Graham Potter must be given time at Chelsea.
The issue for every coach who moves up to a major club is that until they have achieved success at that level, there will always be a nagging doubt that they cannot do so. One of the challenges of the modern game is that managing an elite club is very different from managing on a tight budget down the leagues because of the enormous budgets, the enormous expectations, and the variety of egos needing constant maintenance (which these days seems to apply to fans as much as it does to players).
You don’t put the guy who runs the corner shop in charge of a multinational, as one Premier League director once put it to me, stating his team should have immediately replaced the manager who had just led them to promotion. This is true, even though it takes some getting used to the idea that football is somehow excessively loyal – a result, more so than anything else, of the economic stratification that exists inside the game. There is no retail outlet equivalent of winning the playoffs, and corner stores don’t suddenly grow into multinational corporations.
But how can you determine who is qualified to lead a multinational? In business, you might promote from the inside or hire someone who has made an impression in a significant area. Alternatively, you might try to recruit someone from a comparable position in a little unrelated industry. Alternatively, ask someone who has worked at a little smaller company in the same industry. No of how successful they may have been, very few football clubs will put the head of the academy in charge of the first team; they simply feel like distinct roles. In addition, a football team won’t try to sign Gareth Batty and expect that his qualities will translate to the game. They consequently consider coaches who have had success at somewhat smaller clubs.
And if you’re Chelsea, you run into difficulties there because there aren’t many clubs that are marginally smaller than you. If you look to someone from a club of a similar size, you are likely to see someone who has failed in other endeavors. Or, given the Premier League’s affluence, you may be searching abroad, in which case there will always be a concern about acclimating to the English top division. Or perhaps you’re scanning the Premier League standings, and you’re always left wondering if the manager is up to the task.
Graham Potter did outstanding work in Brighton, Swansea, and surrounding. He has demonstrated his intelligence and adaptability both emotionally and tactically. Although it is worth noting that Brendan Rodgers would have been the obvious choice had Thomas Tuchel been fired at the end of last season rather than the start of this one, it does not lessen his accomplishments. He was fortunate that the Chelsea opportunity presented itself a month into this season when Brighton was in fourth place after four wins in their first six games.
But now that Potter has only won once in his last eight Premier League games (and Chelsea wasn’t particularly impressive in the three games prior to that, even though they were all wins), the question is unavoidable, “Can he hack it with a superclub?” This is because Potter has never worked at this level before, and he has never handled this level of the player before.
He might be able to, or he might not. The loss to Manchester City on Thursday had some advantages. On the run, Chelsea did pose a threat. If Carney Chukwuemeka’s shot had bounced just inside the post rather than against it, or if John Stones had not timed his challenge on Christian Pulisic so precisely in the first half, the outcome of the match would have been different. Late on, they did put City under pressure. However, there was also a period early in the second half when City was clearly superior for 30 minutes.