Potter was the wrong choice for Chelsea from the start

Chelsea‘s biggest mistake this season was sacking manager Thomas Tuchel in September. The second was appointing Graham Potter to replace the Champions League-winning coach at Stamford Bridge.

There have been plenty of other bad choices along the way by the club’s new owners — a consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly. Spending £47.5 million to sign a declining Raheem Sterling from Manchester City, then recruiting £10m striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona on Tuchel’s recommendation, six days before firing the coach, are other rash decisions which have done little to help the team.

But if dismissing Tuchel just seven games into the season was an ill-judged move, it was compounded by the hiring of Brighton & Hove Albion manager Potter to take over. It was an appointment made by an inexperienced and naïve Chelsea hierarchy that believed he could fit the model adopted at Boehly’s Dodgers baseball franchise onto a Premier League club.

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Boehly and his fellow investors have discovered in a very short space of time that football is, quite literally, a whole different ballgame. At the Dodgers, Boehly hired Dave Roberts as manager in 2015, where he remains as the longest-serving coach at the franchise since the 1970s.

Potter was supposed to be a similar long-term appointment — a coach who would synergise with the new ownership group’s blueprint for recruitment and style — but Boehly and co. have now discovered the hard way what former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson meant when he said that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

The Chelsea owners have taken so many punches to the face this season with negative results — Potter lost 11 and won 12 of his 31 games as head coach — that it is a surprise the manager lasted so long. But his dismissal after less than seven months, with the team 11th in the Premier League, is testament to the fact that Boehly’s plan wasn’t rooted in reality or any experience of elite-level football.

Potter was simply not ready to take the leap from Brighton to Chelsea. He was rightly regarded as a rising star in coaching following his work at Ostersund in Sweden, Swansea and then Brighton, but his credentials were also possibly overstated by virtue of him being an English coach in the Premier League — a rarity in recent years. He guided Brighton to finishes of 15th, 16th and 9th in his three full Premier League seasons at the Amex Stadium, but his efforts already look set to be eclipsed by his successor, Roberto De Zerbi. So it’s hard to see what made Potter, a man with no Champions League experience as a player or coach, so appealing to Chelsea.

In contrast to Tuchel, a coach with a glittering CV — including two Ligue 1 titles, a French Cup, German Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and a Champions League — from his time at Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, Potter was a novice. But he was also more likely to embrace the approach favoured by Boehly of a coach focusing on the team and little else.

Tuchel has worked under this system throughout his career, but the man now in charge of Bayern Munich also has a reputation for being outspoken and challenging. When Chelsea considered a move for Manchester United veteran Cristiano Ronaldo last summer, Tuchel’s opposition to a deal prompted them to look elsewhere. But Potter was always less likely to question the club’s transfer targets — a reality borne out by the scattergun recruitment during his time in charge, when he seemed increasingly out of the loop when asked about incomings during the transfer window.

Boehly’s plan was for the club to sign the best talent in the game, old and young, and for the coach to make it work. Tuchel was never comfortable with that approach at PSG and unlikely to accept it under rookie owners at Chelsea, so his dismissal was perhaps inevitable, even though it made little football sense.

But while Potter unquestionably had a talented squad at his disposal — albeit one without a reliable goal scorer — he lacked the credentials and personality to make it work and that was always going to be a problem with a squad of World Cup and Champions League winners. Top players expect top coaches. They demand a coach of a similar status to themselves — a status earned either by achievements as a player or as a coach.

As a defender whose career was largely spent in England’s lower leagues — he played only a handful of times for Southampton in the Premier League during his 13-year career — Potter had no credit in either category. By transplanting his entire Brighton backroom team to Chelsea, he simply made things worse. None of them had won anything of note as coaches: assistant manager Billy Reid was a lower league player in Scotland whose management career peaked with eight years in charge of Hamilton Academical, while goalkeeper coach Ben Roberts was best known to Chelsea fans for conceding the then-fastest goal in an FA Cup final while playing for Middlesbrough against Chelsea in 1997.

For a Chelsea squad and fanbase that have grown accustomed to big personalities, and winners, such as Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Tuchel as managers, Potter never had the persona to succeed at Stamford Bridge.

Potter can’t be blamed for that. He remains a bright coach, somebody who will bounce back and enjoy a long career, and he could never have rejected the chance to manage Chelsea. The fault lies with Boehly and his advisors in hiring a coach who was wholly unprepared and ill-equipped for the job. How they learn from that mistake will dictate whether their Chelsea project will succeed or fail.


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