It is a question a section of supporters and pundits who have covered the club for years have been struggling to answer since the embarrassing defeat to Southampton – why have Chelsea not sacked Graham Potter yet?
The Southampton loss meant that Chelsea have won just twice in their past 14 Premier League games, which would have been terminal for just about every manager under the previous owner Roman Abramovich.
Potter faced boos and isolated calls for him to leave the club from supporters at the final whistle of the Southampton game after which he recognised that some people would think that he is the problem at Chelsea.
That is not yet a view shared by co-controlling owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali who remain supportive of Potter and believe there are a number of reasons why they should not sack him. Here, Telegraph Sport exclusively outlines just why Potter is still in a job.
Behind the scenes
Boehly and Eghbali are privy to what Potter has been working on and facing behind the scenes. While Chelsea fans understandably bemoaned the team selection for the Southampton game, for which Reece James and Thiago Silva were rested, the owners know exactly why. It is understood that Potter was told James, Silva, Kai Havertz, Raheem Sterling and Mykhaylo Mudryk risked significant injury if they were to start the game, which for James, Silva, Havertz and Mudryk would have been a third in a week.
Rather than put his own position first and take a risk, Potter took the advice of his medical team and ended up paying the price. The board believe Chelsea should have still had enough to beat Southampton, but also recognise that Potter put the club and his players ahead of himself and value that.
Big decisions have been taken in collaboration with the board, such as the decision to leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of the Champions League squad for the knockout stages and not selecting him for the past three league games. Sources at Cobham also claim that training, which has been watched personally by Boehly and Eghbali on a number of occasions, and analysis has been excellent under the former Brighton man and believe the results of repetition and hard work will become apparent in games.
Potter has faced accusations, from this correspondent as well as former players and pundits, that he has not shown enough emotion on the touchline and in press conferences. But senior sources insist there have been a number of instances of the 47-year-old becoming upset and having tough conversations with players in the dressing room and during individual meetings. Potter is described as being intense at Cobham and there are no fears over his mentality or concerns that he is being swallowed up by the job.
Chelsea’s owners are understood to be pleased that they do not have a head coach who is prepared to point fingers and throw his players or club staff under the bus when things do not go for him. The complaints of former head coach Thomas Tuchel after the pre-season defeat by Arsenal did not go down well and Potter’s style suits the approach of the owners far better, according to those with inside knowledge.
While many would say that Chelsea took a bet on Potter, when they chose him to succeed Tuchel, there is recognition from within the club that he also took a risk on them. Club sources have noted that top managers and coaches do not like to take new jobs mid-season, with Marcelo Bielsa the latest example of that after turning down the Everton job.
Potter not only agreed to take over the Chelsea squad in mid-season, he also left an incredibly stable environment at Brighton, risking his reputation and immediate future in the process. Potter has accepted that results have not been good enough, but there remains a feeling inside Stamford Bridge that he at least deserves one pre-season to properly work with a squad and start a season as Chelsea manager, rather than paying the price for problems that he inherited. The club have not considered sacking Potter or replacing him, but if they did, which top manager or coach would be brave enough to take the current squad with three months of the season to run? Not many, if any.
Chelsea’s owners knew very well that they had a rebuild on their hands when they bought the club from Abramovich. They also calculated that the rebuild would most likely be painful, given football does not allow for five-year projects. Senior sources have told Telegraph Sport that Boehly and Eghbali calculated that they could rebuild the squad and the football staff in the space of one year and three transfer windows, but that would also bring with it ups and downs. The last couple of months have largely been a considerable down, but there is recognition that some of the work done in last summer’s transfer window, predominantly for Tuchel, has created as many problems as solutions.
Cobham insiders are well aware that Potter would never have constructed the squad he inherited and it is felt the January business has been far more in line with his own philosophy – albeit leaving him with far too many players to rotate and keep happy. The current view at Chelsea is the club, together with Potter, must fight and work their way through this difficult period.
Manchester City provide the benchmark for Chelsea at the moment and the club have studied how Txiki Begiristain worked closely with Pep Guardiola to recruit the right types of players and then gave the Spaniard time to integrate them and bring out the best in them. Not everything went to plan for Guardiola in his first season in charge at City, when the club finished trophyless, and it has been apparent that new signings are given time to bed in under the coach.
Just as Begiristain had worked with Guardiola before at Barcelona, Chelsea’s co-sporting director Paul Winstanley had worked well with Potter at Brighton and that is seen as significant. In Winstanley and his co-sporting director Laurence Stewart, Chelsea now believe they have the right support around Potter and that the January signings are players who can thrive under him and in his style, both on and off the pitch. But Potter has not yet had even a full month to work with them and Boehly and Eghbali do not believe sustainable success will come from changing the manager or head coach every six months.
Source – The Telegraph