Potter admits challenge of keeping larger dressing room happy at Chelsea
Graham Potter has admitted it will be challenging to maintain dressing-room harmony after Chelsea increased the size of their squad with their frantic January transfer business.
The club took their spending to more than £500m under the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital ownership when they broke the British transfer record by buying Enzo Fernández from Benfica for £106.8m on deadline day.
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The midfielder became Chelsea’s eighth signing during January, albeit with Malo Gusto loaned back to Lyon, and Potter could struggle to keep everyone happy given that Jorginho was the only sale. The head coach, who must deal with an unhappy Hakim Ziyech after the winger’s loan to Paris Saint-Germain broke down, will have to leave some players disappointed and contend with Chelsea being able to register only three of the incomings in their 25-man Champions League squad.
“There are challenges when you’ve got that many players,” Potter said. “There are challenges in terms of what role they play because most players want to play. They want to play, be on the pitch and help the team. When they are not, it is a challenge and it is a challenge for lots of reasons at this football club.
“When you go through a period of transition and the steps we’ve gone through then there are going to be periods when it is going to be tougher than you ideally want – it’s not optimal. I am not complaining about it and I have to do my best to support and manage the club. Step by step I want to put the team in a better place than when I arrived.”
Chelsea, who are 10th in the Premier League before hosting Fulham on Friday, have invested heavily in youth. But they are out of both domestic cups, limiting Potter’s opportunities to experiment.
“We’re still in the Champions League,” he said, referencing the upcoming last-16 tie with Borussia Dortmund. “We’ve got ambitions to go deep into the competition. As soon as you think about that, there’s three games a week quite often. I don’t think you can achieve success with just 11 here.”
Potter hailed Fernández as a “fighter” who will improve the team but he accepted Chelsea will be viewed as rash for paying so much for a player who joined Benfica last summer. “I can understand it, absolutely,” he said. “Every transfer is a gamble. If you look at the market for midfield players – [even] midfield players that haven’t won the World Cup – you’ll be quoted a lot of money.
“We’ve got a player with a huge personality. He played in the midfield for Argentina that won the World Cup. He has attributes that can help him play in any league in the world.
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“He has already played well in the Champions League. We followed him before the World Cup; we knew about him anyway. We’re confident on the personality. It’s like anything: he’s still a young person, he’s still a young man coming to this country. You’ve got to adapt to the club. But we’ll help him with that and his personality is one where you think: ‘Oh, I’ve got no worries about him.’
“He’s a fighter. I think he understands how fortunate he is. He fights for the team. He’s got courage, he’s open-minded. If you’re playing as the No 6 for Argentina and you’re playing the big games he’s played in at his age, and with the quality he’s shown, it’s not straightforward to have those attributes.”
Ziyech was seething after his move collapsed because Chelsea were unable to send the right paperwork to PSG. The Moroccan has returned to London and will be in the squad against Fulham.
“He is a professional player and understands the situation,” Potter said. “He is committed to us. He’ll be an important player for the rest of the season.”
Potter hopes to have Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Raheem Sterling back from injury against Fulham. Wesley Fofana, Armando Broja, Denis Zakaria, N’Golo Kanté, Mateo Kovacic and Christian Pulisic are still out.