Why Chelsea picked visionary Graham Potter as long-term project heralds new direction

·4-min read
Why Chelsea picked visionary Graham Potter as long-term project heralds new direction

Graham Potter is the chosen one for Chelsea’s new owners, but he would have been unlikely to top Roman Abramovich’s shortlist of replacements for Thomas Tuchel.

With the exception of Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s former owner appointed celebrated managers who were proven winners, but the only trophies to Potter’s name are the Swedish Cup and second- and third-division titles with Ostersund.

For all the talk that Tuchel’s sacking suggests Chelsea are continuing Abramovich’s hire-and-fire model, their choice of successor to the German points to a very different strategy.

Potter, who is expected to be appointed as Chelsea’s new manager before the weekend, is a ‘project’ coach, who prefers to work within a defined structure and will need time to tweak the culture and implement his style of play at Stamford Bridge.

He did not immediately win over Brighton fans, even considering the modest expectations on the south coast, but gradually built an attractive side in his own image, which has proved far greater than the sum of its parts.

Chelsea have turned to Brighton’s Graham Potter as the man to lead a new era at the club (Getty Images)
Chelsea have turned to Brighton’s Graham Potter as the man to lead a new era at the club (Getty Images)

But they got better year on year, despite being forced to sell players, notably Marc Cucurella to Chelsea and Yves Bissouma to Tottenham this summer, illustrating Potter’s talent as a training-ground coach and ability to build a structure that was bigger than individuals.

His impending appointment at Chelsea suggests Boehly knows this summer’s £250million outlay on signings is not sustainable long-term and is conscious of the need to begin a durable project — as Arsenal and Tottenham have done — in order to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool.

The prospect of a Chelsea manager winning the title in their first season in English football, as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte did under Abramovich, is far more remote in an era when Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have been lavishly backed to establish empires.

Without Abramovich’s unlimited wealth, a patient cycle under a visionary coach is Chelsea’s best route to success, and Boehly is eager to move away from hire-and-fire and follow Liverpool’s model (which prompted their interest in hiring former Reds sporting director Michael Edwards this summer).

Potter will be tasked with rebuilding a squad which has been allowed to depreciate and remains imbalanced, despite their summer spending. He will need to add value to players, with Chelsea no longer able to afford to simply replace big-money mistakes in the market, such as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga and £97.5m signing Romelu Lukaku.

Without Abramovich’s unlimited wealth, a patient cycle under a visionary coach is Chelsea’s best route to success

Potter is first and foremost a coach who improves players, and Chelsea do not have to look far for examples of his work, having paid Brighton £52.5m for Cucurella in the summer. The aim for Potter will be to create £50m players from the club’s academy and through canny recruitment.

He has already benefited from the production line at Cobham, having signed Tariq Lamptey and Billy Gilmour for Brighton, and tried also for Tino Livramento, and Chelsea’s summer signings of Gabriel Slonina, Carney Chukwuemeka and Cesare Casadei point to a club planning for the long-term.

In the here and now, it also suits Chelsea to hire a coach who has been using wing-backs at Brighton this season, ensuring that Potter should have the pieces to play his style of football relatively quickly, despite having no chance to alter the squad before January.

Chelsea trust that Potter will be able to handle such a significant promotion, although, to date, Danny Welbeck is arguably the biggest-name player to have been managed by the 47-year-old, so it remains to be seen how he will cope with a dressing room packed with big-name stars, as well as increased expectations.

There is also potentially a question over timing. Potter’s stock is sky high after Brighton’s strong start to the season, but the optics of the appointment would be very different if the Seagulls had struggled in their opening six games.

As recently as April this year, Potter was having to defend himself against accusations from some Brighton supporters that his side were boring after they managed just one goal in seven games, so if Boehly had sacked Tuchel immediately after taking control of the club at the start of May, it is highly doubtful that he would have turned to Potter.

Chelsea, though, are no longer focused on the kind of short-term trends which dominated under the previous regime, and believe that Potter is the perfect manager to build the post-Abramovich era.