Sacking Thomas Tuchel doesn’t scream ‘same old Chelsea’ as brave Todd Boehly opts for modest, low-profile Graham Potter
WHEN Thomas Tuchel was brutally sacked on Wednesday, the temptation was to shrug your shoulders and say: “New owner, same old Chelsea”.
After all Todd Boehly, the frontman for the Blues’ new ownership, had just sanctioned a record £259.1MILLION summer transfer spend, only to axe a popular manager six days after the window shut.
But while that sacking came straight out of the Roman Abramovich playbook, Boehly’s decisive approach for Brighton boss Graham Potter was a major departure.
Potter is a modest, low-profile, over-achieving British boss, quite unlike any manager appointed by Chelsea over the previous 20 years — or by any of the Premier League’s “Big Six” in the best part of a decade.
So his imminent appointment is an intriguing one.
Of course, we still had to stifle giggles at reports of Chelsea selling Potter the idea of a “long-term project”.
Especially given that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a 33-year-old loose cannon, had just been bought from Barcelona on the say-so of his old Borussia Dortmund boss Tuchel — only to see him sacked after 59 minutes of football for his new club.
Boehly is a very different owner to Abramovich — a hands-on, front-of-house, limelight-hogger.
He is also a Hollywood type, in thrall to celebrity.
We know that the American hoped to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, 37, when the ageing Galactico wanted out of Manchester United this summer, but was given short shrift by Tuchel.
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So perhaps the idea of a “long-term project”, is just the latest short-lived idea to have occurred to Boehly.
There was much amusement at the briefings, in the immediate aftermath of Tuchel’s exit, that Chelsea had drawn up a three-man shortlist, which included Potter, Mauricio Pochettino and Zinedine Zidane.
This seemed to sum up Boehly’s scattergun approach to running the club: “So, the sort of manager we want is a former Football League left-back, who’s worked his way up through the Swedish lower leagues and done brilliantly on a low budget at Brighton.
“Either that or one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen, who’s won three European Cups but never managed anyone other than Real Madrid. So, yeah, that’s the kind of profile we’ve narrowed it down to.”
Yet Potter was clearly the No 1 choice on that shortlist.
He has enjoyed sustained success in sensible, stable environments at Swedish club Ostersunds and at Brighton, either side of a single season with Swansea City.
But he is now going to the most wildly unstable club on the planet.
A brief summary of Chelsea Football Club since 2010 says it all — from winning the Double, to meltdown, to winning the Champions League, to meltdown, to winning the Premier League, to complete and utter meltdown, to winning the Premier League, to meltdown…
From transfer embargo, to becoming European and world champions, to having an owner sanctioned for links to a land war in Europe, to a record summer transfer spend, to sacking the manager who chose those players.
So it is fair to say that Potter is heading into unfamiliar territory and it’s no surprise that when he met Chelsea on Wednesday afternoon, it was a case of Boehly having to sell the job to the Seagulls boss, rather than vice versa.
In the past decade, only one Englishman has been named as a “Big Six” boss — Frank Lampard.
But he was a very different kind of appointment to Potter — a club legend installed to reconnect the club with its roots and promote a talented group of youth players during a transfer embargo.
Potter is being appointed entirely on merit and deserves the step up.
Yet this appointment is high-risk for club and manager, not least because of the hefty compensation fee Chelsea will pay Brighton, on top of the vast pay-off for Tuchel and his staff.
At the Seagulls, Potter enjoyed the virtues of patience and modest expectations.
He was not an immediate success and, throughout his time at the Amex, was able to ride out some poor runs of form, especially at home, where they won just once in 14 matches between September and May last season.
The 47-year-old Brummie is entering a shark pool — where player power remains a greater factor than at any of England’s other major clubs and where owners, new to football, appear to be fumbling in the dark.
Potter does not have the charisma or fame to demand instant respect.
He will have to win over Chelsea’s players with the quality of his coaching and man-management.
It will be fascinating to see how he handles some big egos, especially Aubameyang who was stripped of the Arsenal captaincy and bombed out by Mikel Arteta.
Chelsea have shelled out £160m on the defensive trio of Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella, from Potter’s Brighton.
Yet they haven’t kept a clean sheet in six matches and conceded ten goals.
Potter must revive fortunes after a poor start in both the Premier League and the Champions League after Tuchel presided over successive away defeats at Southampton, Leeds and Dinamo Zagreb.
Yet however humble and sensible Potter is, he remains ambitious.
Had he turned down the chance to manage Chelsea, other major clubs may have shied away.
And Boehly’s Blues, for all the early chaos, does not feel like the “same old Chelsea” of the Abramovich era.
The decision to go for Potter suggests it. And if Boehly sticks with his idea of a “long-term project”, then we will know as much.
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