The Brighton & Hove Albion owner, Tony Bloom, has insisted Graham Potter’s appointment as manager does not constitute a risk as the club seeks to establish themselves more securely in the Premier League after last season’s relegation scare.
Potter, who forged his reputation hoisting Östersund from the Swedish fourth division to the top flight and Europa League, has signed a four-year contract at the Amex stadium after spending only 12 months in the Championship with Swansea City. He succeeds Chris Hughton, whose team won only two of their last 18 league matches in the 2018-19 season, with the club’s manager of five years dismissed in the immediate aftermath of the final fixture of the season.
That had left Brighton just two points clear of relegated Cardiff with sections of the fanbase frustrated at the cautious nature of the football, sentiments shared by some in the hierarchy. They duly met the release figure, believed to be over £2m, in his contract at the Liberty stadium. “I certainly don’t think it’s a gamble,” said Bloom, a successful high-stakes poker player who made his fortune in online betting and had tracked Potter’s progress over the last four years. “We’d done a lot of work on potential head coaches so as to be ready if and when a vacancy occurred.
“Once we’d made a decision to get a new manager in, quite quickly Graham became the outstanding candidate. He’s an excellent coach who did a superb job at Swansea in really difficult circumstances. Sometimes, not making a decision or going for a more obvious choice is a bigger gamble. I have no doubt in my mind that Graham is the right choice for this football club at this particular time.”
Potter, a journeyman player with 11 clubs before moving into coaching, had guided Swansea to a 10th place finish in the Championship despite working under financial constraints. The Welsh club had lost 16 first-team players and signed only five in the wake of relegation from the Premier League, yet the manager was still credited with playing an attractive brand of football in achieving a mid-table finish. Indeed, his side were 2-0 up against Manchester City in the quarter-final of the FA Cup before succumbing in the last 21 minutes.
“I improved enormously, on and off the pitch, over that year at Swansea,” said Potter who was presented on his 44th birthday, flanked by Bloom, the technical director Dan Ashworth and the chief executive Paul Barber. “We faced great challenges in turbulent times, especially around the transfer windows. I had the responsibility at a football club who had lost its way, had lost a bit of belief and identity that it wanted to get back. With that comes challenges, putting together a team that the supporters are proud of … that process was demanding.
“Now I’m just fortunate to have this opportunity. You always need a bit of fortune in life. I’ve worked very hard to get to this point. My ‘un-glittering’ football career came to an end at the age of 30, and I had to embark on a coaching career and try to learn how to be better every day. The unconventional path I took to get to this point is 14 years of hard work and sacrifice, learning and mistakes. But I’m very proud to be here now.”
While the candidacies of Steve Clarke and Rui Faria were also scrutinised, Ashworth had tracked Potter’s progress while at the Football Association, where he had gained his Uefa Pro Licence, and was encouraged by the impact he made in the second tier. “He’s someone who thinks deeply about the game, has great empathy with the players, and gets the best from them,” said the technical director, who only joined from the FA earlier this year.
Potter inherits a squad which still relied heavily on the goals of Glenn Murray, aged 35, last season and whose major signings over the previous 18 months – the likes of Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jürgen Locadia – had struggled to make an impact under Hughton. The hope is they thrive more consistently in a team that has embraced a more progressive style.
“What has gone on before is a lot of really good work, but my job is to try and improve on it,” added Potter. “We try and play football in a positive way. Any team has to be defensively organised, but you have to look at the attributes of the players and play to their strengths. I’m not expecting a massive amount [in the summer transfer window]. There are some good players here, and a lot of good work has already been done. My focus has always been on trying to help the players who are already here to improve.”.
Ashworth confirmed that any additions to the squad would be signed off by Potter, with the new man to be joined at the club by his assistant Billy Reid, the first-team coach Bjorn Hamberg, and Kyle Macauley. The latter joins as assistant head of recruitment, reporting to the current incumbent, Paul Winstanley.