Solly March is a man in a hurry. The 26-year-old has achieved a lot in his four seasons in the Premier League with Brighton but he is craving more. “I want to play at the highest level for as long as I can,” he says. “I want to play 100 Premier League games and then I want to play 100 more, and maybe even play for a bigger club one day if I get the opportunity.”
Injury has halted these aspirations for now. In early February, the wing-back injured his knee in a 1-0 win at Liverpool. “We were playing really well in that game,” he recalls. “Then I just turned and twisted my knee, hearing some sort of crack. There were a lot of thoughts in my head at the time, but I had to stay level-headed. It was my ACL, which isn’t good, but I’m just trying to stay positive. I can’t wait to return to the pitch. I have to go through rehab now and focus, but I just can’t wait for that moment – it will probably be next season.”
March says he has seen the physio room “too much” after picking up four major injuries in the past two seasons, but he remains upbeat. “It has always been tough. You are in the gym for hours. You just see the players outside training and want to join them, but it’s crucial to stay motivated. You have to be driven to come back. Right now, I have to be positive and become as strong as I can to be back for next season.”
March was born in Eastbourne, Brighton are his local club and they have been good to him over the last decade, so his future is a tough subject to address. “Brighton’s a big part of me. It is hard to say why I love the club, but I do. It stems from the top down – from the chairman to the chefs and dinner ladies. The club is really tightly knit. I don’t think it’s like that everywhere, but at Brighton, we all just get along.”
His pride is palpable as he speaks. This is the club that gave him his big chance, but the ambition to test himself remains. “I’ve never been close to leaving the club,” he says. “But there are always aspirations to play for as big a club as you can. No disrespect to Brighton, but if that opportunity comes, I will try and take it. I don’t think that’s too bad to say.”
Brighton are aspirational too and, according to March, they are aiming to “break into the top half” of the Premier League “within the next year or so”. But this season has been one of missed chances. Brighton are 14th in the Premier League table, which is an improvement on their position a few months ago when they looked destined for a relegation scrap.
Their season has ultimately been one of frustration, misfortune and fluctuation. Despite that, confidence is high in the dressing room. “I feel we’ve been very good this season. The morale isn’t bad at all. Even when we were losing two or three games in a row comfortably, the atmosphere always stayed quite good. If we were not playing well, it would be different. In previous years, when we haven’t been creating chances it has been a lot worse. But we have created loads of chances so the morale has been good this season. It’s massively important.”
To put it simply, they have created enough chances but scored too few goals. If league tables were decided by expected goals, Brighton would be challenging for Europe. “We need to be more clinical and everything will improve,” March says, almost as an echo of every pundit commenting on Brighton’s travails this season. “I’ve seen some xG memes – people just taking the mickey. If we improve our final product by just 20%, we’d be much higher up the table. It’s up to us to change that.”
Brighton play an exciting brand of football under Graham Potter and March relishes it. “We have a good relationship,” he says of Potter. “I’ve played a lot of games and the football I’ve played under him has been the best I’ve ever played in my career. His way of playing football is exciting. It is all about keeping the ball and trying to attack the defence. It is attractive football.”
Potter’s predecessor, Chris Hughton, also played a crucial role in shaping March’s career. “He made my defensive game so much better and he really developed my workrate,” says March. “We all expected him to be there a bit longer and it was disappointing to see him go, especially for us players and staff who got to know him very well. But we have to take the positives out of it and with his departure comes an opportunity for another manager to try new ideas.”
Ten points clear of the relegation zone with four games left to play, the team is now enjoying a breath of fresh air, playing without stress. Meanwhile, March can only watch on. Having played 21 out of a possible 22 league games this season before his injury, he is a big part of what Brighton are trying to achieve and he hopes to be back soon.
Potter is not the only manager he wants to impress once he returns from injury. Having been given his England Under-21s debut by Gareth Southgate in 2015, March wants to repeat that experience for the senior team as attention turns to the World Cup in Qatar next autumn. “Hopefully I can play for England one day,” he says. “The past few years, my fitness hasn’t been good enough and I haven’t scored many goals. I just have to keep putting in good performances – then who knows.” Earn the right to pull on an England shirt once more and the big move he is dreaming of may move one step closer.