Graham Potter claims managing Chelsea is ‘hardest job in football’
- He says transition from Abramovich era is tough
- Potter had ‘honest’ meeting with four senior players
Graham Potter believes he has the hardest job in football at Chelsea owing to a combination of factors and compounded by an injury crisis.
The manager, who needs a positive result at Fulham on Thursday night after a run of one win in eight in the Premier League and exits from both domestic cups, talked about how expectation levels have remained high despite radical change across all areas of the club.
Potter held a meeting with four senior players on Tuesday – the captain, César Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic – and he knows that transition is almost a dirty word at Chelsea, excuses are irrelevant. All that Potter can do is find a way to absorb the criticism and justify the faith of the co-owners, Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, who appointed him last September after they sacked Thomas Tuchel. Boehly and Eghbali took over from Roman Abramovich at the end of May and have restructured the club, leading to the departures of Bruce Buck, Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech.
Potter will be without nine injured players against Fulham, although he could include João Félix, who has joined on loan from Atlético Madrid until the end of the season. Félix trained on Wednesday and Chelsea have submitted the relevant paperwork but his work permit hearing is not until Thursday.
“This club was run a certain way for 20 years and run really well,” Potter said of Abramovich’s time. “I have a lot of respect for the previous ownership and what they achieved. Unfortunately, they’re not here any more and you’ve lost all that leadership. Everything has changed pretty quickly. We have to build things up again.
“I understood that things would be difficult from a leadership perspective. It is a challenge, stimulating and ridiculously hard. I think it is probably the hardest job in football because of that leadership change and the expectations … because of, rightly, where people see Chelsea. I obviously didn’t think we’d lose 10 first-team players [to injury].
“I think it would be disrespectful almost to think ‘that’s gone’ and expect it to pick up with all the new staff, structures and people. At the same time, you’ve still got Chelsea with 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 … maybe we’re not there yet.
“In my head, it’s quite easy to understand and get. I know there’s 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 I’m to blame.”
Potter retains the support of Boehly and Eghbali, who are determined to stick with their appointment. The worry would be if the hardcore fans were to turn on Potter; they chanted the names of Tuchel and Abramovich during Sunday’s 4-0 FA Cup defeat at Manchester City.
“I’ve been in regular dialogue with the owners and they’ve been really supportive, fantastic,” Potter said. “We speak on a regular basis, two or three times a week.”
Potter reported that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would return to the squad at Fulham after a back complaint. But Christian Pulisic will be out for a “couple of months” with a knee injury, while the full extent of Raheem Sterling’s hamstring problem remains unclear. Also out are Édouard Mendy, Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Ben Chilwell, N’Golo Kanté, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Armando Broja.
“If we had those guys back, the picture changes,” Potter said. “I really believe that. I don’t think we’re as far away as we may think from the outside.”
Potter said he had spoken at length with Azpilicueta, Silva, Jorginho and Kovacic who “again showed their qualities as people”. He added: “They were honest, articulated their concerns well … their positivity, their responsibility. I think we are in a place where we can move forward.”
Potter has plenty of balancing acts to perform, not least between detailing his problems and making it clear that he is not looking for sympathy. In terms of the criticism, he must be aware of it but not affected by it. “My wife would say when I was at Östersund: ‘It doesn’t do you any good reading [negative] comments.’ And my ex-chairman said: ‘There’s no point arguing with stupid people because they’re stupid.’ I’m not saying anybody criticising me is stupid at all but you get my point.
“It affects your family. As much as you try to have balance and perspective, I am a human as well and it is a struggle. At the same time, you have to take responsibility. What am I going to do? Be the Chelsea manager and not expect pressure, trouble, challenge, stress?”
“I am not after pity,” Potter added. “I am really grateful and privileged to be here. How do you get through this tough period? Be really grateful for it. Because it is an unbelievable challenge. I mean, wow, what else could you be doing with your life? Worse.
“It is pain but then life can be more painful. Life can really kick you in the nuts and you have to recover from it, deal with it, move forward. That’s what makes life better … when it moves to a good place.”