Graham Potter: Brutal sacking latest twist in Todd Boehly’s chaotic reign at Chelsea

Graham Potter on the touchline at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea’s brutal sacking of manager Graham Potter is the latest twist in the brief and chaotic reign of owner Todd Boehly.

Boehly lured the 47-year-old away from the stable surroundings of Brighton and a team he had been allowed to build with patience, time and stability in September into a club where those three commodities are alien concepts.

The American gave Chelsea’s Champions League-winning manager Thomas Tuchel 100 days before firing him.

And the decision to mete out the same treatment to Potter after only 31 games confirms anyone believing Boehly would be applying a lighter, more sympathetic touch to the treatment of managers than his ruthless predecessor Roman Abramovich is sorely mistaken.

If Boehly’s scattergun £600m transfer spree since his summer takeover had not already fostered an air of instability around Chelsea, his summary dismissal of another manager only added to the belief that this is a club without any clear plan, direction or structure.

The club’s hierarchy gave Potter a five-year contract and assurances of backing and patience – bold words and a stance they could not maintain.

Even the statement announcing his departure struck a somewhat surreal note when it read: “Graham has agreed to collaborate with the club to facilitate a smooth transition.”

How exactly? By leaving it?

Saturday’s 2-0 home loss to Aston Villa – Potter’s 11th defeat in those 31 games – signalled the end, with Chelsea languishing in 11th place in the Premier League, 12 points off the top-four places that represent the club’s very minimum requirement.

The high point of Potter’s short reign was taking Chelsea into a Champions League quarter-final, where they will face Real Madrid.

But who will actually be in the dugout against the holders remains to be seen, with recently-sacked Bayern Munich coach Julian Nagelsmann surely a contender and former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino also available.

For now, however, coach Bruno Saltor will stand in for Tuesday night’s game against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

Potter’s demise comes after he was again the target of fan anger at the end of the Villa reverse.

Many Chelsea fans, used to elite names at the helm, never fully bought into the idea of a former Brighton manager in charge, despite the fine work on the south coast that had him in the frame to follow Gareth Southgate in any discussion of an England succession plan.

Chelsea supporters, certainly many of them, could not accept the replacement of the coach regarded as one of the finest in world football – who had brought them the Champions League – with the man who took Brighton to ninth last season, despite his growing reputation.

It was understandable that he could not resist the lure of a club with Chelsea’s stature, history and spending power, but even Potter could not have imagined the maelstrom he was walking into.

He may never admit it but there must have been times when he yearned for the quieter waters of Brighton rather than the storm that eventually engulfed him at Stamford Bridge.

After the 1-0 home defeat by bottom club Southampton in February, Potter said: “You accept criticism. That should come. That’s fair. The mood here has always been positive and respectful. That’s not to say it’s easy at all. Your family life suffers, your mental health suffers, your personality – it is hard.”

And he worked for owners who clearly wanted success in a hurry.

Boehly attacked the markets with seemingly bottomless pockets, players arriving at sky-high prices, and with such startling regularity, it begged the question as to whether Potter had asked for them and how he was even going to accommodate them.

In January alone, Chelsea spent £289m, following on from £270m in the summer – and neither Tuchel nor Potter have survived to see if they could make this historic splash work.

The club spent a British record £107m on Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez, as well as Shakhtar Donetsk’s Ukraine forward Mykhailo Mudryk for £89m, as their two major signings in the January window.

It may have seemed like fantasy football for Potter but it was a world away from what he was used to at Brighton. He struggled to accommodate all the new acquisitions and find a plan after he was used to working with a tight-knit group.

The high-priced arrivals increased expectation and demands for progress. Chelsea, for all the outlay, looked to be heading backwards and Potter was not able to survive.

If there is sympathy, and there will be from many, it lies in the fact he was given a very short time span to fashion a clear plan and shape the fresh faces into a coherent unit.

On the other hand, he sometimes looked an ill fit for the pressure cooker of managing the giant and often dysfunctional institution that has been Chelsea for the past 20 years. They have made a habit of defying the odds by landing the big prizes despite being unstable.

Potter, in contrast, looked like he was subsiding.

He appeared to lose the sure touch for systems and tactical acumen he had at Brighton as he juggled his vast playing resources.

Chelsea looked hopelessly disorganised against Villa, with full-backs Marc Cucurella and Reece James in a back three. The struggling Mudryk failed to spark again and the display had all the hallmarks of a manager grasping in vain for answers.

Potter looked like he had seen off the first crisis and discontent from fans, especially after they were beaten by Southampton at Stamford Bridge, with a run of three wins out of four, including the impressive 2-0 home win against Borussia Dortmund that put them into the last eight of the Champions League.

The damaging defeat to Villa after the international break instantly increased scrutiny once more and led to change.

‘Time for Boehly to start getting big decisions right’

As for Boehly, the latest upheaval once again turned the spotlight on him and the Clearlake Capital ownership at Chelsea, although co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley were leading the decision-making process with support from the owners.

To outsiders, Boehly has appeared naive with no clear plan, willing to spend vast sums on players without having a concrete idea where they would fit in.

Mudryk was lifted from under the noses of long-time suitors Arsenal and has disappointed so far. The Gunners turned their attention to Leandro Trossard, much cheaper at £21m and who had worked under Potter at Brighton.

Trossard has hit the ground running and been outstanding as Arsenal chase the title, while Mudryk looks short of fitness and confidence.

Potter’s reputation will remain largely intact as many will believe he faced a unique set of circumstances, some would say the impossible job, although he will be wounded by a high-profile and short-lived failure in the biggest job of his career.

Make no mistake, this went very badly for Potter.

Boehly, meanwhile, will be under even more pressure to demonstrate that he really knows what it takes to make a successful Premier League club.

As proved by Potter’s sacking, he is not shy of taking the big decisions – but he now needs to start getting them right.

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