Graham Potter is expected to sign a five-year contract with Chelsea after finalising a move from Brighton; Potter led the Seagulls to ninth in the Premier League table last season and will succeed Thomas Tuchel, who was sacked on Wednesday
If Chelsea are serious about rebuilding the club from top to bottom, a long-term job whoever is in charge, they have picked a man who ticks all the right boxes to make it happen in Brighton’s Graham Potter.
Six games into the new season, his now former-Seagulls side sit three points and two places above Chelsea in the table, despite significantly inferior resources to the Blues and any of the other teams around them.
It’s not about that small sample though. What Potter has been building at Brighton has been far longer in the making. The obvious product of his philosophy has been their brand of passing football, but his work on the south coast has run far beyond the tactics board.
Now, his success has proven enough for Chelsea owner Todd Boehly to decide the 47-year-old is a better fit to run his new club than a man who led them to the Champions League only 15 months ago.
That decision to pull the trigger only 100 days into his ownership will raise eyebrows about appointing a man like Potter, who finished 15th and 16th in his first two seasons at the Amex Stadium.
“If I was Graham Potter, I would find it very hard to believe that they’re going to do things differently,” said Sky Sports Jamie Carragher, as the Blues parted company with a sixth permanent manager in 10 years.
But if Boehly’s rationale was, as he has privately stated, to appoint a coach whose long-term vision he can better align with then Thomas Tuchel’s dismissal, though still harsh, may prove a shrewder move than it appeared at the time – so long as Potter does get the patience his Brighton results have shown he may require.
“Eventually, if you can align a good recruitment process and identity with a good environment, you can gain belief and momentum.”
That was Potter telling Sky Sports about how he sewed the building blocks of his managerial career at Ostersunds, the Swedish minnows he took from the fourth tier to European football. But it rings just as true to how Boehly wants to run one of the world’s biggest clubs.
Since walking through the door at the Amex Stadium in 2019, he has played a major part in turning Brighton into one of the Premier League’s most cohesive units, all while bringing in a net profit of almost £30m.
The Seagulls have made a name for their tactical flexibility and passing football from back to front – more impressive given the more pragmatic style favoured by predecessor Chris Hughton. That comes in comparison to Tuchel’s Chelsea who, even in his brightest moments, always struggled to nail down a clear identity.
Look at the path Leandro Trossard has been on since he joined alongside Potter in 2019. Signed as a winger, he has played as a number 10, as a false nine, in central midfield and more recently at wing-back, and impressed in all of those positions.
Would many other managers see 6ft 6ins centre-back Dan Burn in training and think he would be a good fit as a left wing-back? Pascal Gross, Steven Alzate, Joel Veltman, Alexis Mac Allister. The versatility of his squad has been almost unmatched across the division.
It requires players with the ability to be moulded, but has to be a clear sign of a coach who both understands his players’ strengths and can mould them to be better. Although Tuchel can be credited with much of the development of Reece James, it still draws a painful contrast with his ill-fated decision to deploy his most dangerous crosser at right centre-back.
“[Graham’s] biggest strengths are how he plans the game and what he wants us to do,” Mac Allister told Sky Sports News this week.
“Tactically he is amazing, the coaching staff are really good, they always try to help us in every aspect. He is really important for us, and I am really pleased to work with him.”
Brighton’s bank account backs up his credentials. Marc Cucurella, signed only last summer, was sold to his new club Chelsea last month for a £40m profit. Yves Bissouma has moved on to Champions League Spurs, while Moses Caicedo is reportedly a January target for Liverpool.
Undoubtedly, Potter makes players better and Chelsea’s reported acquisition of Kyle Macauley, a recruitment analyst who has followed him from Ostersunds to the Amex, could prove another bonus.
He is credited as the brains behind the Cucurella signing, and has been credited with the club’s impressive purchases from South America, including Caicedo.
Tuchel’s frayed relationship with Chelsea’s new owners and his playing staff contributed to his downfall and helped put the writing on the wall inside Cobham as they toyed with the idea of making a change, but Potter’s calm temperament should serve him better at Stamford Bridge.
Even from his early days in Sweden, he has prioritised building his players and staff as people as much as footballers, and at Ostersunds developed a ‘culture academy’ to challenge them outside their normal roles – with anything from creating their own art exhibition to taking part in a performance of the ballet Swan Lake.
“It was about being open to new things, stripping away the barriers which sometimes exist in a team, all the hierarchies, and developing players as people,” Potter told Sky Sports. “You get to see people at a human level.”
Raheem Sterling and Ben Chilwell probably will not be learning to pirouette any time soon, but Potter’s philosophy remains the same and has shown itself in his relationship with his players since returning to the UK.
That topic also presents his biggest question mark, as it does of all managers without a top-level club on their CV. Potter has been tipped for the top for some while but with a managerial CV consisting of Ostersunds, Swansea and Brighton, he is largely untested working with world-class level players and the demands they bring on and off the pitch.
He would not be the first talented manager to struggle to get the buy-in required in a top-level squad which can often be difficult to impress, and Chelsea’s long run of managerial appointments has often owed as much to the dressing room as Roman Abramovich’s high demands.
But there are promising signs to be found the respect he has built among the likes of Adam Lallana, signed fresh from winning the Premier League with Liverpool in 2020, and Manchester United and Arsenal veteran Danny Welbeck.
While some managers may struggle to adapt to the more possession-focused, front-foot game of the top teams, Brighton have been doing it since he walked through the door – and on metrics like passing, possession and opposition-box touches, they were right in the mix with his new side’s top-six rivals last season.
“Graham, from my experience with him, is a really deep thinker,” said Lallana earlier this year. “Him and his staff do 12-hour days which you need to do if you want to be the best, you cannot leave any stone unturned.
“There are so many different dynamics to the team you need to look at. You’ve got a squad of 25 players, each of which are at a different stage in their career and life with different problems, but Graham and his team really do cover all bases.”
Boehly’s hopes of Potter building a new ethos in the Chelsea academy has only a limited history of bringing through youth, although Ben White’s rise to the top and the performances of Robert Sanchez alone make a strong argument for his record on youth.
Either way, the cream of the crop in west London will be on another level to what he has been used to at Brighton, and his belief in process and joined-up thinking can only stand him in good stead to build that unity across Cobham.
There are no certainties in football, far less to take a risk on a manager untested at the top level of elite football. But if anyone is prepared to make the step up to a club like Chelsea, it’s Potter. Now, he just has to hope he is afforded the time to do it.