Football Features

Everything Brighton fans need to know about Graham Potter

By Ben Green

Published: 16:20, 20 May 2019

After four-and-a-half years at the Brighton helm Chris Hughton was sacked earlier this month – and the search for his successor has since concluded with the recruitment of Graham Potter. 

Despite helping to retain the Seagulls’ top-flight status, chairman Tony Bloom decided to wield the axe, citing a poor second half of this season as reason for Hughton’s dismissal.

An underwhelming 11 points from a possible 54 were taken by Brighton in 2019, which ultimately left the club teetering on the brink of relegation, before Hughton managed to haul them to safety.

As such, there was a carnival atmosphere at the Amex on the final match of the season, and not just from Man City fans, but also from supporters of the South Coast club, as they could sit back and enjoy the final-day drama in comfort, knowing they will be part of the madness next season.

Unfortunately, Hughton will not be part of that journey, but one man who will be, is former Swansea City manager Graham Potter, who joined the club on Monday after Bloom triggered his release clause to bring him to the top-flight.

Despite overseeing a 10th-place finish in the Championship, Potter has garnered many admiring glances for his footballing philosophy and meticulous nature – and so, with that in mind here is everything any Brighton fan needs to know about the English tactician.

Where has Graham Potter been?

After hanging up his boots in 2005, having predominantly plied his trade in the lower reaches of the English game, Potter became a football development coach at various universities in the United Kingdom.

His ingenuity and self-determination eventually landed him a job at then-fourth tier Swedish side Ostersunds FK in 2010, after a former assistant to Roberto Martinez at Swansea City recommended him to the club’s chairman.

Ostersunds FK were in dire straits upon the arrival of Potter, but in 2013, after two successive promotions, the club made it to the Superettan (the Swedish second division), before ultimately reaching the top-flight in 2016.

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This was the first time in the club’s history they would be playing in the Allsvenskan, but Potter was certainly not just there to make up the numbers as he masterminded Europa League qualification after winning the Svenska Cupen in 2017.

And it was here where Potter’s reputation accelerated tenfold and the English media began to pay attention to the former Southampton full-back, as his side beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates last term in the round-of-32, though they would ultimately lose the tiebreaker 4-2 on aggregate.

Despite elimination, Potter’s serene progress across eight years at the Jamtkraft Arena fostered a move to Swansea City last summer, and the 43-year-old has just overseen a mid-table finish during his maiden – and only – campaign in the Liberty Stadium dugout.

Potter’s approach 

Known for his innovation, methodical approach and man-management skills, Potter is a coach who emphasises the need for camaraderie amongst his players and a togetherness in his squad – creating a tight-knit group is essential to his teaching methods.

In football writer Ben Lyttelton’s book Edge, he explains how Potter’s first move of action at Ostersunds was to eradicate finger-pointing and create an atmosphere of unity.

“Potter tried to create a new environment, one that recognised potential and was built on trust and mutual support. No more blame culture.”

Ben Lyttelton, Edge

Potter himself has highlighted the importance of building relationships and understanding the human psyche, as he talked about the five pillars of leadership in The Coaches Voice: “Self-awareness. Empathy. Responsibility. Motivation. Relationship-building”.

These aspects of man-management have helped Potter forge his coaching blue-print, and many have even likened his outlook to the game as similar to that of Pep Guardiola.

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Positive relationships with players, an aesthetically pleasing brand of football, an ability to nurture young talent, and key motivational skills have drawn widespread comparisons with the Catalan coach.

Earlier this season, former Manchester City player and current Swan, Bersant Celina, likened his former boss to the City coach: “Potter wants to play similar football [to Guardiola] and that’s the reason I’m here.”

And so, similar to Guardiola at Barcelona, when the student of the esteemed Johan Cruyff once utilised La Masia to improve his squad, Potter made similar inroads in South Wales.

The young Welsh trident of Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts and Daniel James have all made the step up to first-team action, with James, in particular, flourishing under the tutelage of Potter, while the likes of Oli McBurnie and Matt Grimes have also been afforded plenty of action in the starting XI.

Style of play

Potter has predominantly deployed either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 this season, but has not been averse to utilising a three-at-the-back system which thrived during his tenure in Ostersunds.

Using floated full-backs, Potter has served up feasts of attacking football this campaign, but consistency has been the club’s main problem, though many will point to the fluctuations in his squad as the main reason for this.

It was a season of huge change at the Liberty Stadium, with Potter overseeing an overhaul in the summer, and a mass refurbishment during the winter transfer window.

In total 33 players parted company with Swansea, either last summer or in January. The club managed to shed most of – what the Swansea faithful would most likely consider – the deadwood, as well as one or two mercenaries.

As such, the aforementioned youngsters stepped into the equation, with Potter providing the fledgling footballers a platform to showcase their worths and hone their crafts.

James has been the fulcrum of that success story this season – leading to a potential switch to Manchester United – while Roberts has been indispensable at right-back, and McBurnie clinical in front of goal.

But there is a reason Potter has been compared to Guardiola beyond their shared footballing ideology: style of play. The Swansea coach, like Guardiola, embraces an attacking style of play.

He has referred to this approach as an “identity”, as explains the reason Swansea were relegated from the Premier League was because they strayed away from the club’s attacking ethos – one that was implemented during the years of Brendan Rodgers and later Michael Laudrup.

“You can start to see why you lose the identity in the Premier League and why coaches say: ‘It doesn’t matter. We just need to win.’ And in the most competitive league, if as a club you have that [mindset] and you’re Swansea City, I think you’re on the path to [gestures downward].”

– Potter speaking to The Guardian on style of play

With Hughton largely criticised this season for his defensive approach, notably against Tottenham Hotspur last month, a man of Potter’s attacking mentality and passing approach, will bring a fresh impetus to the club, though Swansea legend Alan Curtis recently stressed the importance of keeping Potter in Wales – his pleas now appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The crucial thing at the moment is that we have to keep Graham,” Curtis told BBC Sport Wales.

“He has brought things out of the players and a style that maybe they didn’t think they had.

“If Graham stays, it’s such a young, exciting team that is only going to get better.

“He has certainly improved them as players. I think he is the big key to what we are going to look at next season.”

Well, now that Brighton have their hands on this up-and-coming technocrat, they may have just pulled of a coup, as the club now have a manager in their dugout that many see as English football’s equivalent to Pep Guardiola.