Graham Potter: ‘Pep was at City for a year before they won anything’

The Chelsea manager comes out fighting in response to growing criticism and insists: ‘I know the quality I have’

It would be no great shock if west London’s third-best team tumble out of the FA Cup on Sunday afternoon. Chelsea, whose stuttering Premier League form has left them in the unfamiliar position of peering up at Brentford and Fulham, are not in a good place before facing Manchester City for the second time in four days.

An extensive injury list is pushing an unbalanced squad to the limit, hopes of Champions League qualification are slipping away and, as Graham Potter pointed out after losing to City on Thursday night, some “extreme challenges” are on the way for a club forging a new identity after the tumult of the past 12 months

With the Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital ownership still finding its feet in English football, it is probably worth forgetting what once held true of Chelsea. In previous times a run of one win in eight league games, plus defeat to City in the third round of the Carabao Cup, would have been enough for a manager to expect an ultimatum from Roman Abramovich. There would have been talk of dressing room unrest, of players going to their Russian owner to voice their feelings, of Guus Hiddink coming to the rescue in an interim role. With Chelsea languishing in 10th place, the pressure on Potter would have been intolerable.

Now, though, patience is the aim. Sacking Thomas Tuchel seven games into the new season may suggest otherwise but Boehly and Clearlake want to take a long-term view. “There’s a completely different ownership,” Potter argued. “This is hard for people to get their head around as Chelsea for 20 years has been one thing and now all of a sudden it’s different.”

So different, of course, that when Chelsea fired Tuchel their response was not to appoint one of Europe’s elite managers but to approach Brighton for permission to talk to a coach with a history of building successful teams from scratch.

“The reason for me to take the job was because you’ve got a chance to shape a club that is in a massive transitional period,” Potter said. “It’s not like I was jumping at the first opportunity to leave Brighton. This one felt right because of the owners, because of the support that they would give. They have been fantastic.”

Chelsea’s American owners have been in London this week. They have held talks with Shakhtar Donetsk about their rapid winger Mykhailo Mudryk, who is wanted by Arsenal, and bolstered their defence by signing Benoît Badiashile from Monaco. Money is available. Chelsea, who have annoyed Benfica with their pursuit of their Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernández, spent £200m last summer and are aware that the various weaknesses in their squad have nothing to do with Potter, who was right to say that he continues to enjoy “total support” from the club’s hierarchy.

“I understand what’s needed,” Potter said. “I’ve been here four months. If people are going to judge me in that time period, when you consider the challenges we’ve had, that’s fine. I can give you a counterargument in terms of my career and people in the game who would consider my quality.”

Potter was unusually animated. The 47-year-old is renowned for his calm on the touchline but he wanted it to be known that he is different in private. “This isn’t actually me all the time,” he said. “Of course there are times where you get angry.” He looked down at the table and picked up a can of water. “It’s not like I’m some robot just speaking to this can all the time.”

Graham Potter and Raheem Sterling.
Graham Potter deployed Raheem Sterling in an unfamiliar a wing-back position during the 4-1 defeat to Brentford. Photograph: Julian Finney/Reuters

There was some nervous laughter as Potter talked of dealing respectfully with “stupid questions”. The idea that he could have worked his way up in an industry as ruthless as football without being tough enough to handle a dressing room full of big egos is absurd.

Potter knows that Chelsea, who are set to buy the France striker Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig in the summer, need a rebuild. The ageing César Azpilicueta is unsuitable cover for the injured Reece James at right-back. N’Golo Kanté’s hamstring injury has left a void in central midfield, even if Denis Zakaria is playing well, and it is surely time to let Jorginho go when his contract expires.

This is not an easy job. In central defence Wesley Fofana is injured, Thiago Silva is 38 and Kalidou Koulibaly has struggled since joining from Napoli. The absence of the wing-backs, James and Ben Chilwell, is taking a toll. Marc Cucurella has filled in for Chilwell on the left but the former Brighton defender does not look like a £60m player.

There are too many passengers. Kepa Arrizabalaga still makes too many errors in goal and Kai Havertz remains inconsistent up front. Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic, who is injured, do not produce enough. Raheem Sterling, another absentee, has done little to suggest that City were wrong to sell him. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has one league goal and was subbed on and off against Pep Guardiola’s side.

The point is not to make excuses, even though Potter was reduced to bringing on kids against City. His errors include the use of Sterling as a wing-back, which was made to look ridiculous when Chelsea lost 4-1 at Brighton. No Premier League side has earned fewer wins or scored fewer goals across their last eight games than Chelsea, who are yet to develop an identity under Potter.

“I’m not sitting here as some egomaniac who has all the answers and gets everything right,” he said. “There are some margins in the Premier League that are difficult. But it’s sort of blah, blah, blah, isn’t it? People want to see results – ‘Shut up, Graham. What are you talking about? We need to win.’”

The tone was realistic. While Potter’s job does not hinge on finishing in the top four this season, Boehly and Clearlake will not be patient for ever. The owners are under pressure to deliver, particularly as supporters were so enamoured with Tuchel.

Equally Chelsea are paying the price for the shortsighted approach adopted by the previous regime. It is worth remembering that City were nothing special during Guardiola’s first season. What the champions have created, though, is a perfect structure around their manager, ensuring that everything works smoothly on and off the pitch. Chelsea, who have been busy making key hires in their recruitment department, need a similar approach.

“The owners are billionaires, so they are quite smart,” Potter said. “Smarter than me, for sure. They understand the direction we want to go in. I’ve been here four months and five or six weeks of that have been lost to international football. Pep was [at City] a year before they won anything.”

Potter thought about Jürgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta taking time to establish themselves at Liverpool and Arsenal, respectively. “It’s maybe different for me for some reason,” he said, noting the criticism coming his way. “But I don’t put a timescale on it. I know that I am capable. I know the quality I have.”

It was fighting talk at last. Chelsea’s fans have been waiting to see some spikiness from Potter. The next part is producing similar defiance on the pitch.


Jacob Steinberg

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Graham Potter in ‘good save’ barb after Chelsea’s draw at West Ham
Graham Potter sarcastically congratulated Tomas Soucek after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at West Ham on what he thought was a handball in the penalty area

Jacob Steinberg at the London Stadium

11, Feb, 2023 @4:31 PM

Article image
Graham Potter faces only chaos until Chelsea accept there are no quick fixes | Jonathan Wilson
The club’s owners must see that a fascination with celebrity and glamour is no way to build the systems that make a team tick

Jonathan Wilson

31, Dec, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
Graham Potter admits he looks ‘a bit of a fool’ after Chelsea’s defeat to Brighton
Graham Potter accepted that using Raheem Sterling and Christian Pulisic as wing-backs against his former club Brighton had backfired after Chelsea’s 4-1 defeat

Jacob Steinberg at the Amex Stadium

29, Oct, 2022 @6:22 PM

Article image
Chelsea lift some pressure on Potter after Fofana header edges out Leeds
A nervous Chelsea eked out an urgently needed 1-0 victory thanks to Wesley Fofana’s second-half goal against struggling Leeds

Jacob Steinberg at Stamford Bridge

04, Mar, 2023 @5:15 PM

Article image
Rampant Brighton ruin Graham Potter’s return by thrashing sorry Chelsea
Leandro Trossard was on target in a 4-1 win to give Roberto De Zerbi his first victory as Brighton manager and inflict a first defeat on Chelsea under Potter

Jacob Steinberg at the Amex Stadium

29, Oct, 2022 @4:14 PM

Article image
‘Anything is possible for Chelsea,’ says Thomas Tuchel after Norwich rout
The Chelsea manager praised his side’s ruthlessness in attack and claimed hat-trick scorer Mason Mount was playing with ‘more freedom’ after their 7-0 destruction of Norwich

Jacob Steinberg at Stamford Bridge

23, Oct, 2021 @3:20 PM

Article image
Graham Potter to leave Swansea for Brighton manager’s job
Brighton & Hove Albion are poised to confirm the appointment of Graham Potter as their new manager

Stuart James

18, May, 2019 @3:32 PM

Article image
Timing and luck: there is more to Graham Potter’s strife than a lack of passion
Brighton’s progress under Roberto De Zerbi since the Chelsea manager left only emphasises the role other factors play in a manager’s success

Jonathan Wilson

25, Feb, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
Patched-together Chelsea at odds with Graham Potter’s wizard eye for a bargain
Injury crisis is exposing a lack of co-ordinated recruitment for a manager whose success has come on a budget

Jonathan Wilson

05, Nov, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
‘The boys have been suffering – they care’: Potter relieved after Chelsea win
‘Talk is cheap. I firmly believe in the players and the team,’ the manager said after Chelsea picked up just their third win in 16 games

Jacob Steinberg at Stamford Bridge

04, Mar, 2023 @7:11 PM