Graham Potter: Is new Chelsea boss up to the job and what tasks does he face?

Behdad Eghbali (left), Graham Potter (centre) and Todd Boehly (right)
Chelsea’s new owners see Graham Potter (centre) as a manager for the long term

Chelsea spent a record £270m on players this summer, but it was one that slipped through the new owners’ fingers that helped them land their new manager Graham Potter.

While discussing Manchester City defender Nathan Ake, who eventually stayed with the Premier League champions, chairman Todd Boehly was alerted to the talents of the Solihull-born Brighton boss, who was represented by the same agency.

It was part of their deep dive into English football, familiarising themselves with all aspects of the game from sporting directors to defenders, midfielders and strikers.

It transpired that what they heard about Potter they liked: a risk-taker, someone who had worked in other countries, who had a degree in social science and a masters in emotional intelligence, and someone who would fit their principles as an innovator.

So when former manager Thomas Tuchel began to withdraw from their transfer dealings and communication started to unravel as 100 days of the new ownership approached, their minds were drawn to the former Ostersunds and Swansea boss.

It is a huge step up for Potter, who revealed at his first news conference before Chelsea’s game with RB Salzburg on Wednesday that he had not seen a Champions League game in the flesh.

And there are many issues to solve, not least moulding a squad into one of his own making now the transfer window is closed.

But his star has been on the rise ever since he joined Swedish side Ostersunds in 2011 and many people who know him believe he can meet the challenge ahead.

Reece James and Graham Potter
Potter joined Chelsea after three years at Brighton from 2019 to 2022

Convincing the players he’s the right man

Potter is big on making the culture at a club right.

“My starting point would always be the player first,” he said in his first interview with Chelsea this week.

Yet player power has often led to a high turnover of managers at Stamford Bridge. One of the reasons given for Tuchel’s departure was that he had lost the confidence of the dressing room, and Chelsea’s Champions League-winning players may take some convincing given that Potter has just three years’ experience in the Premier League with Brighton.

Previously he has been on a journey from university football coach to Ostersunds and then Swansea and Brighton, and he is a departure from Chelsea’s normal approach where trophy-laden foreign managers, such as Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti, fit the bill.

His strength, however, is his leadership experience and his ability to create a successful dressing room culture, according to those who have worked with him. After leading Ostersunds from the fourth tier to the top of Swedish football, he got players and staff to take part in concerts in front of local people.

“You’re only a footballer for two hours a day,” Potter told BBC Sport before his Ostersunds side beat Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in the Europa League in 2018. “Then you are somebody’s husband, friend or brother, so we have a responsibility to develop the person as well.”

Former Brighton forward Glenn Murray believes “players are more open to managers that have not succeeded as a football player”. That view is echoed by ex-Seagulls and now Newcastle defender Dan Burn who feels that a young Chelsea squad will be open to his ideas, having led Brighton to a record ninth-placed finish in the Premier League last season.

“It was different for us at Brighton because we hadn’t seen Swansea or Ostersunds play a lot,” Burn told the Monday Night Club on BBC Radio 5 Live. “But with Chelsea they have seen what happened with that group of players at Brighton and the way they played against them.

“He’s got less to convince there, the Chelsea players will be thinking, ‘wow he’s done that with those players, imagine what he can do with us’.”

Burn added: “When he speaks to people, it’s not always about the football, it’s about connecting with the player on a personal level and that can make a big difference early on.”

Making the most out of the squad

Although there are many who believe that Potter has been a good appointment, there are questions about the timing.

Tuchel’s sacking came after the new ownership was 100 days old, which many fans felt was harsh. More puzzling was why they waited until after the transfer window had closed, meaning Potter must now work with a squad with which he has had no input.

Senior sources at Chelsea believe the players signed – including former Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella, Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – are right for the club and were based on sound data and the club’s established scouting system.

But it will be fascinating to see how Potter, an impressive tactician, moulds them. It helps that he prefers to play in a 3-4-2-1 formation, which Tuchel liked too.

Burn, who developed from a centre-back to a wide central defender and even a wing-back under Potter, says his former manager’s tactical flexibility is an asset.

“I never went on the pitch not knowing my job to the letter,” Burn added. “But it was fluid, we swapped into a back three or a back four, and it could change three or four times a game. I’ve played against Brighton a few times now, and it’s hard to guess the team.”

Burn admits he initially struggled with Potter’s tendency for changing the team to fit the opposition rather than based on whether it was winning. “But if you were out for a game, you knew that in two or three games’ time you would be playing so the disappointment wasn’t strong.

“Manchester City and Liverpool do it, and he will do it with Chelsea because of the number of games they have.”

It will no doubt help with dressing-room harmony too.

Building a legacy

For the new owners, success comes from longevity. They believe Potter has the credentials to build a legacy similar to the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, and also the general manager at one of Boehly’s other teams – American baseball side the LA Dodgers.

It is a mammoth task for Potter, who has been handed a five-year contract and admits the job is a risk worth taking. But he says: “The way you convince people is by winning”.

The target for the new owners this season is the top four, but, unlike under previous owner Roman Abramovich, failing in that task might not lead to Potter’s sacking.

Other assurances have been offered to Potter, such as being involved in appointing a new sporting director before the World Cup in November.

Senior sources believe Potter has shown he can do more with less, and have now afforded him a golden opportunity to help re-shape the club.

Murray says that having changed the football philosophy at Brighton, Potter’s task may be easier at Chelsea given the players want to play attacking football and win trophies.

He said: “It might take a year or two, but do you want to dominate for 10 or win one every now and again?”

Following sanctions and the takeover, it has been a hectic six months at Chelsea. But Potter says he is excited by what lies ahead.

He said: “It’s a completely different challenge to the one I’ve had, but I’m thankful to the ownership who put their trust and belief in me. We want to create our own history and our own path.”

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