Graham Potter’s flair attracts Todd Boehly but would he fit at Chelsea?

During his time taking Östersund from deadbeat minnows to serious Europa League competitors, Graham Potter famously displayed a penchant for the theatre. His team performed Swan Lake and then there was the occasion when, in front of 1,600 punters, Potter opened a charity gala by belting out the Jämtland regional anthem in a local dialect. The underlying idea was a serious one: conquering stage fright in the traditional sense might nurture similar resilience for the football pitch.

With that experience Potter might seem overqualified for the lead role in a pantomime. But once all the jokes about Chelsea’s ownership-proof propensity to hire and fire have been exhausted one thing is clear: they are deadly serious about luring the Brighton manager to Stamford Bridge and continuing one of the most unusual trajectories of anyone in the industry. Potter took over at Östersund, who had initially hesitated about employing him, almost 12 years ago when they were an irrelevance in Sweden’s fourth tier, and his rise resembles the kind of fairytale his amateur dramatists might have enacted.

The opportunity may prove too alluring for Potter to resist and the speed of Chelsea’s move to appoint him, which was made within hours of Thomas Tuchel’s sacking, suggests they have identified how he will fit within Todd Boehly’s brave new world. If he signs up the questions will centre on exactly that: instinctively the match feels more precarious than obvious, although any club in their right mind would at least consider the merits of the best English manager in the Premier League.

Few sides pass, move, rotate and create like Potter’s Brighton, even if the quality of their play has not always brought a cutting edge. One of their most attractive facets over his three-year spell in charge has been a metronomic consistency of performance, something that had eluded Tuchel and his side by the time Boehly wielded the axe. When Brighton lost for the first and, so far, only time this season at Fulham last week the surprise came less in their defeat than in the fact they had not played especially well and rarely exposed their hosts.

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Chelsea would become highly watchable under Potter but the journey there may not be simple. At Brighton he slotted straight into the stable environment created by Tony Bloom and the previous manager, Chris Hughton, whose time at the Amex had run its course.

After joining Östersund he was given time and scope to build a club in his own image and forged a close relationship with the then-owner Daniel Kindberg, who has since been found guilty of serious financial offences. Swansea, who finally took him from Östersund in 2018 after other clubs had hesitated, had lost their way when he arrived but retained the muscle memory of success under a series of managers with similar ideals.

There are far more unknowns at Boehly-era Chelsea. Will he have time to impose his style, impressive and intricate, on his new players in the thick of a season whose schedule leaves few clear runs at the training pitch? Boehly is presumably not in town to write off the current campaign in the name of restructuring. Will Potter himself have to change, at least in the short term, and find the quickest route to wins and trophies with the expensive squad he inherits? Would excuses be accepted for any equivalent of the barren home run that dogged Brighton two years ago, or the 11-game winless streak that threatened to derail their ultimately excellent 2021-22 season?

At Östersund Potter built a squad on second chances and took them to the Europa League knockouts: he made high-level performers out of Jamie Hopcutt, who had been discarded by York, and the former Spennymoor Town and Thornaby midfielder Curtis Edwards. His captain was Brwa Nouri, once seen as a bad boy who few in Swedish football would touch. An eye for a talent met with the emotional intelligence, a subject in which Potter has a masters degree, that made footballers feel comfortable in their skin.

Brighton’s recruitment policy pays less attention to the scrapheap but, by top-flight standards, is reliably innovative. Potter has fashioned individuals such as Enock Mwepu, Moisés Caicedo and Leandro Trossard into players who could propel them into Europe and should in any case generate a handsome profit some day; at Chelsea he would be reunited with the rewards of such labours in the form of Marc Cucurella. Stamford Bridge brims with ready-made stars but the salient point for Boehly might be that Potter, an exceptional man-manager and no pushover regardless of an outward absence of ego, has already taken a diverse group into the top four places.

“I never normally think about it but when you do zoom out you think ‘Yeah, it’s quite good,’” Potter said of his feat at Östersund during the most eye-catching part of their European run. That would be an understatement now. His skills, along with Chelsea’s capacity for patience, may now be in line for their sternest test yet; more drama, even if only of the footballing kind, would lie ahead.