Chelsea appointing a ‘high school’ student from Sweden? Paul Merson makes us mad

·7-min read
Brighton manager Graham Potter will take over at Chelsea Credit: PA Images
Brighton manager Graham Potter will take over at Chelsea Credit: PA Images

We didn’t set out to dedicate the whole of Mediawatch to Paul Merson on Chelsea, Potter and Zidane but then we got carried away…

As the football media reacts to the sacking of Thomas Tuchel and the likely appointment of Graham Potter, we turn – as we always do – to the experts. And then to Paul Merson on the Sky Sports website.

He is shocked. Stunned. And all those other things that nobody should really have been; Chelsea have been the sixth-best Premier League side in 2022 and that’s Not Very Good.

‘I did not see it coming. They won the other day. They beat West Ham 2-1. Yes, they rode their luck with VAR but it was still a win. Then they go away to Zagreb, not the easiest place to go to, play a couple of fringe players and get beat.’

This, by the way, is the Chelsea team that lost to Zagreb: Kepa; Azpilicueta, Fofana, Koulibaly; James, Mount, Kovacic, Chilwell; Havertz, Aubameyang, Sterling.

Barring Kepa in goal, where the f*** are the fringe players?

Merson then moves on to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang:

‘People tell me it has been brewing but if it had been brewing then why are you bringing in a player because the current manager tells you he has worked with him before and knows him? I do not think any other manager is going to be excited by Aubameyang.

‘Any other manager who comes in could easily say they don’t want him. Tuchel has spent £200m on players and now someone else has to work with them.’

Now this is a theme across pretty much all coverage of this sacking, as though Aubemeyang is some kind of lame duck that nobody could possibly want.

He literally scored 11 goals in 17 La Liga games last season. Brighton’s top scorers netted eight goals each in the whole of last season; we don’t think Graham Potter or anybody else is going to be sniffy about Aubameyang. He’s had to work with Neal sodding Maupay for three years.

‘There are not too many elite managers around the world. Chelsea had one. He has won the Champions League. Managed top teams. For me, he is an elite manager and they have let one go.’

That’s true, Paul, but it’s also true that the methods of elite managers can stop working. See also Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund, Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham and Jose Mourinho just about anywhere.

‘You need an elite manager to train elite players, in my opinion. You do not go and buy a racehorse for a million pounds and get the bloke from the local stables to train it.’

Wow. That’s just not very nice, is it?

And pray tell, how does a non-elite manager become an elite manager? Tuchel coached at Mainz before Dortmund, Pochettino at Southampton before Tottenham and Conte at Atalanta and Siena before Juventus. Unless you are Pep Guardiola, you are not born into an elite club.

‘I like Potter. I think he is a good manager. Apart from Manchester City, the best team I saw at Stamford Bridge last season was Brighton. They were unbelievable. Potter makes teams better. He improves players.

‘But is that the job at Chelsea?’

Well if that’s not the job at Chelsea, what the hell is the job at Chelsea? They definitely need to be better and the players definitely need to be improved.

‘I think he could have got the Manchester United job. There are more youngsters at Manchester United and it needs a bit of rebuilding. What needs rebuilding at Chelsea? Every player is a £50m player.’

F*** knows that this means because Chelsea’s average age this season is pretty much exactly the same as United’s. And eight of the 20 players they have used in the Premier League this season are 23 or under.

‘These are internationals with a million caps between them. You just have to look after them. You don’t have to teach them the game. It is horses for courses.’

Well clearly that’s not true, Paul. Clearly you still have to coach them and organise them. Are you saying that ‘elite managers’ are just glorified babysitters?

‘Potter would find players and make them better. He is a project manager. Give him five years and he will rip it up. That is not Chelsea’s philosophy. Chelsea’s philosophy is to go out and buy the best players. I just do not see it at Chelsea. He could be out of a job in a year.

‘The way Chelsea are, the way it is run, how long are you going to be in the job for? They won the Champions League last year. They lost two cup finals on penalties this year.’

Does it matter? As we detailed elsewhere, sacked Chelsea managers from the last decade are now managing Roma, Tottenham, Lazio and Everton.

Oh and Potter only had three years at Brighton and ‘ripped it up’.

‘For me, the only one who ticks the box is Zinedine Zidane. He is a legend. Nobody is questioning him. He was one of the best players in the world and he has managed Real Madrid. He has managed top-drawer players.

‘He is not a manager who wants to be around for five years and build a project, he just wants it now. He is not going to build a team. He wants a team that is full of superstars already. People will listen to him.’

He has literally managed one club. And has shown no interest in managing in England. Indeed, his agent said: “I do not think that he will manage in England. It is much less his style. I have discussed it with him, it does not really attract him.” Seems pretty unequivocal.

‘You cannot give it to Graham Potter for five years and tell him to build something. It is not that job. It is a Zinedine Zidane job. He would settle for two years. If he has not won anything by then he would be the first to say he is moving on.’

It’s literally not a Zinedine Zidane job. And if any Chelsea manager wins nothing in two years, it’s not the man himself who will ‘be the first to say he is moving on’.

‘It is an unbelievable opportunity for Potter. It might not come again. But he will be pulling his hair out tonight. I don’t think people realise. He won’t be doing cartwheels because it is such a big decision. I feel sorry for him in a way. It is a hard decision to make.

‘You are going from one extreme to the other. It is like going from high school and then someone tells you that you are going to Oxford University tomorrow. You would be thinking, ‘I have not worked at that level before, I am not ready for that.”

This is unbelievably patronising. Potter has been managing in the Premier League for three seasons and has just secured a top-half finish. If you really must use an education metaphor, then he is at the University of Brighton, not bloody high school.

‘He has come from Sweden and now he is at Brighton. They lost to Fulham last week which I thought was a shock but you did not hear much about it. Nobody went mad did they? Chelsea get beat at Leeds and it is mayhem. That is the difference.’

No, ‘nobody went mad’ when Brighton lost 2-1 at Fulham, who had already drawn to Liverpool and beat Brentford at home this season. And yes, there was ‘mayhem’ when Chelsea (third last season) lost 3-0 to Leeds United (17th last season). Funny that.

Oh and what happened to the Paul Merson who was incandescent about British managers not getting a chance? Is it different when it’s your club, fella?

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