Graham Potter’s journey from footballer to manager is not a new story, but his route to the top is far from conventional.
The England manager has taken the final step in his career – and the biggest yet – when he left Brighton to succeed Thomas Tuchel as the new head coach of Premier League giants Chelsea.
Potter has received many accolades for the job he has done in three years with the Seagulls – with Jurgen Klopp among his biggest admirers.
Prior to his exit, he had led Brighton to fourth in the Premier League, with wins over Manchester United and a 5-2 thrashing of Leicester this season.
Potter had been tipped as the future England manager if Gareth Southgate were to leave after the World Cup.
Yet Chelsea have now decided to make sure Potter is unavailable and he already has club icon John Terry’s seal of approval.
Like Terry, Potter was a former England Under-21 and Premier League defender who joined Southampton in 1996.
But that’s where the similarities between the two end, as Potter found himself plying his trade at League Two York City four years later.
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The former left-back ended his professional playing career with Macclesfield Town aged just 30 after making over 300 league outings.
Potter first turned to coaching in the ninth tier of English football while studying first at the University of Hull and later at Leeds Metropolitan.
He told The Athletic: “The crowds were a handful, maybe 100-200 if you were lucky. It was always competitive; men’s teams from Yorkshire wanting to beat the students. Those were good times, good guys.
“It was an environment where you could make mistakes, which I did, but it was a pretty safe learning environment, a brilliant time for me.”
A short stint as Ghana’s technical director for the 2007 Women’s World Cup final followed before moving to Sweden as a coach at fourth division club Ostersunds FK in 2011.
Potter told the Mail: “There was a real negative environment around me when I arrived. There was a kind of mistrust from the public. They didn’t like the club too much.
During his seven years at the club, Potter transformed Ostersunds, overseeing three promotions to reach the pinnacle of Swedish football.
He also led their first major trophy in 2017 [the Svenska Cupen] to qualify for the Europa League – where a remarkable run of 14 matches to the last 32 was finally snapped by Arsenal.
During his tenure, Ostersunds recruited local artist Karin Wahlen to help develop a “culture academy” to challenge players outside of football and help them grow.
The most famous examples include the organization of an art exhibition and the staging of a version of the ballet “Le Lac des cygnes”.
Potter explained, “It’s certainly not something that’s met with universal excitement when, say, it’s announced at the start of preseason that we’re going to dance on Swan Lake.
“But it’s a process. You see the players adapt. Often they surprise themselves.
Potter brought a number of things with him when he returned to English football – first for a season at the aptly named Swansea City, then Brighton – but understood that the ballet methods that worked in Sweden might not pan out. translate to the Premier League.
He explained to the Telegraph: “The mistake would be to just copy this here as it would be a cut and paste job.
“It was about removing the hierarchy that sometimes exists in football, removing the barriers that sometimes exist about fear of being yourself, of being open, of being honest and vulnerable.
“It was a fantastic tool, but you don’t necessarily have to do that to remove those things. You can do it in other ways.
Potter has publicly admitted that Pep Guardiola has been one of the biggest influences on the way he likes his teams to play football.
“It’s a constant journey,” he revealed to Athletic. “The teams that had control of the ball seemed to be the ones I didn’t like playing against.
“I witnessed Guardiola’s team at Barcelona when I was a young manager, I tried to see how he mastered it; his path was quite influential in terms of how he affected football with her thought.
One of Tuchel’s downfalls at Chelsea was his players’ unhappiness with his tactics – the German changing formation three times in the 1-0 loss to Dinamo Zagreb, one of which forced Raheem Sterling into midfield of central ground.
One of Potter’s strengths, on the other hand, is the flexibility of the system, with former Barcelona star Henrik Larsson being one of the first casualties when his Helsingborg side lost 2-0 to Ostersund.
“The way he’s able to change his game pattern during games is so impressive,” Larsson told the Independent. “I remember spotting them when I was in Helsingborg.
“They played all types of systems, starting a game one way, then halfway through they started playing on a different system, then they ended up with a third system. And all the players knew exactly what they were doing.
Building from the back, mobile forwards and a skill to develop young players are all major elements of Potter’s philosophy.
Chelsea has now offered Potter the stage to show off his skills – it’s time for the man himself to deliver…