Roberto De Zerbi told Brighton supporters to get their passports ready but warned the club must continue to improve ahead of their first European campaign next season.
Evan Ferguson netted twice in the first half of Albion’s 3-1 victory over Southampton in front of a sold-out Amex Stadium, with Pascal Gross restoring the two-goal advantage following Mohamed Elyounoussi’s header to to the relegated Saints.
The three points ensured De Zerbi’s side would finish no lower than seventh, in the Europa Conference League spot, although sixth place and a Europa League spot were all but mathematically guaranteed.
‘Now it’s difficult for me because with my English I can’t explain my feelings,’ said the Italian manger, who replaced Graham Potter in September.
‘I think we deserve it. The club, the players, me, my staff, and the fans, they need to get their passports in order to travel to Europe next year because we need to develop together.’
Roberto De Zerbi helped Brighton secure their place in history with a top-five finish
De Zerbi, who last week was shortlisted for the Premier League’s manager of the season award, was increasingly animated on the touchline throughout Sunday’s contest, made all the more interesting when Elyounoussi nodded past Jason Steele after 58 minutes.
I felt everyone in the stands hold a collective breath soon after when Theo Walcott lifted the ball past the Albion keeper but the potential Saints equalizer was ruled out for offside.
Convenience made for fun as Gross fired into the hosts’ third from the edge of the area to put the game away.
But De Zerbi warned that booking tickets to Europe is just the start of a new era for Brighton, who must now ensure they have the squad to compete in four competitions next term.
He said: ‘I think the history of the Premier League is illuminating. It can happen, you make it to Europe and next year you find yourself at the bottom of the table.
Brighton players celebrated their victory on the pitch after the final whistle
‘Now is an important moment for the club. Not for Roberto, for the players, but for the club, because we have to keep this level. We have to build a squad to improve our level because I think (chairman) Tony (Bloom) and the club they don’t want to lose this level.
‘And in order not to lose this level we have to work better in this transfer market, not only in the transfer market but to organize better and better and better because success can be dangerous.
‘If you celebrate success it’s right, it’s normal, but you have to improve. You have to work hard because you can lose the level.’
De Zerbi admitted that at one point his high-flying Seagulls set an internal goal of qualifying for the Champions League, adding: ‘I always think it’s good for players to set a big target.
‘We improved in mentality, we improved in confidence, we had a target and we still have a target. We need to get one more point to play in the Europa League.’
Tony Bloom (centre) would be wise to heed the urgings of his head coach ahead of the upcoming transfer window
Anything lower than sixth for the Seagulls looks unlikely, with Albion enjoying a huge advantage on goal difference and a game in hand on seventh-placed Villa, their final opponents of the campaign.
Southampton were already relegated ahead of Saturday’s contest.
Ruben Selles’ contract is set to expire at the end of the season, but he insists that as far as he knows reports about the potential appointment of Swansea boss Russell Martin as his successor are unfounded.
The Saints boss added: ‘Regarding my future, again I’m not worried about my future.
‘I know my contract expires at the end of the season and what the club decides, that will be the club’s decision.
‘It’s not my decision, I cannot control it, so I cannot spend time on that.’