Friday 23 August 2019

Seagulls take chance with new top-tier debutant but Potter ticks all the right boxes

Graham Potter earned favourable reviews at Swansea for his side’s slick style of play. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Graham Potter earned favourable reviews at Swansea for his side’s slick style of play. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Paul Hayward

People say they want a meritocracy and chances for English coaches, but when Graham Potter steps into the Premier League some sceptics question his right to be there and make him 8/1 third-favourite to be the next top-flight manager sacked.

Potter arrives from the real world of the 92-club pyramid and successful spells at Ostersunds in Sweden and Swansea City, from where Brighton & Hove Albion hired him to replace Chris Hughton, but clearly has some convincing to do.

It could hardly be otherwise for a coach making his top-tier debut with a club who narrowly avoided relegation in May, yet there is nothing in Potter's work to suggest calamity awaits a side which was in trouble anyway when the 2018-19 season ended.

The reflexive pessimism reflects the Premier League's obsession with "big-name" hires.

Brighton's gamble of course was to abandon Hughton's organisational skills in favour of a more "adventurous" approach.

Modesty and self-assurance are two of Potter's obvious attributes. He also knows he has joined a club which came a long way quickly.

He says he found "a really good club, good people, a really positive foundation. Two years of staying in the Premier League and the promotion - a good job that Chris did.

"The players have been open-minded and receptive to a new voice and a different voice. A hard-working bunch of players, I would say."

Potter played for 11 clubs across England, worked in football development at Hull and Leeds universities, and earned a masters degree in leadership and emotional intelligence. He then raised Ostersunds from the fourth-tier of Swedish football to knock Galatasaray out of the Europa League and beat Arsenal in London last year.

A one-year stay at Swansea with his regular team of Billy Reid (assistant) and Kyle Macauley earned favourable reviews for the team's slick style of play and placed him in the frame for Hughton's job.

Try as you might to scare him with the prospect of Manchester City and Liverpool walking through his door, Potter is secure in himself and sure of his body of work without denying that he is in a new world now.

He says: "I suppose it's 14 years of experience (since he stopped playing), 14 years of making mistakes, 14 years of failing and going again, failing and going again - just like normal.

"My career has been perfect for me, personally. I wouldn't say it was perfect for everybody. I needed to learn to be a coach initially.

"I think if I'd gone into professional football management when I stopped playing when I was 30 years old, I'd have failed because I'd have made too many mistakes because I had no real idea at that time."

But a squad who survived by two points and scored 35 times in 38 games needed revamping and Potter will be under pressure to draw more from expensive recent signings such as Jurgen Locadia, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jose Izquierdo, assuming they all stay.

Anthony Knockaert, one of the heroes of Brighton's promotion push in 2017, has moved to Fulham and there is concern that Leicester will pursue Lewis Dunk to replace Harry Maguire. Glenn Murray, the No 1 striker, will be 36 in September.

Abolishing comfort zones and improving players is one of Potter's strengths.

"They're human beings before they're footballers and it's important to understand - how can I help them.

"What do they need? How can they feel part of this. How can they feel they're improving in their career, because my job is to help them get better, play better, whatever it is.

"That was my rationale when I started out, not to win football games," Potter added.

Brighton's hardcore of Matthew Ryan, Dunk, Shane Duffy, Dale Stephens and Murray would not relish a third season of struggle so Potter needs to take the pressure off them either through recruitment or attacking more.

"It's that balance between attack and defence we've got to get right," he says. "Something has been very right here for us to still be a Premier League club. That's not so easy to do. My job is to take that foundation and try to improve and build."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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