Analysis, feature pieces

Graham Potter was doomed at Chelsea from Day 1, but poisoned chalice moves on

Graham Potter, Manager of Chelsea, reacts during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge on April 01, 2023 in...

Graham Potter was always going to find himself under intense scrutiny after succeeding Thomas Tuchel last September, and has barely lasted seven months in charge. The managerial merry-go-round has returned once more in west London, where club legend Frank Lampard will this week take interim charge while a host of free agent big names are linked for the summer months.

Potter the latest victim of Blues’ scattergun approach

Chelsea Head Coach Graham Potter celebrates with Fofana and Ben Chilwell of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 leg two match...
Potter in happier times – just last month after their UCL win vs. Dortmund

There was a sense of inevitability to the news that arrived, around 8pm on Sunday evening, that Chelsea and Graham Potter had agreed to part ways.

The 47-year-old from Solihull, was out of his depth and couldn’t manage an overflowing squad packed with inflated egos according to some.

With 12 defeats across all competitions in his 31-match tenure, it’s easy to forget they went on a nine-match unbeaten run at the very beginning and many were waxing lyrical about the unorthodox tactical tweaks he was making.

Jorginho conceded the players were to blame for Tuchel’s sacking with the season barely a month old and the midfielder has since joined Premier League leaders Arsenal, in a £10m deadline day move where the jury is still out.

Arsenal's Bukayo Saka celebrates with Jorginho following the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham. Picture date: Saturday February 18, 2023.

His late strike against Aston Villa, who ironically hit the final nail in the coffin for Potter’s tenure with a 2-0 win on Saturday night, may age beautifully come May 28.

Thing about Jorginho’s former club is, they’ve spent obscene amounts of money on players who didn’t fit Potter’s playing style and were presumably given promises about first-team football upon joining.

Having scored less league goals (29) this term than Leeds (38) and Leicester (40), both sides attempting to avoid relegation, it’s no wonder they find themselves in the bottom half on 39 points from 29 matches.

Kai Havertz, their top scorer this season on nine goals, has seven in the league but missed more big chances (13) than all but four players: Erling Haaland (20), Darwin Nunes (17), Ivan Toney and Ollie Watkins (both 15).

Havertz, at his best, is an attacking midfielder with a No. 9 to play off in the final third – Romelu Lukaku remains on-loan at Inter, while panic buy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was frozen out before sustaining a back injury last month.

£10.6m signing David Datro Fofana meanwhile, has been relegated to the U21s despite an impactful cameo at home against Southampton on Feb. 18 – another painful defeat against weaker opposition under Potter’s short-lived reign.

Reece James and David Fofana of Chelsea during a training session at Chelsea Training Ground on February 21, 2023 in Cobham, England.
Reece James and David Datro Fofana duel during a training session, back in February

Overloaded with wingers and creative players not known for their finishing, as well as shiny new acquisitions that need regular minutes to develop, gave Potter a series of problems to contend with. How could he realistically maintain order?

January signing Mykhaylo Mudryk missed two big chances in the Villa defeat, having signed from Shakthar Donetsk for €70m (£62m) with €30m (£26.5m) in add-ons.

Given Arsenal’s well-documented pursuit of the player and how quickly Chelsea pounced on the situation, Potter wouldn’t have had much say in that transfer.

Even still, he would’ve felt obliged to play him – though it’s painfully obvious the Ukrainian winger has struggled since the big-money switch. He’s not the only one enduring teething problems, but the transfer fee has weighed heavy.

England U21s winger Noni Madueke has seldom played since a £30m move from PSV Eindhoven this past winter, while loan signing Joao Felix has shown flashes of brilliance but largely flattered to deceive since departing Atletico in January.

£106.8m midfielder Enzo Fernandez is one of few blameless individuals during this slump, while injuries also played a factor: N’Golo Kante has only just returned, while Reece James (knee) and Raheem Sterling (hamstring) have been sidelined too.

All of this is listed to emphasise the difficulty of the job at Potter’s feet. While he’ll be quickly forgotten at Chelsea, any decision-maker worth their salt would’ve done their due dilligence to avoid reported surprise about his idiosyncrasies or playstyle.

He was a victim of his own success at Brighton, something Roberto de Zerbi has cranked up even higher since taking the job, and needs the sort of patience the Blues – even under new ownership – were never going to give him once things got sticky.

“It’s bad news for the coaches because I think you give too much importance to them, the players are always most important.

I don’t like when the coaches are sacked because the responsibility is not only of the coaches – [it is also] the players, the club.

In Italy we are used to changing a lot of coaches every season, in the Premier League it’s different but I think it’s also changing. Coaches are not so important like people think – when you win and lose.

They can give the players mentality, ideas, a style of play, but if you speak about results you can achieve them with the quality of players and not only the quality of the coaches.”

Frank Lampard will take interim charge until late May, with an extensive interview process expected to decide the permanent boss this summer. Julian Nagelsmann, Luis Enrique and any other top managers linked would be wise to take heed.

Picture source: Getty Images