Graham Potter calls Chelsea job ‘hardest in football’ as meetings are held with senior players
Graham Potter believes the role of Chelsea head coach is “probably the hardest job in football” due to the dramatic and significant change that has taken place across the club over since the Todd Boehly/Clearlake Capital takeover.
Things were very different at Stamford Bridge 12 months ago: Roman Abramovich was owner, Bruce Buck the chairman; director Marina Granovskaia handled the day-to-day running of Chelsea and was supported by technical and performance advisor Petr Cech. Thomas Tuchel was also the head coach – and a successful one at that. Each of that quintet – for wildly differing reasons – has since departed the club and a number of hires have been made by the new ownership group.
Potter is the most high profile; the 47-year- old arrived in September after an impressive stint at the helm of Premier League side Brighton. Potter has overseen 18 matches at Chelsea. There was a bright start and impressive results in the Champions League against AC Milan. However, amid a lengthening injury list, the Blues’ form has nosedived and they have won just two of their previous 10 matches in all competitions.
It is a run of results Potter accepts is not acceptable for a club of Chelsea’s stature. Yet he is not panicked nor entirely surprised given the overhaul that has taken place at a structural and hierarchical level since the club changed hands last May.
“Change is a challenge in any organisation,” Potter explained. “The changes at the club happened because of events outside of it and us. It’s not like there was a coup. This is what it is. We have to deal with the new and we have to build things up again because things have changed, things [and people] have left.
“That was part of the challenge to come here and I understood things would be difficult from a leadership perspective. It is challenging, stimulating, and ridiculously hard. I think it is probably the hardest job in football because of that leadership change and the expectation – because, rightly, of where people see Chelsea.
“I obviously didn’t think we’d lose 10 first-team players but that’s where we are at. All I can do is speak to you guys honestly, give my perspective and understand the criticism if you lose.”
Potter continued: “This club was run a certain way for 20 years and run really well. I have a lot of respect for the previous ownership and what they achieved. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, they’re not here anymore and the club lost all that leadership.
“It’s a new ownership and everything has changed pretty quickly. When you look at everything that’s happened in the last six to 12 months, it is an incredible amount. Sometimes that can manifest itself in different things and in different ways. It would almost be disrespectful to think once that’s gone, you should expect it to pick up with all the new staff, structures and people.
“Lots of things went and you have to try to build it up again. But at the same time, you’ve still got the demands and expectations – the reality of where the club is in terms of establishing itself as a well-run football club that functions well in a really competitive environment – and maybe we’re not there yet.
“In my head, I think that’s quite easy to understand and get. I know there are a lot of people that don’t see it that way. I am trying to explain but I also acknowledge that I am the head coach and when we lose that I’m to blame. They don’t really want to hear from me in terms of that perspective. They want to hear about a team and I get it.”
The frustration among supporters with Chelsea’s recent results and performances came to a head on Sunday afternoon against Manchester City in the FA Cup. With Potter’s side 3-0 down at the interval and with little chance of mounting a fightback, those in the stands chanted the names of both Abramovich and Tuchel.
“I understand when we’re not getting the results we want to get,” replied Potter when asked if he had a message for supporters ahead of tomorrow’s Premier League clash with Fulham. “I have the utmost respect for Thomas Tuchel, for sure, and what he achieved here in terms of winning the Champions League. So I can understand it.
“Again, what the previous ownership did was fantastic, what they have achieved. I have the utmost respect. I was asked to comment on them and about the model when I was at Brighton and I’ve always been very respectful and looked up to it. “But this is a new era, a new chapter. Yes, we’re going through some pain and it’s difficult at the moment. Obviously, I understand their frustration and I appreciate the support because there is support there. But I understand there is a bit of pain we have to go through as well.”
That pain has seen Chelsea exit both domestic cups and slump to 10th in the Premier League table. It is not good enough even with the caveat of an unprecedented injury crisis: the Blues are currently without Edouard Mendy, Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Ben Chilwell, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, N’Golo Kante, Raheem Sterling, Christian Pulisic and Armando Broja. Potter’s side has struggled to implement tactical game plans too often in recent outings.
It is something that needs to be corrected and the Blues head coach has held meetings with senior players Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic this week in an effect to end Chelsea’s poor form.
“The players are honest and they want to take responsibility,” he said. “They want to improve, they want to win. There is a lot there, in that respect, we are quite fortunate. But at the same time, we are in a tough moment and there are challenges that affect the players as well. “They are human beings. They are paid to do their jobs, but they are not robots. They are still affected by results and things that are happening in terms of the transition phase of the club. But I have been really impressed.
“I spoke at length yesterday [Tuesday] with Thiago, Azpi, Jorgi, Kova – we had a really good conversation. They again showed their qualities as people. They were honest and articulated their concerns well. They articulated their positivity, they articulated their responsibility, and I think we are in a place where we can move forward.”