When Todd Boehly came into the job 103 days ago (at the time of writing), I doubt many would have expected some of the big changes that the American co-owner/interim sporting director would have made. The likes of Petr Čech, Marina Granovskaia, and Bruce Buck being the initial sacrificial lambs for the new era at Stamford Bridge as they all left early on to the new owners’ reign — this left Thomas Tuchel as the figurehead of the new project alongside Boehly.
The German manager worked alongside Boehly in the transfer market at the start of the window, as the two conducted the majority of the business Chelsea did with the approval of each other — Marc Cucurella, Wesley Fofana, Raheem Sterling, and Kalidou Koulibaly all being signings that the two aspired together to complete. But the constant public pursuit of wantaway Manchester United‘s ace Cristiano Ronaldo from Boehly was evident of communication not being as clear despite Tuchel making it very clear on multiple occasions that he didn’t want to entertain any move for the Portuguese forward and the same can be said for the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Barcelona, with Tuchel making his affection for the former Arsenal striker very clear throughout the latter stages of the window and eventually gaining the support of the board — the end to the transfer window highlighted the frustration from Tuchel in a role he didn’t want to conduct in the first place (he places important value on the coaching aspect of management before anything) and an eye-opener for Boehly that Tuchel isn’t the man he believed could lead the long-term project needed in West London, mixed with inconsistent results, underwhelming performances and the lack of development of underperforming talents, Thomas Tuchel was sacked.
So in comes, Graham Potter – the man that most Premier League fans believe is destined for the top and now he’s got the opportunity to prove it, at an elite club in the domestic league and globally. The most important driving point from Boehly in his brief and direct approach for a new manager was the need for an individual who can progress the current crop of young and experienced players, strike an emotional connection with all parts of the club and bring in a tactical innovative idea of coaching that makes Chelsea a more adaptable club on and off the pitch.
So we’re going to delve into these factors and look into what Graham Potter can bring to Chelsea that Thomas Tuchel couldn’t.
Tactical adaption and System flexibility
Adapting to different scenarios and situations is the key to where Graham Potter is today. His journey as a coach has not been one of the norm. Starting out as the technical director of the Ghanaian women’s national team and eventually beginning his managerial career in the deep urban area of the Swedish city of Östersund, he was able to hone his basic skills in the encouraging environment of Scandinavian football. Even displaying his initial promise to the English shores when beating Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League knockout stages. This was quickly alerted by clubs around the European scale, none other than Swansea City.
At Swansea, he was able to instill a style of football that was renowned within the club with the likes of Brendan Rodgers, and Potter was able to carry on those traditions and enhance them — establishing the Welsh club as one of the most possession-heavy teams in the country. Once again, Potter was able to take on one of the country’s best teams at the time in Manchester City and went toe-to-toe with them at times, with the City side needing a last-minute goal to secure a narrow 3-2 win.
Pep Guardiola liked what he saw and hailed Potter as “one of the best young coaches in the game with a big future” and his words were listened to by many, as Brighton & Hove Albion were ready to hand Potter the chance to show his talents at the top tier in the English game as he replaced the ever-pragmatic Chris Hughton.
Potter’s time at Brighton is well-known; he showed his one of the most talented coaches in the country and one of the most adaptable in European football but another aspect that was hailed during his time at the South coast was his flexibility within games — ability to start a match with one system and end it with another with no drop in performance.
Graham Potter’s Brighton were one of the most tactically fluid sides in the Premier League. They were able to excel and operate in a number of different formations, most notably a 3-4-2-1/3-5-2 formation dependent on personnel. The formation allows Brighton to defend with a 5-4-1 or 5-2-3 structure, with wing-backs highly important to their attacking play due to their attacking shape of 3-2-5 which funnily enough is quite similar to Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea side.
Tuchel was often criticised for his lack of flexibility within matches and his often stubbornness in wanting to adapt to his opponent’s system and usually stick with the strengths of his own, despite the evident weaknesses being able to be exploited. This is something that Potter has proven throughout his career that he excels at. Simply, noticing the weaknesses of his opponents and exploiting them while using the strengths of his players without many casualties.
Major trust in the youth
The incomings at Chelsea show significant over-haul in the youth side made by the new ownership with major aspirations of being one of the most successful and youngest sides in Europe down the line. The likes of Carney Chukwuemeka, Gabriel Slonina, Omari Hutchinson, and Cesare Casadei have all been bought in with valuing the long-term success of these “assets” and the club over placing importance on contributing straight away.
This is something that Boehly has stressed he wants to be one of the, if not, the main aim of this project; developing the young talents with a view of them making good on their potential in the future. Tuchel hasn’t always been a manager who valued immediate success over a project but his time at the club has emphasised a manager with limited time and using that time to maximise the success that is pressured by the club. At Dortmund, Tuchel was the man behind the developments of Ousmane Dembélé and Christian Pulisic — seen as two of the brightest young talents in Europe, but his journey after his time at Dortmund has meant that the German has focused on success than development and that is represented over his time at Chelsea, despite the improvements of Mason Mount and Reece James.
Whereas Potter has been praised for his development of players throughout his career and has prioritized the principle of player development over success at times, as he views success as a virtue of the development of the players. This is an aspect of Potter’s character that Boehly will admire in his capture of the Englishman.
There is a clear aim to develop the talents in-house and bring in talents that can compete for the long-term — as seen with the incomings but also the extension of Reece James and the inevitable extension of Mason Mount. This is something Potter will enjoy and take on with confidence as proven by his track record. As seen with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boehly wants stability and he wants long-term stability in his projects, with the main parts of that project being at the forefront of that. Dave Roberts has been at the LA side for 7 seasons now, developing a set of players and breeding them into the principles that have resonated around the club — the same can be seen with the incoming Graham Potter.
Graham Potter and emotional intelligence and connection
Graham Potter is not all about numbers and systems, though. He places great importance on how emotional intelligence and most importantly emotional connection can get the finest out of a squad as well.
“As much as you need to know about football, you need to know about people as well, that can be the difference. How you can communicate as a team, how you can understand each other, big things in football and it’s not just about the Xs and Os, the numbers, formations, drills, practices, it’s about how you can get that team to function together, motivate individuals with that group to understand their role and others, and come together for a common cause.” – Potter explained to the Coaches’ Voice.
Chelsea has been a club that has been described as “emotionless” on and off the pitch with a connection between the fans and club often missing a ‘middle-man’ to bring the two together. At times, Tuchel was able to do that, especially during the time of the takeover and how he was able to represent the club and often protect the club from media scrutiny — something the fans admire. But his demeanour would often perceive him as “cold-hearted” and “emotionless” despite Tuchel himself would probably disagree, even with his off-field issues.
Potter is a man who values the emotional side of the game as much as he does with the actual footballing side — this allows him to understand and acknowledge situations that will bring the fans and club together as one and finally be the man at Stamford Bridge to do so.
Tuchel’s sacking still leaves a sour taste in many people’s mouths, especially considering the achievements he has accomplished in a short time, but it’s evident that Tuchel and the ownership had different ideas at the end and a new man was needed for their new dawn.
Potter is the man tasked with the responsibility. He has a trajectory to be one of the best young coaches in the game but he needs to prove it and at such a trigger-happy club, whether he will be given the time to prove that or not, time will tell, but if he’s given that patient there’s no doubt that Chelsea are getting a manager with immense talent that could steer the club in the right direction for their long term ambitions.