Premier League

Bruno deserved new deal; it wasn’t just sentiment

 • by Ryan Baldi
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All signs point towards the second-oldest player in the Premier League coming back for (at least) one more season next term.

Brighton & Hove Albion are a healthy seven points clear of the relegation zone with seven games to play, and 37-year-old full-back Bruno has penned a new one-year deal to extend his stay with the Seagulls into a seventh campaign.

The club captain has been a mainstay at the AmEx Stadium since his arrival from Valencia on a free transfer in 2012, and started 42 times as Chris Hughton’s men earned promotion from the Championship last season.

But the former Espanyol and Almería defender has found himself out of the side of late, starting just two games since the turn of the year.

A minor back injury and the form of Italian replacement Ezequiel Schelotto, nine years his junior, has left Bruno on the fringes as Brighton look to consolidate their Premier League status.

“He has still got a a big role,” boss Hughton told The Argus in February.

“Apart from the fact that he still is a very good player, he is our captain.

“Sometimes that can happen, with a little bit of momentum. Schelotto is in the team and we have gone through a decent run and I haven’t changed too much.

“But Bruno is a big part here and our thoughts about him haven’t changed one little bit.”

The fact of the matter remains, however, that Bruno will find it extremely difficult to regain his status as a regular starter any time soon.

As the below comparison graphic shows, Brighton’s No.2 has fallen behind his fellow Seagulls full-backs in a number of key performance statistics.

Bruno stats comparison

Both Gaëtan Bong and Schelotto, the current first-choice pairing in the wide defensive positions, are producing better averages than Bruno for tackles, aerial duels and successful dribbles per 90 minutes.

The key to Bruno’s continued value as a squad player, however, is in his experience and leadership, something Hughton alluded to when commenting on the defender’s recent contract renewal.

“Bruno has been exemplary in my time as manager,” he said.

“Firstly, he has been an excellent right-back for the team, and secondly an excellent captain for the club over the past three seasons.”

“The way he looks after himself on and off the pitch is an example to any player,” the manager continued, “and it is due to that lifestyle of professionalism that he is still playing at such a high level at this stage of his career.”

And this, is some way, is evident in the above graphic. While Bruno trails his colleagues in many of the statistical measures that require a degree of athleticism – something which invariably declines with age – the fact he is leading the way in interceptions evidences a refined ability to read the game, nipping opposition attacks in the bud as they progress.

While his physical powers may be beginning to wane, it would be foolish to discount the influence Bruno could still exert thanks to his years in the game. After all, Brighton are still new to the top flight, so the guidance and leadership of a player who has five full seasons of La Liga football under his belt could still prove valuable.

Turning 38 in October, the player himself would likely understand that he will not always be an automatic pick. He will surely able to reconcile with a back-up role which incorporates a degree of ambassadorship, incrementally adding to his 213 appearances for the club, always a reliable and willing participant when called upon.

With West Bromwich Albion looking certain to be playing Championship football next term, Bruno will usurp Gareth McAuley as the Premier League’s oldest outfield player in 2017/18 – and may even become the oldest player outright if Crystal Palace and their veteran goalkeeper Julian Speroni are also relegated.

It is remarkable, then, that Bruno has managed to perform to such a high level, and so often (he has started 19 league games this season), in his and his club’s first-ever Premier League campaign.

Top-level football is a squad game – increasingly so; even a supporting role in a 25-man Premier League roster can be immeasurably important. His playing time will diminish, but Bruno’s Brighton career has at least one more chapter to be written.

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