Graham Potter must be given time at Chelsea or aspiring coaches are doomed | Chelsea

The problem for any coach when they step up to a big club is that, until they have been successful at that level, the suspicion will always linger that they cannot be successful at that level. It’s one of the difficulties of the modern game: managing an elite club, with the huge budgets, the vast expectations, the array of egos needing constant maintenance (which these days seems to apply to fans as much as players), is a very different job to managing on a shoestring down the leagues.

As one Premier League director once put it to me, saying his club should have immediately replaced the manager who had just led them to promotion, you don’t put the bloke who runs the corner shop in charge of a multinational. Which is true, even if the thought that football is somehow too loyal takes some getting used to – a function, as much as anything else, of the financial stratification that exists within the game. Corner shops don’t become multinationals overnight; there is no retail outlet equivalent of winning the playoffs.

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    But then how do you know who can run a multinational? In business, you might promote from within, bring in somebody who’s impressed in a major region. Or you might hope to lure somebody from an equivalent position in a slightly different field. Or you look to somebody in the same field who’s been at a slightly smaller company. But very few football clubs are going to put the head of the academy in charge of the first team, no matter how successful they may have been; they just feel like different jobs. Nor is a football club going to poach Gareth Batty and hope the attributes that made Surrey county champions are transferable to football. And so they look at coaches who have been successful at slightly smaller clubs.

    And that’s where, if you’re Chelsea, you run into trouble because there are very few clubs slightly smaller than you. If you look to somebody from a similarly sized club, you’re realistically looking at somebody who has failed elsewhere. Or, given the wealth of the Premier League, you’re looking abroad, in which case there’ll always be a question about adaptation to our league. Or, you’re looking down the Premier League table and then there will always be the question of whether the manager is capable of stepping up.

    Graham Potter’s work at Östersund, Swansea and Brighton was exemplary. He has proved himself clever and adaptable, tactically and emotionally. He was lucky the Chelsea opportunity came a month into this season when Brighton were lying fourth after four wins form their first six games, but that does not devalue his achievements (although it is worth reflecting, for what it says about football’s short-termism as much as anything else, that had Thomas Tuchel been sacked at the end of last season rather than at the beginning of this, Brendan Rodgers would have seemed the obvious candidate).

    But now, because Potter has never worked at this level before, because he has never handled this level of player before, a run of one win from the past eight Premier League games (and Chelsea weren’t particularly impressive in the three matches before that , even if they were all won), the question is inevitably there: can he hack it with a superclub?

    John Stones denies Christian Pulisic with a perfectly timed intervention.
    John Stones denies Christian Pulisic with a perfectly timed intervention. Without that could the game have ended differently? Photograph: Chris Lee/Chelsea FC/Getty Images

    Perhaps he can, perhaps he can’t. There were positives from Thursday’s defeat by Manchester City. Chelsea did threaten on the break. It might have been a different game had Carney Chukwuemeka’s shot deflected just inside the post rather than against it, or had John Stones not timed that first-half challenge on Christian Pulisic so perfectly. They did put City under pressure late on. But equally there was a half-hour spell at the beginning of the second half in which City were clearly superior.

    Context, though, provides a lot of caveats. Chelsea were without Reece James and Ben Chilwell and the back-up full-backs are nowhere near their quality. César Azpilicueta is 33 and struggles to get up and down, while Marc Cucurella is suffering what is presumably a crisis of confidence: nervous on the ball and vulnerable to players who run at him, he looks nothing like the player he was at Brighton. N’Golo Kante, Wesley Fofana and Mason Mount are also injured and Chelsea had lost Raheem Sterling and Pulisic within the first quarter of Thursday’s game.

    The rest of the squad, in part because of the legacy of the Roman Abramovich era, in part because of the confusion of sanctions and in part because of a mystifying summer transfer spree overseen by Tuchel who was sacked almost as soon it was over, is bizarre hotch-potch that lacks coherence. The game was tipped City’s way by two half-time substitutions, and the winner created and scored by two other subs. When Potter turned to his bench in the second half, he ended up bringing on a pair of players with one Premier League start between them.

    These would be difficult times for any manager, no matter past experience: it may be that the issue is not Potter but Chelsea. And the question lurking always just out of reach is that if Potter isn’t given time to work this out, if he is rejected before he has had a chance to rationalize the squad and learn about this different level, how can any coach ever come through the British game and make it to the top?

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