Solly March is a man in a hurry. Brighton’s left wing-back cherishes his past achievements, but he is craving so much more.
The 26-year-old may still not be a household name to the casual Premier League fan after nearly four seasons in the top flight with the Seagulls, but he’s bristling with the ambition to make the latest step up in a career characterised by progression.
“I just want to play at the highest level for as long as I can,” he tells The Set Pieces. “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.”
He mumbles the cliché that he has to “take it as each season comes,” but it is clear this is an attempt to safety-net his ambition.
Injury has halted these aspirations for now. In early February, he sustained knee damage against Liverpool, keeping him out for at least 12 weeks.
“We were playing really well in that game, enjoying our football,” 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 has clung to this upbeat mentality.
“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,” the former England under-21 international explains.
“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.”
Mentally he seems on top form, even if there are indications he’s torn between wanting experience at the upper end of Premier League football and staying loyal to Brighton.
Candid elsewhere in the interview, when speaking about the possibility of leaving the club he seems to become more reticent. Born in Eastbourne, his local team are the Seagulls.
The AMEX stadium has been his home for almost 10 years and it’s understandably a tough subject for him to address.
“Brighton’s a big part of me,” March says. “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.”
As March says this, his pride is palpable. He remembers this is the club that gave him his big chance. But the ambition remains.
“I’ve never been close to leaving the club,” he confirms. “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’re aiming to “break into the top half.”
March believes “this is achievable within the next year or so”, but this season has been a step backwards. Brighton are 15th in the Premier League – it was only a few months ago when they were clawing out of the relegation zone.
Their season has ultimately been etched with 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,” he says.
“If we were not playing well I think 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.”
The chance creation that March talks about is all too familiar. To put it simply, too many chances, too few goals. According to the metric of expected goals (xG), Brighton should 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 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,” he declares.
Manager Graham Potter has been christened as ‘The King of xG’ by supporters, after instilling a playing style praised for its excitement and criticised for its lack of pragmatism. But March relishes it.
“We [March and Potter] have a good relationship,” he says. “I’ve played a lot of games and the football that 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 work-rate,” March adds.
March was a disciple to him for five years, before the gaffer was unexpectedly sacked in 2019. The English starlet is “very grateful” for Hughton’s work and he describes the sacking as a “weird goodbye”.
”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,” March recalls.
“But we have to take the positives out of it and with his departure comes an opportunity for another manager to try new ideas.”
Seven points clear of the drop zone, the club are now enjoying their breath of fresh air, playing their football without stress and with utmost relief. March can only watch on.
When he is on the pitch, he is consistent, reliable and skilful. And having played 21 out of a possible 22 Premier League games this season before his injury, he’s a big part of what Brighton are trying to achieve. His absence is conspicuous; this is a testament to his ability and ambitious mentality.
This intent isn’t only for club level aspirations, though – it spreads through to the national team. March made seven appearances in England’s youth setups, but the first-team call up has never materialised.
“Hopefully I can play for England one day,” he muses. “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 the Three Lions jersey one day and that big move he’s dreaming of may just become one step closer.