Roberto De Zerbi believes Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister “deserve to play in another level” but hopes European football can convince the in-demand duo to stick with Brighton.
Ecuador international Caicedo and Argentina World Cup winner Mac Allister continue to be heavily linked with summer transfers following standout seasons in Sussex.
Albion potentially strengthened their hopes of retaining two of their star performers by securing continental qualification with Sunday’s 3-1 Premier League win over relegated Southampton.
While De Zerbi feels that may prove persuasive, he does not wish to hamper the careers of the pair and concedes Wednesday evening’s match with Manchester City could be their final appearances in a Seagulls shirt at the Amex Stadium.
“It can be the last game but I don’t know,” said the Brighton head coach.
“They can have the possibility to change (clubs) because they deserve to play in another level.
“But now we can offer them the possibility to play in Europe because our level is bigger now. We can offer them one possibility more.”
Asked if a European place can make the difference, De Zerbi replied: “It can be. They can have more motivation. But they are very good guys.
“When I work, I think for myself, I think for my club but I think still for the players because the players have one career, one life and we can’t decide for them.
“I don’t know what Tony (Bloom, Brighton owner) can decide but if they want to leave, for myself, it’s right they leave.”
Albion will almost certainly finish sixth and be in the Europa League next term due to their goal difference being significantly better than Aston Villa’s but need one more point to banish any prospect of slipping into the Europa Conference League.
De Zerbi insists his side will not play for a draw against champions City as they attempt to cement their spot in the superior competition.
“The focus is to play seriously,” said the Italian, whose team conclude the campaign at Villa on Sunday.
“We want to play in the Europa League and to play in the Europa League we have to make another point.
“We can’t start the game to make one point. We have to think to win the game.
“We have a big, big, big target – bigger than Conference League because we expect Conference League.
“If we have the possibility to play in a more prestigious competition, we have to try it.”
City boss Pep Guardiola compared De Zerbi to a chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant ahead of the midweek clash on the south coast, while hailing him as one of the most influential managers of the last 20 years.
De Zerbi reciprocates that respect and praised the Spaniard for aiding his transition to life in England.
“I can’t forget that before I arrived here, I received his call and he helped me a lot in the first period,” De Zerbi said of Guardiola. “He was very nice with me.
“I can’t explain Guardiola. My opinion is he is the best coach in the Premier League and the best coach in the last 30 years. It’s my opinion but I think a lot of people think like me.”
Meanwhile, De Zerbi backed Seagulls captain Lewis Dunk for an international recall.
England boss Gareth Southgate will on Wednesday name his squad for next month’s Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia.
“He deserves to play in the national team,” De Zerbi said of defender Dunk, who won his only international cap in 2018.
“It’s not my work to decide the players of the national team but for us it should be a target. I hope he can play in the national team.”