It takes years to become an overnight success. We’ve all heard that claim before. It’s a line that has been attributed to a number of celebrities down the years, which is a testament to just how many careers follow that trajectory, including Graham Potter.
December 9, 2010. That's was the day Potter changed his family’s life in a drastic way by signing a contract to manage Ostersunds FK — then in the fourth tier of Swedish football.
“It was a massive risk,” Potter told the Coaches’ Voice. “I had a good coaching job at Leeds. A career I’d built up over five years. We had a life that was safe. Comfortable. And here I was, suggesting we swap it for a city in the middle of Sweden. In the middle of Scandinavia. The middle of nowhere.”
What followed that ‘massive risk’ was a massive reward. Potter guided the club to the Allsvenskan. Sweden’s top division, and into the Europa League via a League Cup success against IFK Norrköping. The ride didn’t slow down there.
Ostersunds felled both Greek side PAOK and Turkish giants Galatasaray over two legs to qualify for the Europa League group stages, before reaching the knockout rounds and beating Arsenal at the Emirates (they would lose the tie on aggregate).
Those memorable nights were a direct consequence of Potter’s vision. In Sweden, he built an identity at the football club founded on short, passing football. He embraced unique methods when it came to squad-building by introducing cultural activities, based around art, music, and drama. Potter tried to develop people as well as players, and often signed those with a point a prove after failing to make the grade elsewhere.
At a time when we English coaching prospects seemed slim Potter’s achievements rank near the top, and arguably still remain there.
Unfortunately, recognition back home seemed lacking when the time came for Potter to move on. He agreed to take the Swansea City job in June 2018 with the club at low ebb following relegation. One might argue that at their peak, Swansea’s identity ran parallel with what Potter prefers to do. It was the erosion of that identity that left Swans fans so disillusioned and ultimately cost them a spot in the Premier League.
On paper, Potter would reinstall that identity and success would follow, but that didn’t stop a healthy dose of skepticism trailing his arrival in South Wales.
To combat that Potter had some inspiring words for Swansea fans.
“I’ve moved my family from an idyllic life in Sweden, so I didn’t come back just for a job,” he said. “There had to be something where I thought: ‘If we can make this work, we can really do something special.’ And that’s what I want to do here.”
What followed was a similar brand of short passing football. That achievement was made even greater by the fact Potter’s squad was quickly gutted after he arrived. Following his appointment in June eleven first team players left in the summer transfer window including Lukasz Fabianski, Alfie Mawson, Ki Sung-Yeung and Sam Clucas.
In their place arrived a handful of young players acquired for less than £10 million. Potter chose not to complain about the enforced restrictions and instead set about developing those at his disposal. The average age of the starting XI dropped from 27 in 2017-2018 to 23.5 in 2018-2019, with the likes of Daniel James and striker Oliver McBurnie starring for the club and attracting Premier League interest in the process.
The club finished 10th, and in doing so Potter had once again shown proof of concept for his managerial abilities. That was enough to entice Brighton (much to the frustration of Swansea fans). The Seagulls were in a more stable position than the Swans, but they could also feel their ankles getting wet under Chris Hughton.
The former Newcastle and Norwich manager had helped Brighton join the Premier League, but there was an air of stagnation to his final months in charge.
If Swansea represented bright and attractive towards the end of last season, Brighton felt dull and cumbersome. The club’s approach to recruitment appeared at odds with Hughton’s preference for experience, as well as a lack of ideas when it came to attacking. Brighton won just won league games between January 1 and the end of the season.
While some saw the decision to jettison Hughton as ‘risky’ it’s really anything but — even a minor dip next season would see Brighton relegated.
In football, it is often reactive decisions that precede failure and Brighton deserve credit for being bold in this appointment. It was that same mentality that first took Potter and his young family to Sweden and back to England. He has earned this opportunity, and not a moment too soon.