Sorry, Brighton, but Graham Potter is good enough to be next Manchester United manager

Graham Potter
Graham Potter

There’s a touch of the Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne about Brighton’s Graham Potter.

It’s a natural consequence of that Midlands accent and the modest way Potter casually shrugs off the compliments of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp — unavoidably sounding like Lynne downplaying the tributes of Roy Orbison and George Harrison.

Behind that beard, it is possible there is an unassuming genius. That’s why VIP membership of the Potter fanclub is growing. Guardiola has often sounded like its chairman and head spokesman in his praise for the Brighton coach. After Saturday’s 2-2 draw, Klopp was again compelled to acknowledge how tricky it is facing a manager who shares his risk-and-reward principles.

The Brighton board and supporters must have mixed feelings about such endorsements. Positive feedback is always welcome, but there will be wariness of the clamour for Potter to make haste and join a Champions League club, or one with more realistic top-four aspirations than his current employers.

Fortunately for Brighton, some of those so-called ‘elite’ clubs are in such a mess, or have board members so lacking in foresight and wisdom, that the attractive offers do not seem to be forthcoming. If they were, Potter would be one of the frontrunners for the Manchester United job when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time inevitably runs out.

Potter was ranked a 33-1 outsider when Solskjaer was thought to be clinging on last week, cynics inevitably pointing to his inexperience working with a club — and dressing room egos — of United’s considerable stature.

Yet the difference in the quality, organisation, and general purpose Liverpool encountered against Brighton compared to Old Trafford a week earlier was so stark, it made United’s capitulation look even more embarrassing. Liverpool’s problem on Saturday was, unlike the previous weekend, they were playing a team that looked like it knew what it was doing, reaping the rewards of repetitive training-ground drills.

Brighton pressed high, continuously located space in between Liverpool’s back four and midfield, and generally confirmed the suspicion that the Anfield universe is less balanced whenever Fabinho is missing, even though that was barely noticed in Manchester six days previously.

Potter’s side had more possession, more shots on target and completed more passes against Liverpool at Anfield than United did at Old Trafford. Most telling is how they completed four times as many successful tackles than Liverpool’s previous opponents — and double what Klopp’s side managed at the weekend.

As Klopp became increasingly agitated at the touchline, probably wishing he still had Adam Lallana in his midfield, and Andy Robertson was angrily reacting to Main Stand supporters who were intolerant of a misplaced pass, it was clear how expertly tutored Brighton are, getting under Liverpool’s skin by taking them on at their own game.

For anyone mischievously seeing this as an audition, it was as impressive as that of any visiting manager during Klopp’s reign: Potter reaffirming his coaching credentials in the most daunting venues.

Indeed, should Klopp stand firm on leaving Anfield at the end of his contract in 2024, Potter, on his current trajectory would surely be a leading candidate for a seamless transition.

Graham Potter and Jurgen Klopp - Liverpool FC
Graham Potter and Jurgen Klopp - Liverpool FC

Thankfully for Liverpool, that is some way off, and the club hopes Klopp has at least one more deal in him on the back of a couple of more major trophies. It is also likely Potter will have been elevated to a club with the resources to challenge every season for a top four place by then, although in the modern football age where superficialities generally trump talent, you can never be sure.

High class coaching often seems an afterthought when considering the right candidate for the biggest jobs. Unless applicants already have some connection with an elite club in peril, they need to become a stellar name elsewhere before they are regarded as the right fit.

Witness some of the fans’ responses when Potter was linked with Premier League clubs last summer. There was hardly a clamour to make him an offer he could not refuse, even if he did appear committed to Brighton.

For now, Brighton are a great watch and destined for a radical improvement in their league position.

They may not have a team capable of qualifying for the Champions League, but they have a Champions League pedigree manager.