Graham Potter’s and My Debut on Stamford Bridge
Something is Genuinely Changing at Chelsea FC
A lady at the east stand reception handed me a press pass, and I happened to be in the press room of Stamford Bridge. Considering that I got the accreditation based on this blog and that I was now having a buffet-style dinner with all those significant journalists made the situation pretty surreal. So I fitted in and started putting food on my plate. Roasted chicken, noodles, pies and salads. I had it all. As I was ripping off chicken skin from the bone, I checked the clock. It was 19.30.
“You stupid idiot, you have failed the very first test,” I said to myself. “They want you happy and with a full stomach. Now, you are their little bitch, and as they have fed you, you will write nicely about the Chelsea football club.”
My idea was to write about the new Chelsea manager, Graham Potter, and so I wanted to see him before the match, during the warm-up. To see how he reacts to the players and that kind of stuff.
The most valuable information is there for you when not many are watching. Do you think that real information is available when 50 blood-thirsty journalists are staring at your back? No, it is available when they are distracted by food.
So, I put a couple of pieces of chocolate cake on the plate and went to the east stand press box. I had a seat just a couple of rows from the pitch where Chelsea and Red Bull Salzburg players were lining up for a Champions League tie. On my right-hand side was a Brazilian dude named Guilherme. On my left-hand side was a Spanish dude, Guillermo.
“In Spanish, we say ‘tocayo’,” Guillermo said when he found out the two of them shared the same name.
“We say “xará” in Brasil,” Guilherme said.
I was enjoying the cultural expansion. They both confirmed the Chelsea press room offers the most delicious food of all London clubs as I was eating the cake.
“That must be Roman Abramovich’s legacy,” I said.
I mean, when you reach the number of 14 sacked managers during your 19-year reign, you need the media on your side. The least you can do to get them back you up is to give them good food.
The cake was topped with some fruit. Marvellous.
The previous Chelsea ownership with Abramovich’s as the main man created a culture of instant success — spend big, win a trophy and sack a manager. And although such culture brought the club 21 trophies, including five Premier League and two Champions League titles and made Roman’s reign the greatest in the club’s history, that Chelsea never looked like a club that had a foundation to build something truly great… A dynasty!
Something like Manchester City has built with Pep Guardiola or Liverpool with Jürgen Klopp.
I could feel sugar pumping through my veins as I was eating the cake.
To create something really big, you need time. You need to accept the process with all its elements — good and bad. The Universe expands through order and chaos. Never just order. In the same way the universe needs both to grow, any football club needs to experience winning and losing to grow. There is simply no growing without losing. The most valuable lessons are hidden somewhere in our biggest defeats, biggest losses, when the pain becomes unbearable. Clarity arises when we reflect on our defeats and accept them as a part of the inevitable process.
In a culture that doesn’t have an understanding of this process, a truly big success will always miss out and the managers will be chosen accordingly.
Here is the perspective on losing from some recent Chelsea managers.
Thomas Tuchel: “I absolutely dislike losing.”
Frank Lampard: “I’m the worst loser in the world. I hate it.”
Antonio Conte: “If you ask me what I hate in life, it is losing games.”
And how the fuck wouldn’t they hate it when they are a product of such a culture and they know that every next defeat might mean they are gone?
Do you know why Sir Alex Ferguson has a prefix Sir? Because he was given time to lose. That bastard was losing for seven years before he won his first Premier League title in 1993.
At half-time, I had another piece of cake. I could see how my full stomach is making my thoughts less sharp and my observational field less clear.
So I focused on Graham Potter on the sideline.
“Very different to any of the previous Chelsea managers,” I thought. “He is the man who understands the process. I reckon he does. He often talks about the process and he seems to get it. I don’t think you will ever hear Potter saying that he hates losing.
After all, in 14 years in the coaching business, Chelsea is “only” his fifth club. The last three years he spent in Brighton and this season he was going for glory before Chelsea bought him. The formative coaching years he spent in Sweden where in seven years he brought Östersund from 4th division to the last 32 of the Europa League.
“Swedish league,” I thought. “In Croatia, we say a Swedish table for a buffet meal dining. Tocayo… xará!”
Anyways, it is 2022, and everything is changing. Now… I can’t know if the new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly simply follows Abramovich’s footpath and Thomas Tuchel was only his first victim and Graham Potter will soon be the next one sacked.
Or perhaps the culture in the club is slowly changing?
Boehly says that his and Tuchel’s visions were not aligned and that was the reason he sacked him. He claims that the defeat against Dinamo Zagreb didn’t have anything do to with Tuchel’s farewell.
Too much sugar in my body was creating a false sense of satisfaction.
I asked Guilherme what were my chances to actually ask something Graham Potter after the game at the press conference. He said that it is not easy to get to ask something next to the omnipresent English media, but that I could try.
The game finished 1–1, and I went to the press conference. Potter was answering questions from journalists from the first row concerning the draw against Salzburg.
I was looking Potter in the eyes and thinking about how these couple of days had made him tired.
A PR guy said to the journalists: “Two more questions.”
I recognised the opportunity and raised my hand. My blood was hot, the pressure was high. I was filled with sugar. The cake was still blurring my vision.
He gave the opportunity to another guy. I waited for Potter to answer and then raised my hand straight away.
“The gentleman on the right, at the back,” the PR guy pointed in my direction.
“I looked around myself as I couldn’t see any gentleman.”
“Me?” I double-checked as all of my body functions stopped in order to focus on what I wanted to ask.
“Ok…” I said. “Hi Graham… It seems apparent from your interviews that you appreciate the process of learning and growing that requires both, winning and losing. At the same time, you have come to the club that is founded on a very different approach to life. Are you, yourself, a statement of the club’s new ownership that the culture in the club is changing?”
And what did he answer?? I don’t have a fucking clue.
As I finished the question I blanked, and I was simply staring at him as he was telling me something. I was just nodding. My body functions started working only in the middle of the answer, my stomach started digesting the cake, and my heart pumping the hot blood again. I could finally hear what he was saying.
He said that he understands the demands of the Chelsea football club, but that he also thinks the environment and culture are important.
You can hear my question and his full answer on this link at 4:10
The game against Salzburg proved the process would be long. Fans are already dissatisfied with the new coach. After the first game, they don’t think he deserves the place in their club. Fans are a huge part of the club’s culture. They were the ones who were taught to expect instant success over the last 19 years and it will be down to Graham Potter to explain to them the importance of the process.
History tells us it is going to be a thorny path for Graham Potter, which will lead him to some dark places where he will need to maintain clarity… Before he emerges on the other side. But only if he will be given time.