Championship play-offs: Echoes of Johan Cruyff as Brighton coach Oscar Garcia bids to get Seagulls soaring

The Brighton head coach, Oscar Garcia, a disciple of Johan Cruyff as a player at Barcelona, hopes to take the first step towards joining two more of his coaches at the Nou Camp, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, in next season's Premier League.

Cruyff, of course, never faced a Championship play-off semi-final against Derby County, with the first leg at the Brighton's Amex Stadium on Thursday night. But Garcia now has a season's experience of the English game to add to the lessons he took from Cruyff and the others.

"I tried to take the best thing of each one to be a good manager and I was lucky to be their player," he said. "I learnt a lot from Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, [Sir] Bobby [Robson], Van Gaal, from all of them."

Van Gaal, Garcia says, is a "strong character" who "always wanted to be a Premier League manager", but Cruyff is his main point of footballing reference.

"He was always positive, had a philosophy to keep the ball to play forward, to create chances by keeping possession. He is a genius – I am only a coach but maybe we have a similar philosophy."

Cruyff's belief that the opposition cannot score without the ball is the basis of Brighton's defensive record, the second-best in the division. Even so, reaching the play-offs, thanks to Saturday's injury-time winner at Nottingham Forest, must have seemed an unlikely prospect for Garcia when he lost his first three games after arriving from Maccabi Tel Aviv last summer, taking over from Gus Poyet in the messy aftermath of Brighton's play-off defeat to Crystal Palace.

He lost key players in the January transfer window and to long-term injury and had doubters among the fans, but still the Seagulls finished only three points below last season's total. "When you are 16th in the table it is normal that some people don't trust what you are doing," he said. "We showed great character and never gave up. For me it wasn't a surprise that we will be fighting until the end.

"We know we are underdogs as Derby finished third and are the top-scoring team in the league. They beat us home and away but in football anything can happen and we will fight for our place."

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