Chelsea spent a record £270m on players this summer, but it slipped through the fingers of the new owners that helped them land new manager Graham Potter.
Speaking about Manchester City defender Nathan Ake, who ended up staying with the Premier League champions, chairman Todd Boehly warned of the talent of the Solihull-born Brighton boss, who was represented by the same agency.
He was part of a deep dive into English football, learning about all aspects of the game from sporting directors to defenders, midfielders and forwards.
They seemed to like what they heard about Potter: a risk-taker, someone who had worked in other countries, a degree in social science and a master’s in emotional intelligence, and someone who would fit their principles as an innovator.
So when former manager Thomas Tuchel began to withdraw from transfer dealings and communication began to break down as 100 days of new ownership approached, Ostersunds and former Swansea bosses found themselves drawn in.
It’s a big step forward for Potter, who revealed in his first press conference before Chelsea’s game with RB Salzburg on Wednesday that he hadn’t watched a Champions League game.
And there are many problems to solve, not the least of which is shaping a team on its own now that the transfer window is closed.
But his star has risen since joining Swedish side Ostersunds in 2011, and many in the know believe he can rise to the challenge.
Convincing the player that he is the right man
Potter is very big on getting the culture right in a club.
“My starting point would always be the player first,” he said in his first Chelsea interview this week.
However, player power has often led to high managerial turnover at Stamford Bridge. One of the reasons for Tuchel’s departure was that he lost the confidence of the dressing room, and Chelsea’s Champions League players may have to convince him that Potter has three years’ experience in the Premier League at Brighton.
Having previously traveled from university football coaching to Ostersunds and then Swansea and Brighton, he departs from Chelsea’s usual approach where trophy-laden foreign managers such as Jose Mourinho or Carlo Ancelotti fit the bill.
His strength, however, is his leadership experience and ability to create a successful locker room culture, according to those who have worked with him. After taking Ostersunds from the fourth division to the top of Swedish football, he got the players and staff to perform in concerts in front of the local crowd.
“You’re only a footballer for two hours a day,” Potter told BBC Sport ahead of Ostersunds’ Europa League win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in 2018. “Then you are someone’s husband, friend or brother, so we have a responsibility to also develop the person.”
According to former Brighton striker Glenn Murray, “players are more open to managers who have not been successful as football players”. That view is echoed by ex-Seagull and now Newcastle defender Dan Burn, who believes a young Chelsea squad will be open to his ideas after Brighton finished a record ninth in the Premier League last season.
“It was different for us in Brighton because we didn’t see Swansea or Ostersunds playing a lot,” Burn told Monday Night Club on BBC Radio 5 Live. “But with Chelsea they’ve seen what happened at Brighton with that group of players and the way they played against them.
“He has less to convince there, the Chelsea players will think: ‘Wow he has done with those players, imagine what he can do with us’.”
Burn added: “When he talks to people, it’s not always about football, it’s about connecting with the player on a personal level and that can make a big difference early on.”
Getting the most out of the team
While there are many who believe Potter has been a good appointment, there are questions about the timing.
Tuchel’s sacking came after 100 days of new ownership, which many fans felt was harsh. More puzzling was why they waited until after the transfer window closed, meaning Potter has to work with a team that hasn’t had any signings.
Senior Chelsea sources believe the signings – including Marc Cucurella, Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly, Raheem Sterling and former Brighton left-back Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – are the right fit for the club based on sound data and the club’s established scouting system.
But it will be fascinating to see how Potter, an impressive tactician, adapts. It helps that he prefers to play in a 3-4-2-1 formation, which Tuchel also liked.
Burn, who moved from centre-back to wide centre-back and also a wing-back under Potter, says his former manager’s tactical flexibility is an asset.
“I never went on the field without knowing my job to the letter,” Burn added. “But it was fluid, we changed it into a back three or a back four, and it could change three or four times in a game. I’ve played against Brighton a few times now, and it’s hard to guess the team.”
Burn admits he initially struggled with Potter’s tendency to change the team to suit the opponent rather than basing it on whether he was winning. “But if you were out for a game, you knew you were going to play in two or three games, so the disappointment wouldn’t be strong.
“Manchester City and Liverpool do it, and Chelsea will do it because of the number of games they have.”
It will certainly contribute to the harmony of the locker room as well.
Building a legacy
For new owners, success comes from longevity. They believe Potter has the credentials to build a legacy like Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, as well as being the general manager of Boehly’s other team – American baseball’s LA Dodgers.
It’s a daunting task for Potter, who has been given a five-year contract and admits taking the job is a risk worth taking. But he says: “The way to convince people is to win”.
The new owners’ target this season is the top four, but, unlike with previous owner Roman Abramovich, failure to do so does not mean Potter’s sacking.
Other guarantees have been offered to Potter, such as participating in the appointment of a new sporting director before the World Cup in November.
Senior sources believe Potter has shown he can do more with less and has now been handed a golden opportunity to help reshape the club.
Murray says that with the changed philosophy of football at Brighton, Potter’s task may be easier at Chelsea, as the players want to play attacking football and win trophies.
He said, “It’s going to take a year or two, but do you want to top 10 or win one every now and then?”
After the bans and the transfer, it has been a tough six months at Chelsea. But Potter says he’s excited about what lies ahead.
He said: “The challenge is completely different from what I have had, but I thank the owners who have put their trust and faith in me. We want to create our own history and our own way.”