in. You’re always on the back foot.
But someone like Phil Jagielka proves that, if you give a player a chance at the highest level, he’ll show what he’s about.
Michael Dawson is another one. So is Michael Keane at Burnley and Ashley Williams at Swansea. In terms of ability, Lewis is up there with all of them.
He’d walk into any team in the bottom half of the Premier League and, sooner or later, somebody will realise that. The good thing for Brighton is they have him on a five-year contract, so they can basically ask what they want.
You look at Jonathan Kodjia going to Villa for £14m and I don’t see why Lewis should not be in that category. If they were offered between £12m and £15m, I’m sure the general public would think it was crazy money. But, if you see him play week in, week out, you’d know it isn’t.
I just hope the Seagulls can hang on to him for as long as possible.
*This article originally featured in The FLP on 9 October 2016.