Chelsea Under Potter: Magic Or Fake Tricks?

Chelsea Under Potter: Magic Or Fake Tricks?

“You dare use my own spells against me, Potter?”

Who’d have thought that a punchline uttered by a fictional character (Professor Snape, played by the late Alan Rickman in the Harry Potter series) would have any relevance in football?

Well, football is mad. Two months ago, Brighton were flying under Graham Potter. Fast forward to this weekend, and Chelsea will visit Brighton on the 29th of October, and Potter will be in the away dugout instead. The Seagulls would be looking at Potter with a wishful feeling or two, wondering “what if”, as he plots against his former employers.

Potter’s rise has been one of the most intriguing stories in world football. From an average career as a footballer; to going back to University to get multiple degrees; to then coaching at University level and subsequently in the obscurities of Sweden; to coming back to England in the Championship and then the top flight; and eventually landing up at 2-time European Champions Chelsea; the unassuming Englishman has had some journey.

On September 8th, Potter was appointed as Chelsea’s head coach, taking over from the much-heralded, albeit divisive Thomas Tuchel. It’s been over 45 days since his appointment, but has anything changed at Stamford Bridge? The answer is – a lot has, but a lot hasn’t.

When asked in his first press conference as Chelsea boss if there was a risk involved in taking the hot seat at the Bridge, Potter’s response was a shade philosophical. The 47-year-old after all has a degree that specializes in emotional intelligence.

                     “If we walk out the road over there, there is a risk. That’s what life is. No one knows what’s going to happen in the future. I left England when I was 30 years old and I went to a club who had sacked their manager every year for the last five years.”

                       “I left a secure job. I left my wife’s business for an opportunity. Life is about going outside of your comfort zone, it’s about taking responsibility, it’s about believing that there’s more to us than what sits here now. I don’t see it as a risk in a negative way. I think everything is a bit unknown and that’s the beauty of life.” – Graham Potter

Before he made the brave decision to move over to the cold Scandinavian lands of Sweden in 2010 to manage Ostersund, the club were reeling in the 4th division, with an average stadium attendance of 200 people. To guide such an obscure team to continual promotions into the Swedish top flight, and then beating giants like Galatasaray, PAOK, and Arsenal in the Europa League, are achievements that cannot be ignored at any level of football.

“It was probably the biggest challenge I’ve had in my life. The first six months were really tough because you’d relocated with your family and you had to adapt to a new life, a new culture, and a new country. But thankfully it’s gone well”, said Potter.

Swansea took note, and brought him back to England as their manager. But it was when he subsequently went to Brighton that the world really began to notice Potter’s abilities and take him seriously. He got the Seagulls playing some exciting and fascinating football. In his 3rd season there, he helped Brighton to their highest-ever finish at 9th.

In his 4th season on the South coast, the club started the campaign with a bang. Potter’s intriguing tactics, ideologies and progressive philosophy & style of play mixed with excellent man management led people to stand up and take notice. When asked earlier this year about his name being considered by the bigger clubs, he jokingly said, “It’s hard to be a sexy name when you are called Potter especially if your first name is Graham. Then it becomes even more difficult to be sexy. Add into that a long face and a ginger beard and I just have to stick to being a football coach.”

Chelsea, who under new ownership were looking for a new manager after sacking Tuchel, prized him away from Brighton to make him the Blues’ next boss. Until the appointment, Potter worked his magic at clubs that did not operate with significant financial clout & high transfer budgets. But now with the resources available at a club of Chelsea’s stature, it will be interesting to see how he fares. It’s a move that has caught everyone’s imagination.

Potter joined Chelsea at the back of Queen Elizabeth II’s sad demise, and nationwide mourning, leading to a series of postponed games just before the international break. Due to the lack of Premier League action, he was thrust straight away into the thick of things with a Champions League game against Salzburg at home. This was his first game as Blues boss, and also his first ever Champions League game as a manager. When asked if he had ever attended a UCL game even as a spectator before, Potter replied, “Off the top of my head, I don’t think I have”.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with remnants & shades of the laborious patterns of play that were so prevalent under his predecessor, Tuchel. But what followed after that was a string of good results – wins against Palace and Wolves in the league, and then two impressive back-to-back wins against Serie A champions Milan in the Champions League. Potter’s intriguing & dynamic formations, lineups, and tactical changes in-game were discussed and praised. Chelsea were playing a new brand of football rejuvenated by Potter’s ideologies. They created chances, scored goals, and didn’t look like conceding, as Potter’s magic was beginning to work.

However, there is more than meets the eye. This is a club that has still not exorcised the ghosts of its past. The last 3 games have shown the frailties that still exist within the squad. Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against United on Saturday was perhaps perfectly indicative of that. A side with an array of attacking talent, but no cohesion or fluidity. A team that can somehow scrape to get a lead, but cannot add or hold on to it to see out a result.

Nevertheless, we can’t lose sight of the progress that Chelsea have made under Potter. Despite these slight deficiencies, the fact remains that he is still unbeaten as Chelsea manager. And when that’s the case, something has to be going right. His man management skills have come to the fore, as he’s managed to get the best out of the much-maligned Kepa, and has gained the support of several senior and fringe players. Mason Mount, after a slow start to the season, looks like a player reborn.

Against Manchester United, Potter’s astute pre-half-time change of getting Kovacic on and switching to a back four after United’s early domination was a masterstroke & a commendable decision that brought Chelsea back into the game. Few managers would tinker & take such a brave call in the middle of a big Premier League game against a top-six side. It showed glimpses of how adaptable & decisive Potter is.

The fact is that Chelsea, with Potter at the helm, have one of the most exciting and progressive managers in world football at the moment. But whether he can guide the club to silverware, given his relatively modest & humble past, is something that will be at the back of the minds of fans and the board alike. The signs are encouraging, and he’s still unbeaten since his appointment, but whether he will be able to go the distance and guide Chelsea to trophies that new owner Todd Boehly expects, is something that will make or break his spell at Stamford Bridge.

However, there is much enthusiasm in West London, aided by the prospect of having a long-term vision with a relatively young coach who has earned plaudits from across the spectrum. There have been glimpses of ‘Potterball’ here and there. The wand is out, but sometimes even magic needs time. As Potter returns to the Amex this weekend, old friends will reunite. But the task will not be any different, as both sides will be out for the kill.

The Premier League is ruthless, and Chelsea are the embodiment of that ruthlessness. However, even the Blues cannot deny that this is a different project from the rest. While several key issues remain, there is much reason for optimism down King’s Road and at SW6.

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