LONDON – Chelsea’s new American owners took a gamble with the first managerial appointment of their tenure, hiring Graham Potter from Premier League rival Brighton on Thursday despite his lack of experience coaching at soccer’s highest level.
The 47-year-old Potter agreed to a five-year deal as the replacement for Thomas Tuchel, who was fired on Wednesday after an apparent breakdown in his relationship with Chelsea’s recently installed ownership team fronted by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly.
While Tuchel won the Champions League with Chelsea last year and previously ran a locker room of soccer superstars — such as Kylian Mbappé and Neymar — at Paris Saint-Germain, Potter has a more obscure coaching past and has won only one trophy, the Swedish Cup in 2017.
That came during a seven-year stint at remote Swedish club Ostersund (2011-18), which he led from the country’s fourth tier to the first division and then into the Europa League for the first time.
Since then, he has coached Swansea for one season in English soccer’s second division, guiding the team to the FA Cup quarterfinals, before taking over at Brighton in 2019. Brighton is currently in fourth place in the Premier League, having finished last season in ninth — the highest in the club’s history.
Chelsea said Potter would bring “progressive football and innovative coaching” to the club, while Boehly said the new coach “fits our vision.”
“Not only is he extremely talented on the pitch,” Boehly said of Potter, “he has skills and capabilities that extend beyond the pitch which will make Chelsea a more successful club.”
Potter, who played mostly for lower-league English teams in an undistinguished career from 1992-2005 before retiring at the age of 30 and going into higher education, is widely admired as one of the country’s best tacticians and has a brave, entertaining style of play that has won plaudits if not trophies. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has said he is a “big fan” of Potter because of the way his “players move with freedom and ... have the courage to play everywhere.”
And Boehly, the face of Chelsea’s ownership, has been convinced that Potter is the man to instill a long-term soccer ethos and identity throughout the club at the start of the new era.
The demands Potter will face at Chelsea will contrast sharply with those at his previous clubs, however, unlikely giving him as much time to cultivate a team as he has had so far in his career.
“He’ll be expected to win every week, to challenge for trophies,” said former Chelsea player and assistant coach Jody Morris. “It’s totally different to being in a club where you are expected to be midtable and can go a couple of months without winning a game. You go a couple of games without winning at Chelsea and it’ll be totally different.”
Potter’s time in Sweden offers an interesting insight into why he is lauded as a good man-manager and a thinker of the game.
Under Potter, Ostersund, which prides itself on developing its players as people before sportsmen, started what it called a “Culture Academy” where squad members and coaches were faced with challenges to their mental process and decision-making under pressure.
After achieving promotion one year, Potter and his players put on a modern-dance production in the city’s theater, set to music from Swan Lake.
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