It’s Called a Process – The Graham Potter “Debate”
“Trust the process”! Anybody affiliated with American sports, most particularly the NBA will know this quote. It’s the words of Sam Hinkie, General Manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in 2015 when the team was losing pretty much on purpose in order to acquire enough draft capital to eventually become a powerhouse. This “Process” takes time and when something’s been neglected for so long it’ll require patience and a lot of negativity before “The Sun shines”. Nevertheless, football is completely different and we need to take a deep dive into Chelsea, Graham Potter and where exactly the Blues sit right now and how it came about to realise what this quote truly means for them as a whole.
To start off, we need to back further a little bit. A couple of months ago I pretty much touched upon the same things in a different article related to the previous Chelsea manager – Thomas Tuchel. At the time, Tuchel was under some pressure but the circumstances were different and at the time patience and understanding was needed and the German received just that at least from a majority of the fanbase.
He had to deal with a takeover caused by the Russia-Ukraine war which, with Chelsea being owned by a Russian oligarch, was the subject of numerous debates and attacks in the media [which the club really had nothing to do with] ultimately leading to Roman Abramovich stepping down. An era came to an end. One that nobody expected, not least in the way it occurred.
To add to that, Tuchel was hit with a number of injuries throughout the season, most notably to key players such as Reece James, N’Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell which were key to his formation and philosophy. [keep these in mind, we’ll come back to these words later] Romelu Lukaku also didn’t help with the whole interview debacle but the side eventually finished the season into the top 4 and ushered in a new era – The Todd Boehly Era.
When this new era kicked off in the summer, Chelsea still seemed like one of Europe’s finest teams after finishing third in the Premier League, losing to Liverpool on penalties after drawing 0-0 in the FA Cup and EFL Cup Finals, and losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals. Having just won the CL last year and the past season’s poor form coming down to injuries and this whole external “crisis” people quickly jumped the gun to state that the team was ready for things they weren’t. That just wasn’t true.
The Blues have been needing a massive rebuild for quite some time now both in the squad and higher-up and while Todd Boehly and company started work on both it was bound to be a longer project which seemed a struggle for all involved. Everybody knows how things went down so we don’t need to delve too much into it but all we can say is that unfortunately Thomas Tuchel’s desire for short-term success and his reluctance of being involved in a setup resembling that of Liverpool under Michael Edwards-Jurgen Klopp or even Newcastle with Dan Ashworth and Eddie Howe ultimately proved his wrong-doing.
This is not to pin the blame solely on the German, far from it. He’s arguably one of the best managers to ever touch Chelsea both tactically and mentally and has engraved his name into Blues’ folklore with that night in Porto on the 29th of May, 2021. However, reports later resurfaced of his lack of desire to change and be a part of said process that would usher in a new way of thinking and working at the club, as he ultimately became a victim of the ownership’s “modern vision”.
The owners wanted to reshape the club differently changing the Recruitment and Analytics departments, Board members and everything from top to bottom and to someone who enjoyed the previous regime that just wouldn’t suffice ultimately resulting in the German leaving the club, for better or worse, it’s yet to be determined. To fill the void, they hired Graham Potter on September 8, paying Brighton Hove & Albion £16m for Potter and an additional £5.5m to £6.5m in compensation for his backroom staff.
A relatively young, English manager who had slowly and steadily rebuilt Brighton from their days with Chris Hughton whilst working in a similar setup to the one mentioned above. The Seagulls using analytics, data, smart recruitment coupled with Potter’s tactical nouse and good coaching managed to stabilise themselves in the Premier League and eventually become a very good squad capable of going toe-to-toe with the best clubs in the league on their day.
Many point out that his achievements aren’t amazing and yes, on paper 9th place with Brighton isn’t something that screams Chelsea quality but this is exactly the short-term thinking that has placed the Blues where they are. Potter was recommended by a couple of well-respected DoFs in Club football that were consulted by Todd Boehly upon conducting research on an eventual replacement for Thomas Tuchel. He was linked with the Tottenham job due to the ongoing tension with Antonio Conte and was also a prime candidate for the England managerial position.
It goes to show just how far he had came having initially started off at Ostersund in 2010. It’s not really an article about managerial backgrounds so I’ll refrain from speaking on the Englishman’s achievements with the Swedes, Swansea or anything else. It’s more a point towards his constant development as a manager via his own ability coupled with the right setup. And said setup is where the conflict comes into play. As I mentioned, a lot of people knew where Chelsea sat and how the club has been on a downward spiral for years.
Some chose to ignore, others were very local about it but the fact of the matter is even Behdad Eghbali and co. stated they were “surprised” at the way the club had been run. The squad also badly needed a shake up. And while Tuchel was trusted with the start of said rebuild, Potter was rushed in to “save” a situation that has been long overdue, way before him, and he’s become the victim of negligence and lack of patience for a number of years.
Everybody is aware of Chelsea’s sacking policy beforehand. A lot of people referenced it for Boehly, when he ultimately took the decision to sack Tuchel due to the results deteriorating. The truth is this exact policy is the reason for the creation of this shortsightedness by fans ultimately blinded by trophies, big-name managers and big-money signings that papered over the cracks on a plethora of problems that the Blues had.
Ultimately it created a culture of fans [and likely people higher up] in love with winning at whatever the cost regardless of what it meant for the future and how it would affect the next manager or the next big player that chose to come to London even if the squad didn’t fit his strengths. It all fell under the mantle of “This is Chelsea’s heritage and winning mentality”. Goes to show that it’s not.
What do I mean by that? Simple. Graham Potter arrived to find a squad built by a number of different managers with various different philosophies, ideas, tactical ways and shapes. The side still has or had players from Antonio Conte’s era, Maurizio Sarri’s era, Frank Lampard’s era and Thomas Tuchel’s era. This problem led to Tuchel’s eventual downfall and it’s showing up as a problem for Potter as well. You only need to look at this summer where pretty much 200 million plus was invested into the first team under the view of the German’s preferences and how almost none of said players have managed to hit the ground running and have an impact.
To add salt to the wound numerous other issues persisted such as the lack of evident creativity and directness in the side, the lack of quality depth for key players such as Reece James and Mason Mount, the midfield area which Todd Boehly took it upon himself[judging by Matt Law’s article] to address as it wasn’t addressed for years and had been heavily reliant on an injury-prone N’Golo Kante and the up and down form of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic.
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All of these have carried on being a plague under Graham Potter as well so it’s no surprise that results or performances have barely changed from the start of the season. The problem occurs when people need to realise the fact that this is a “process”. And a “process” requires patience, takes time and will likely not be in the way that people imagined it but if executed correctly can lead to a much, much bigger success rate in the long run.
You only need to look at the Premier League for two of the very best examples of said patience and correctly executed philosophy. Liverpool started such a rebuilding job from pretty much scratch with Klopp. Through smart acquisitions [Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane] and financial muscle [Virgil van Dijk, Alisson] when needed they slowly but steadily built up a squad that won the Champions League and with a bit more luck would have another and one or two Premier League titles to their name.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Brighton, the club Chelsea poached Potter from. The Seagulls also use a lot of analytics, data and smart scouting in their recruitment. They don’t solely back the manager blindly on targets, but what they did is they formed a squad in a certain way that coincided with Potter’s philosophy alongside that of DoF Dan Ashworth [and his whole Recruitment and Analytics dept.] to create a different culture and results were quick to follow.
A lot of fans have pointed out Roberto De Zerbi’s success with the club post-Potter and how the side haven’t skipped a bit but ignore the fact that Brighton were already tailor-made for their good form to carry on having built a squad to both the physical and technical requirements of the Premier League. This isn’t to throw shade at De Zerbi’s ability, far from it but you can easily see why such a transition for him was easier having previously managed similar level [of technical quality] sides such as Shakhtar Donetsk and Sassuolo compared to Graham Potter who is struggling to implement his philosophy due to various different profiles, inconsistencies and issues that currently reside in this Chelsea XI [topped with numerous injury issues].
Now obviously this piece isn’t to keep arguing the case that the Englishman is the Messiah of managerial success and he’ll eventually be the reason Chelsea win the quadruple. No. Can he improve? Certainly. A lot of people have pointed out to him using the same players that have been the route of downfall for so many managers instead of bringing in young talent.
Young talent that Boehly and company invested money in as well. But truth be told, this is Chelsea and Chelsea is just a different bite and he still has to atone to the different characters and individuals in that dressing room as that was also an issue with Tuchel and a repeat of those same mistakes may end up costing him his job. The backing of the owners can only take you so far if you lose the dressing room, Tuchel found that out relatively quickly. Lampard did before him, as well.
However, despite what is said above now is the time for things to change. This plagued culture of short-term gain and lack of patience needs to stop. This is a squad filled with glaring holes that needs time to be moulded into something it currently can’t be. No manager would change that quickly enough, not least Graham Potter, despite him carrying the same name as J.K Rowling’s famous magical character.
Time needs to be given. Patience needs to be learned. It’ll be relatively long, it won’t be easy but at the end of the day being a fan you ultimately suffer the ups and downs that your football club will deliver for you. But for now, and in the words of Sam Hinkie, albeit not in the exact same context – “Trust the process”.
By: Peter Pankovski / @23Pankovski
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Darren Walsh / Chelsea FC