Potter needs time to work magic at Chelsea similar to Arteta

IAN LADYMAN: Graham Potter needs time to work his magic… but will he get it? Chelsea boss could echo what Mikel Arteta has done at Arsenal if Todd Boehly keeps his finger off the trigger

  • Graham Potter has endured a difficult start to his time in charge of Chelsea 
  • Chelsea sit ninth in the Premier League after the draw with Nottingham Forest
  • Potter’s work at Brighton was only felt last season after two poor campaigns
  • However, being afforded that sort of time at Chelsea feels like a stretch

In an interview in these pages on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, Graham Potter — then manager of Brighton — had something to say about progress and the prospect of moving to another, bigger club.

‘There will always be mini- failures along the way and you just have to make sure they are not too many or too big as then you lose your job,’ said Potter. ‘You can still challenge yourself but at the same time develop and grow and stay alive in the job.

‘Of course staying alive is part of the consideration when you take a job. You ask, “What are the chances of being myself here? To keep working? Do they understand how I have got to this point?”

Graham Potter has endured a slow start to life at Chelsea, having taking the role in September

‘Because there is no point going somewhere and them expecting something completely different to what you have always been.’

With Potter’s Chelsea ninth in the table and on a run of only one win in seven league games after Sunday’s dispiriting draw at Nottingham Forest, these words seem relevant now.

When Potter left Brighton for Chelsea in September, the version of the 47-year-old they said they wanted was the one that rebuilt clubs and teams from the inside, the one that had most recently remodelled and improved Brighton slowly over three seasons.

At their first meeting, new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly told Potter he wanted a transformative coach, someone who could introduce a new culture, playing style and recruitment model from the top of the club down to academy level. The problem is that, at a club like Chelsea, you also need to be the type of manager who can do this and win football matches at the same time.

After a disappointing draw with Nottingham Forest, Chelsea currently sit 9th in the league 

This is new to Potter and right now it represents his greatest challenge. In his first season at Brighton, his team won nine games, the same as the season before under Chris Hughton. In his second, they won nine again. So in tangible terms it was a slow burn.

Despite all that was recognisably different about Brighton’s football, the truth is that the real benefits of Potter’s work were not felt until his third season and indeed the start of this one.

At Chelsea it feels like a stretch that he will be afforded this much time, no matter what Boehly has told his manager. Equally, the squad he has at his disposal is not equipped to play what we may call Potter-ball. Years of classically scattergun Chelsea recruitment have left a mess behind.

Thomas Tuchel warned of what was ahead for the club after losing the FA Cup final to Liverpool on penalties last May.

It feels like a stretch that Potter will be afforded time at Chelsea no matter what Boehly says

Standing in a corridor at Wembley, the German said his squad lacked depth and balance and that impending summer departures would only make that worse. It is hard to say now that he was wrong and he was sacked before we had even got to the autumn.

As Potter cleared his desk on his way to replacing Tuchel on that dramatic day in September, someone who knows him well assessed the squad he was about to inherit and said: ‘Graham would not choose more than a small handful of those players.’

It seemed a fair analysis. Potter’s Brighton picked apart Manchester United on the opening day at Old Trafford with a team of bright, hungry, clever players all looking to prove themselves. That day in Manchester last August, Brighton were the brave and bright embodiment of their coach.

At Chelsea, it is different. Potter has some seriously good footballers at Stamford Bridge. But he also has a central defensive pairing that no other top Premier League manager would pick and a forward line that, with the exception of Raheem Sterling, has already proved itself incapable of playing consistently well under two previous coaches.

Thomas Tuchel warned of what was ahead for the club after losing the FA Cup final in May  

More than that, Potter does not have the malleable group of young, open-minded players that he needs. For Chelsea to thoroughly and properly reset under Potter, the club require the type of player overhaul that takes a number of transfer windows to achieve.

This has long been Potter’s way, but he is working in a different world now. Chelsea and Brighton are so fundamentally different to each other they may as well be playing in different leagues.

Some have already questioned whether Potter is suitable to working at a really big club and it’s a fair point. Some managers simply are not. Time will tell on that. Equally, there is a lesson to be learned from the club currently sitting right at the top of the Premier League table.

Mikel Arteta was given time despite poor two season but Arsenal currently sit top of the league

In Mikel Arteta’s first half-season at Arsenal — he was appointed at Christmas 2019 — his team finished 43 points behind champions Liverpool. In the Spaniard’s time at the club, Arsenal have gone eighth, eighth, fifth and, for now, first. The team who face Newcastle tonight are likely to feature two of the 11 that started Arteta’s first game a little over three years ago.

The sweeping changes brought about by Arteta have been exactly those sought now by Potter across London. Personnel, tactics, culture. But the key is that the Spaniard was allowed to lose as he did it. Arteta was allowed by Arsenal to have one of those periods of mini-failure that Potter talked about in that interview at the season’s start.

It is tough to do, it’s painful and it’s not in Chelsea’s nature. But this is the choice facing Boehly now. If the American is not prepared to finish sixth, seventh, eighth or worse while his new manager undergoes the first phase of his work this season, he may as well sack him now.

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