Sport

Chelsea need to play the longer game with Graham Potter.

Graham Potter is a good manager. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is talking nonsense. No one was talking about his shortcomings and not knowing what his best line-up is when he went nine games unbeaten from taking over. That run included two deeply impressive wins over AC Milan with a 5-0 aggregate score line and qualification for the knockout stage of the Champions League. What was clear from the very start was that the new ownership were planning to go about things in a very different way to Roman Abramovich. A lot was made of the fact that coaches at other sports teams owned by Todd Boehly and others were nearing a decade in their posts. We hoped that a similar attitude and approach might be brought to Chelsea. Of course, we as fans hoped that that meant Thomas Tuchel would be given time and space to further develop the team that he had already taken to European and World Cup glory. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Tensions came up in the summer, the results weren’t brilliant and the board decided that they needed their own man in charge. I wrote a whole piece about my feelings on Thomas Tuchel leaving Chelsea so I’m not going to re-tread that ground here.

The clearest indicator to me that Graham Potter will be given time, space and money to implement his playing style with the players he and the recruitment team bring in, is that he was appointed on a five-year deal. Graham Potter is the first manager since Jose Mourinho returned in 2013 to sign an initial deal longer than three years. Clearly, they are prepared to give Potter the time to bed in with his methodology and ideas. For one thing, it would cost an absolute arm and a leg to sack him, and they are clearly intent on moving away from the old model of massive amounts of effectively subsided debt. Chelsea owed Roman Abramovich somewhere in the region of £1.5 billion by the time he put the club up for sale. That is how an awful lot of top clubs in European football are run. They don’t make profit. They make a huge amount of money. They do not make profit. Barcelona is the biggest example of that. This is one of the biggest clubs in the world. Followed by fans from every corner of the globe. This is a team that generated almost €750 million in the 2018-19 season. And they still didn’t turn a profit that year. And these days, they are having constantly tiptoe around their over €1 billion debt. Chelsea’s new owners are almost definitely aware of this fact, and are already looking at ways to maximise current income streams and create new ones.

But apart from the length of Potter’s contract, there is also the fact that the recruitment team is now largely in place for the upcoming transfer windows. This was something heavily emphasised when the Boehly-Clearlake consortium took over the club. That their player recruitment was going to be far more data-driven and far more in the style of the success seen by the likes of Liverpool. Of course, that meant bringing in the right people to run that side of operations. From the reporting, Graham Potter is far more comfortable working in that framework than Tuchel appeared to be. And I think the example of what Liverpool have achieved with Jurgen Klopp can be seen again. Klopp arrived at Anfield in the October of 2015, but didn’t win a trophy until the Champions League win of 2019, two-and-a-half years later. That time was taken up with improving their league performance, and bringing the players in to play Klopp’s style of football effectively. Once all the pieces were in place, Liverpool became one of the two best teams in the country. Not only have they won both domestic cups, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup since that Champions League win in 2019, they also broke Liverpool’s 30-year drought of a top division title. They have also reached two Champions League finals where they finished runners-up, a league cup final which they lost to Manchester City in Klopp’s very first season, and a Europa League final, again in Klopp’s first season. Add to that the fact that they have twice finished runners-up in the Premier League while scoring more points than most of Chelsea’s title wins in both of those seasons.

 By giving Klopp the time to implement his ideas and really mould the identity of the club around him and his principles, Liverpool set themselves up for half a decade of sustained at the very top of the domestic and European game. Klopp is set to remain in charge for the foreseeable future, so Liverpool look like they will be maintaining their place in the upper echelons of modern football. And that is where Chelsea want to get to. But to do that, they need to keep faith in one manager. As a Chelsea fan, I’m rather tired of the days of constant upheaval and managerial change. I want to see a distinctive style and identity be forged for the club. And I hope that Graham Potter is the man to do it. It was a gamble appointing him, but his work in his career so far showed it was a gamble worth taking. And even if it doesn’t work out and the board decide to remove Potter, my hope is that they continue to look for people who can forge the Chelsea way.

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