Graham Potter has improved teams and players at every club he has managed; the problem is, it has taken time to deliver change and results.
And that may be the biggest challenge facing the former Brighton boss when he takes charge of Chelsea following the dramatic sacking of Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea are not known for their patience, where managers are concerned.
The club’s appetite for success under Roman Abramovich was so great that the Russian owner chomped through 13 different men across 15 managerial spells from 2003, and between them were allowed to gobble up £2billion in transfer fees.
Of course, we are now in a new era of ownership and Chelsea’s co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, who met Potter, 47, in London on Wednesday want to adopt a different approach.
It is understood they seek a culture in which they can build a partnership with the manager to deliver sustainable success, and he will be in post for the long term.
Chelsea suffered a painful defeat in the Champions League at Dinamo Zagreb before manager Thomas Tuchel was brutally sacked by co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali
Brighton boss Graham Potter has agreed to become the next manager of Chelsea
It is unfortunate, and not a little ironic, that the starting point for this cultural shift is a repetition of everything that has gone before: huge expenditure on new players followed by the brutal sacking of the man in charge fewer than 100 days into the new owners’ reign and following a miserable defeat in the Champions League by Dinamo Zagreb.
However, given time, Potter’s record suggests that he can give Boehly and Eghbali what they say they want. So, what are the biggest challenges he will face.
Results, results, results
There is no getting away from it, the demand for success at Chelsea is far greater than Graham Potter will have faced at Ostersunds in Sweden, Swansea City or Brighton.
Graham Potter improves football teams and his ability to succeed was predicted in data stretching back years.
An analysis of the Englishman’s career for Sportsmail shows he has delivered improvements in both attack and defence at teams he has coached.
Analysts can now put a number on how much a coach improves a team’s performance. For Potter, they have calculated an 86 per cent improvement in defence and a 22 per cent enhancement in attack at Brighton, since he took over in May 2019.
The novel approach to assessing coaches developed by Analytics FC calculates the value of every action on the pitch and the impact that will have on the probability of the coach’s team scoring the next goal, or conceding it, throughout every match.
The model takes account of a team’s strength relative to the opposition, so a strong performance against Manchester City would be worth more than a streaky win over Norwich. It also allows value to be given to a performance even if the team loses.
A feature of Potter’s career at Ostersunds, Swansea and Brighton is that performances have exceeded results, which suggests that with better forward players he could achieve much more.
Potter has a reputation for a methodical, creative approach to football management, through which he has improved players and built tactically astute teams.
He has been successful, too, within the context of the clubs where he has worked.
During seven years, Potter took Ostersund, minnows of the Swedish league, to the top tier, the Allsvenskan, for the first time in the club’s history and won the Svenska Cupen, thereby qualifying for the 2017-18 Europa League.
In a magical run, Ostersund reached the last 16 of the competition after knocking out Galatasaray and PAOK and finishing second in their group with a win over Hertha Berlin and a draw with Athletic Bilbao. They were knocked out by Arsenal 4-2 on aggregate, despite winning 2-1 at the Emirates, and Potter was suddenly a hot property in Europe.
In three years at Brighton, the Seagulls have been transformed from a crabby defensive outfit built for survival under Chris Hughton, to a progressive, passing-based team under Potter, with aspirations to climb higher and command a regular berth in the top half of the Premier League.
However, in each of his campaigns on the south coast, Potter’s developing side went through patches that may have got him the sack at other clubs. Last term, en route to a respectable ninth-place finish, there was a run of only three wins in 25 matches.
Potter turned it around, but it took him time. In December, the team was booed by a few of their own fans after a 0-0 draw with Leeds, despite passing most teams off the park. It was a little out of character for the fanbase and it irked Potter, but that is nothing to what he can expect if his new team struggles for form.
At Stamford Bridge, as with all of the biggest clubs, it is less about where we’ll be next year and all about what happens next week. After all, a squad with a value of more than £1billion has to deliver more than hope of improvement, it must bring results.
Potter may yet look back on a charmed life in Sussex, with patient fans and understanding owners and wonder why he ever left. How he copes with the intense scrutiny will be a key to his success.
The Chelsea culture
Until the departure of Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s culture was a slash and burn approach to club management.
If a manager did not deliver, or even if he did but his powers appeared to be waning, he was gone. Some £90million was spent on hiring and firing the head coach during the Russian’s time in charge.
But what is the Chelsea culture now? The three people who truly know the answer to that question are Todd Boehly, Behdad Eghbali and Graham Potter.
Chelsea’s sacking of manager Thomas Tuchel is set to cost the club around £15m
Boehly and Eghbali clearly want change and their ideas will have been refined in their discussions with Potter before he agreed verbally on the move to west London.
The owners want someone to share and shape their own philosophy and Potter is well paced to do that. He has been heavily influenced by a Masters degree in leadership and emotional intelligence and his own experience as a player, which included 320 league appearances for the likes of Stoke and West Brom
He seems happy to explain himself and take the chance to learn wherever he can.
And he treats players as people. His aim is to get the best out of all of them individually and collectively, which is evident in the growth of footballers like Yves Bissouma, Marc Cucurella, Ben White and Dan Burn to name a few.
Chelsea owner Todd Boehly decided to sack the German manager before Tuesday evening
It is interesting to contrast that approach with the voices emerging from Stamford Bridge, which complain of a blame game after defeats, and inconsistent treatment of players under Tuchel.
If Boehly and Eghbali truly want a more sustainable approach Potter can deliver it, but they will almost certainly have to show a degree of patience that has not been seen at Chelsea in at least two decades.
However, Boehly has good form in this area. He is the co-owner of the LA Dodgers baseball team, where he has made a point of showing faith in its managers.
Coach Dave Roberts has been in post seven years and in March, his contract was extended for another three. Meanwhile, Brandon Gomes, 38, has been steered through the ranks from pitching coordinator in 2017 to general manager, responsible for coach and player recruitment, in 2022.
It helps that the Dodgers have won some silverware, claiming National League pennants in 2017, 2018 and 2020 and the World Series in 2020. But Potter will be relieved to note, Roberts’ success was not immediate.
Players love Potter. He has won plaudits from footballers at all his clubs, for his training methods, tactical nous and human touch.
However, in general Potter has taken young men who have either underachieved, or are yet to realise their full potential, and he has helped them to develop.
The success he has brought them inevitably builds a strong bond, but the alumni of his former clubs have no doubt he can deliver for superstars, too.
Chelsea suffered successive away defeats against Leeds, Southampton and Dinamo Zagreb
‘He was just two, three, four steps ahead. He always knew what the opposition were going to do. He played different systems and was able to change personnel. He was a tactical genius,’ Douglas Bergqvist, who joined Ostersund in 2014 after struggling at Exeter City, told the BBC.
‘I wouldn’t say anything’s too big for him,’ added Bergqvist. ‘I could see him taking over the England job one day – he can go all the way,’.
Striker Oli McBurnie, who scored 24 goals for Swansea in the 2018-19 season when Potter was manager, agrees.
‘His philosophy was that if you get the performance right, then more times than not the result would look after itself. It was a breath of fresh air,’ McBurnie, who is now at Sheffield United, said in a BBC interview.
Potter faced a challenge at Swansea, but stabilised the team after Premier League relegation
Potter took minnows Ostersunds all the way from the fourth tier in Sweden to the top flight
‘At Swansea, we all said we could see him being England manager. We believed in him that much. I honestly think he could go as high and as far as he wants. I don’t think there’s much that could stop him.’
In addition, Potter has shown he can mix it with some of the best in the country. Last season, the Seagulls won at Tottenham and Arsenal and of course, demolished Manchester United 4-0 at the Amex and followed that up with a 2-1 win at Old Trafford, in August.
His record against Chelsea, despite a mismatch in resources, (the Blues squad cost six times more than Brighton’s) is not too shabby either, with four draws and just two defeats, in the last three campaigns.
Potter appears to have the ability to energise players, capture their interest and put a smile on their faces. After successive away defeats against Leeds, Southampton and Dinamo Zagreb, that may just what Chelsea’s dispirited squad need right now.