Graham Potter will take charge of Chelsea for the first time in Wednesday’s Champions League Group E match against Salzburg at Stamford Bridge, but after going through his first training session and delivering his mission statement to his new team, the brutal reality of premium football is that most Potter players will have They had already formed an opinion about their new boss before they even played a match under him.
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Potter, 47, was appointed manager last week after Thomas Tuchel was sacked by new Chelsea owner Todd Buehle. He is more likely to have made a positive impression in the dressing room than a negative one. After all, in his previous careers at Brighton, Swansea and Swedish FC Ostersunds, Potter made a reputation as one of the brightest coaches in the game – a tactical thinker who builds teams that play exciting football, attack and deliver beyond expectations.
But while his appointment as Chelsea manager is undoubtedly a boost to the reputation of English coaches – don’t forget, no English coach has ever won the Premier League, while Liverpool’s Joe Fagan was the last English coach to win the European Cup/Champions League in 1984 – there are also a number of A visible red flag that Potter must address if he is to be successful in the job, it would be naive to suggest that Boehle’s strong support gives him protection for any storms to come. Just ask David Moyes how much protection his six-year contract with Manchester United offered when the results came against him and he was sacked within a year.
The red flag is raised as soon as any new manager walks through the door and meets their players for the first time. The messages matter, and Potter walked into a dressing room full of players who have won the World Cup, the Champions League and the Premier League. Without being able to match that success as a player or coach, he is already dealing with a skeptical audience.
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What he achieved at Brighton – 42 wins from 135 games and keeping them in the Premier League for four seasons, with the club’s best finish in the last ninth season – will count for a bit at Chelsea as he deals with players who have far greater expectations than those he has worked with at Amex Stadium.
This may sound harsh, but Moyes faced the same problem when succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Man United, and he immediately raised suspicion among his new players by telling them he would make the squad better by making the squad fitter. Elite players always want to improve and win; Potter’s messages should be able to convince the dressing room that he can take the team and players to a new level.
The same applies to his coaches. Moyes remained loyal to Everton’s staff at United, working with coaches who had never coached a world-class team, and who were unable to inspire or motivate players at Old Trafford. Potter has taken five members of his Brighton back-bedroom squad to Chelsea including assistant Billy Reid, Hamilton’s former academic director, a bold move given the club’s depth of experience and talent at his Chelsea side.
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Brendan Rodgers took over for Liverpool in 2012 with a career path similar to Potter’s – his previous jobs were at Watford, Reading and Swansea City – but he managed to succeed where Moyes failed at United because he inherited a dressing room which was not. They are used to winning. At the time of his arrival, Liverpool had only won one title in six years and the team needed a rebuild. Rodgers has not faced the kind of resistance Moyes has and Potter could also face players who won the Champions League less than 18 months ago with Chelsea.
Rodgers has been given time to make changes to Liverpool’s squad and playing style, and he nearly clinched the Premier League title in 2014. Jurgen Klopp has clearly taken Liverpool to a different level since replacing Rodgers in 2015, but the Rodgers era has been successful in that. He put Liverpool on his way to winning again. He also made Liverpool better despite the mistakes made by the club’s owners at the time. Fenway Sports Groups took ownership of Liverpool 18 months before Rodgers arrived and they are still learning on the job, specifically in terms of player recruitment, when the new manager was appointed.
Potter has a similar problem to deal with at Chelsea. Boehly has only run the club since May, and the co-owner of the L.A. Dodgers has overseen a massive £271m summer spending spree, which has brought in big names like Raheem Sterling And the Kalidou CoulibalyBut he left the club without a striker after leaving Romelu Lukaku And the Timo Werner.
Having spent so much in one window, Financial Fair Play regulations will restrict Chelsea’s spending in January and next summer, meaning Potter will have to work with an arguably unbalanced and undoubtedly underperforming team over the coming months. All coaches want players who can meet their requirements, and many like younger players who are likely to be more receptive to change and new methods, but Potter is pretty much stuck with what he has.
Already, with an inexperienced new owner and a group of seasoned players with successful careers, Potter has big problems to overcome.
Under former owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea tended to appoint the best or biggest name available as manager. Players and fans are accustomed to managing the team from the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and Tuchel, so the Brighton manager was hired – a coach with only the Sweden Cup on his resume – who spent most of his football career playing. The lower leagues in England, is a clear change of course by the new owners.
Potter is, no doubt, a talented coach and a rising star in management, but his new players won’t give him time to improve. They will expect to be impressed from day one and will encounter resistance from those who are not convinced by his methods. The same goes for any coach at any level, but at a big club like Chelsea, patience only brings results and Potter can’t waste any time when it comes to winning on the pitch.