Back in the final throes of the summer transfer window, Brighton announced the double capture of young Polish duo Jakub Moder and Michal Karbownik for a combined £14.5m from Lech Poznan and Legia Warsaw.
It was a transfer swoop that seemed to go largely unnoticed as both players were immediately loaned back to their former clubs, but January is here, recall options have been exercised and the Seagulls are now set to unleash two of the most promising players in Europe on the Premier League.
At £9.5m and already a full international, Moder was the headline act. The fee Brighton paid was a record for a player from the Ekstraklasa and saw the Seagulls secure his signature ahead of Galatasaray and RB Leipzig, who were both rumoured to be interested.
The 21-year-old midfielder made his debut for Lech in the 2017/18 season and has since gone onto play 56 times, scoring nine goals. registering nine assists and captaining the side on occasions. He has six Polish caps to his name and notched his first international goal in November’s 2-0 friendly win over Ukraine with a tap in.
That strike was not in keeping with Moder’s normal method of scoring. He has a reputation for getting blockbuster goals and he can pick a forward pass, a quality which Brighton have been sorely missing this season – with supporters frustrated by sideways pass followed by sideways pass whenever the Seagulls reach the edge of an opponents’ box.
At 6’3, Moder adds height to a Brighton squad that is lacking in that department once you move away from a defence featuring Dan Burn, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster. Graham Potter values versatility above almost any other trait and Moder certainly brings that to the party. He has been deployed by Lech as a traditional central midfielder, a holding midfielder, a number 10, down both flanks and as a centre forward.
With so many strings to his bow, Moder will probably end up becoming a dynamic, box-to-box midfielder. There are plenty of similarities to draw between him and Yves Bissouma. Both can pick a pass, both are able to drive forward with the ball at their feet and both have an eye for the spectacular when it comes to shooting from distance.
Bissouma too moved to England as a 21-year-old with nobody quite sure which position he would fill at Brighton. It was only once Potter decided to utilise him as a defensive midfielder after Dale Stephens was suspended in December 2019 that Bissouma became the first name on the team sheet, blossoming into the Seagulls’ best player and one of the most coveted midfielders in the Premier League.
Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have all been linked with a big money move for Bissouma. If somebody is willing to pay an amount that reflects Bissouma’s value to Brighton – and right now, that is probably in excess of £50m given how important he is to the Seagulls’ Premier League survival chances – then Potter may have a ready-made replacement in Moder.
If Moder sounds like a reason to get excited, than Karbownik is even more so. At just 19, he is already a full Polish international and has a Ekstraklasa winners medal in his collection having helped Legia to the title in the 2019/20 season.
Karbownik made the shortlist for the 2020 Golden Boy prize, the annual award run by Italian sports newspaper Tuttosport for the best Under-21 players in the world. Alongside Karbownik were the likes of Alphonso Davies, Mason Greenwood, Ansu Fati, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Erling Braut Haaland; not bad company to be in.
His exploits with Legia have seen him linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Real Madrid, Barcelona, Tottenham, Napoli, Dynamo Moscow, Sevilla and PSV Eindhoven have all watched Karbownik, and Barça were so interested that they formulated a plan to sign him and send on loan to Real Betis for the first year of his contract at Camp Nou until Brighton stole a march to bring him to the Amex for just £5m.
Like Moder, Karbownik is a versatile player. His ability to play at right back, left back and as a holding midfielder have seen him compared to Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning captain Phillip Lahm. As for the current Brighton player he is most like, the links between Karbownik and Tariq Lamptey are there for all to see.
Karbownik is quick and loves to bomb forward, a fact reflected in both his position as one of the top 10 full backs for ball carries in the Ekstraklasa last season and his return of eight assists in 47 appearances for Legia.
That Karbownik is equally comfortable down either flank is huge for Potter. Lamptey’s speed and explosiveness have understandably led to hamstring problems and although Joel Veltman has proven a capable replacement at right wing back when Lamptey has been out injured, the Dutch international does not possess the same attacking threat as Lamptey – understandable given he is first and foremost a centre back.
Over on the other side of the pitch and Brighton have been lucky that Solly March has stayed fit. March’s reinvention as a wing back has been one of the biggest success stories of the Seagulls’ season, even leading to suggestions that he could be in line for an England call up given the sparsity of options available to Gareth Southgate at left wing back. When March has been missing, Potter has fielded Burn in his place. Burn has looked like a fish out of water as a wing back, hardly his fault as he is very much a 6’7 central defender.
Beyond March and Lamptey, Brighton’s wing back cupboard is pretty bare. Karbownik changes that. He can step in on the right when Lamptey is in the treatment room or in need of a rest and do likewise in place of March on the left. Whenever one of March or Lamptey have been missing, Brighton do not carry the same attacking threat and can often look unbalanced as a result. Karbownik’s arrival should mean that the effectiveness of Potter’s 3-4-3 is suddenly less blunted if his first choice wing backs are absent.
In the past, Potter has tended to manage young players breaking into the senior squad for the first time at Brighton carefully. Lamptey was signed from Chelsea last January but did not make his first team debut until after lockdown. Alexis Mac Allister is only now becoming a first team regular a year after he was brought over from Boca Juniors, while Steven Alzate and Aaron Connolly have had their game time managed.
Moder and Karbownik have more reason than most to want to make an immediate impression. They will presumably need to be playing regular first team football to maintain their places in Poland’s squad for the delayed Euro 2020 finals this summer.
Whether Potter is willing to chuck them straight in at the deep end in order to help them fulfil their international ambitions remains to be seen, but what we do know is that Brighton have two serious young talents on their hands who have everything required to take the Premier League by storm. Watch this space.