How Neal Maupay went from Dean Smith's 'super-sub' to Brighton's main man
Neal Maupay's career was going well in France but he was eager for a crack at English football.
The striker arrived at Brentford in 2017 from Saint-Étienne, following a successful loan season at French Ligue One side Brest.
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith, who was in charge at Brentford at the time, brought Maupay to English football for a reported fee of £1.6m - he required little time to adapt to the Championship.
Smith's team were a lively attacking force and Maupay, who was mainly used from the bench, thrived on the chances created and was considered the best "super-sub of the Championship."
Danish striker Lasse Vibe was the main man for the Bees at the time but after he moved to the Chinese Super League, Maupay received his chance.
The Frenchman of Argentinian descent on his mother's side, scored a total of 41 goals in 95 games for the Bees, finishing last season as the joint-second top scorer in the Championship with 25 league goals. Stats like that get noticed at the highest level and Maupay soon had a big decision to make.
Smith, his first manager in English football, had moved on to Villa, where he steered them into the Premier League. Because of their close links, Villa Park seemed a likely destination for the 23-year-old.
Maupay wanted Premier League football but as a striker he was equally determined to sign for a team with an attacking style. Smith's Villa ticked that box but so too did Graham Potter's Brighton, and it was the Seagulls who parted with £16m to sign him.
Playing the right brand of football, with the right manager at the right time can make or break a young striker's career. Luckily, since his arrival in England, Maupay has had two attacking managers who trust him and have played to his strengths.
"For a striker, playing style is massive for anyone who wants to score goals," he explained. "That’s why I went to Brentford and that’s why I came here as well. I knew Graham from Swansea last year because I played against him, I saw the style of play and thought it can be really good for me.
"What we are doing in training everyday is how I can score goals, can we create opportunities? And for a striker you can benefit from that, it is so enjoyable to be out there and play with the ball, score goals and build confidence.
"When I was at Brentford, I was happy to play for Dean, and that’s the same with Graham. Everyone is happy to train and work hard for him and they are quite similar. They both like to play even if it is a different way to play football. Their personalities are a bit similar, they are managers that you can talk to and they both bring a smile to their team.
"I had a really good time at Brentford. I was scoring a lot of goals and I had a good relationship with him (Smith). This summer there were talks saying I was going to Villa, but this is just how football works."
Maupay has three goals from nine appearances so far but the early season has also brought much change in the striking department at Albion. Jurgen Locadia and Florin Andone both departed on loan and an injury to Leandro Trossard saw the Belgian sidelined since their loss at Manchester City.
Glenn Murray, 36, has been used sparingly and up until the memorable victory against Spurs, Aaron Connolly, 19, was used as an impact substitute. Maupay quickly became Potter's go to guy.
“We try our best to do what our manager wants," he said. "We are all behind him and we all really like what he does here. It is not easy to build a new team and philosophy in a couple of weeks. It will take time but as long as we stay together and believe in each other, believe what the manager wants, we’ll be fine.
"Three goals is not bad but I want more," added Maupay ahead of the trip to Villa Park. "I know I can score goals and as a striker you’ve always got to want one more. There are strikers in this league that score 20-25 goals every season and if you want to become a better player, you’ve got to target that.
"Three goals is alright but I want more. It’s part of the job to be the target when your team doesn’t score but I’m not afraid of that. I just know I’m a goalscorer so I just need to work for the opportunities."