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Graham Potter: A Journey from the Swedish fourth Division to the Premier League

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
140   //    12 Aug 2019, 16:38 IST

Potter (left) during his time at Ostersunds, Potter (right) v Watford
Potter (left) during his time at Ostersunds, Potter (right) v Watford

The opening weekend of the 2019/20 Premier League saw plenty of quality and entertainment, which was no surprise. However, without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the opening match day came at Vicarage Road as Brighton & Hove Albion defeated Watford on their home turf 3-0.

The match was Graham Potter's Premier League managerial debut and it was some performance too by the 'The Seagulls', emphasising that Potter has the ability to manage in England's top division.

Potter enjoyed a respectable 13-year playing career, mainly plying his trade in the English first division (equivalent to the current EFL Championship). The 44-year-old played for Birmingham, Stoke and West Brom in the first division, and even made eight Premier League appearances for Southampton during the 1996-97 season. He eventually moved to the English third tier, before ending his career playing in the fourth division.

The former left-back made 315 appearances, but his career came to a premature end at the age of 30 in 2005. Potter would then go on to gain experience in university roles such as football development manager at Hull, assistant coach of the England University Squad and a similar role at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Most notably, Potter gained experience as a technical director, taking that role at the 2007 Women's FIFA World Cup for Ghana. Eventually, he would embark on his remarkable rise to the top of football management in 2010.


Östersunds FK

It was back in 2010, when the club from central Sweden had just been relegated to the fourth tier and chairman Daniel Kindberg created the idea of making Östersunds an elite club with the ambition of playing European football.

Kindberg appointed Potter for the 2011 season after taking recommendation from his close friend Graeme Jones (now manager of Luton Town), who was assistant manager to Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic at the time.

It was never going to be an easy first job. Östersund is known as the 'Winter City', a place miles out of Potter's comfort zone.


Arsenal v Ostersunds FK - UEFA Europa League
Arsenal v Ostersunds FK - UEFA Europa League
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But Potter took no time in getting going, winning the 2011 Division 2 Norrland (Swedish fourth tier) in his first season, before making it back-to-back promotions in 2012 and winning Division 1 Norra (Swedish third tier). This kind of instant success brought plenty of attention to Östersunds, a team founded only 17 years prior to this in 1996.

The 2013 Superettan (Swedish second division) season saw Potter's men finish mid-table, and then an impressive fifth the following year in 2014. But it was in 2015 that Potter wrote himself into Swedish football history. The Englishman led his Östersunds team to a second-place finish in the Superettan, thus gaining promotion to the Allsvenksan. This was the first time in Östersunds' short history that they would play in the Swedish top tier.

However, it wasn't in his nature to stop there.

The 2016 Allsvenskan season saw Östersunds and Potter reign in the plaudits for their passing game and expansive football on a very limited budget. Östersunds won their first major silverware in the club's history in 2017 as Potter's men won the Swedish Svenska Cup, beating IFK Norrköping 4-1 in the final. And earning a place in the 2017/18 Europa League second qualifying round.

But a tough draw awaited the Swedish Cup winners, against Turkish heavyweights Galatasaray. They won the first leg 2-0 at home, but a daunting away trip was still ahead, the Turk Telecom arena in front of 52,000 fans one of the loudest stadiums in football. Incredibly, Potter's men put in a fantastic performance to draw the game 1-1 to win the tie 3-1 on aggregate.

The remarkable result was even acknowledged by a hostile Turkish crowd, who rose and applauded the Swedish side.

The third round was a lot less taxing, defeating Luxembourg's Fola Esch. In the playoff round, Östersunds were drawn another difficult test, PAOK from Greece. A 3-1 defeat in the first leg gave the Swedes a slim chance of progression to the group stages. They took it, winning 2-0 at home to progress on away goals.

This kind of success was beginning to be noticed by clubs in and around England's top two divisions.

Graham Potter (left), Arsene Wenger (right) during 2017/18 Europa League Round of 32 tie
Graham Potter (left), Arsene Wenger (right) during 2017/18 Europa League Round of 32 tie

Moreover, the Europa League success continued in the group stages as Östersunds qualified for the round of 32, finishing second in the group behind Athletic Bilbao on goal difference. In the knockout round, the Swedish club were drawn against of Europe's elite clubs, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.

The first leg saw Arsenal defeat Östersunds 3-0 away from home, but in what can be considered Potter's greatest managerial win to date came his side defeated the North London club 2-1 in the second leg at the Emirates Stadium in front of 58,000 fans.

Swansea City

Eventually, in June 2018, it was Swansea City who pounced on the Englishman after enjoying seven and a half successful years in Sweden. The man from Solihull signed a three-year contract with the Welsh side, coming off relegation from the Premier League.

Graham Potter (left) instructing Barrie McKay (right) during 2018/19 EFL Championship season
Graham Potter (left) instructing Barrie McKay (right) during 2018/19 EFL Championship season

It was a huge test for Potter as Swansea lost 18 players during the summer of 2018, following relegation. The Englishman, who is fairly adept at dealing with challenges, began the rebuild by signing 12 new players in the same summer. Swansea finished 10th in the 2018/19 Championship season, having enjoyed a late run for the playoffs.

An exceptional FA Cup run accompanied the 10th-place finish as the "Swans" made it to the quarterfinals of the historic competition. They were drawn Premier League champions Manchester City and Potter's men lead 2-0 after 30 minutes. However, a late flurry from the champions saw City win the tie 3-2.

The story of Swansea City's season was one of great attacking football. The team, though, lacked consistency, which was inevitable after losing so many players after relegation.

Brighton Hove Albion

In May 2019, Potter got his chance in England's top division as Brighton Hove Albion came calling. He signed a four-year contract, fulfilling his lifelong dream to manage in the Premier League.

As his rise in management has played out, you just wouldn't bet against the 44-year-old succeeding on the south coast, having pulled off shock after shock.

Graham Potter after 3-0 victory over Watford on Premier League debut
Graham Potter after 3-0 victory over Watford on Premier League debut

On 10th August 2019, Graham Potter made his Premier League managerial debut as Brighton travelled to Vicarage Road to face Watford and sensationally defeated the 'Hornets' 3-0. Though a result that shocked many in England, it wasn't to Potter.


Style of Play and Philosophy

Potter has enjoyed plenty of success during his 9 years of management and is very unique in his way of managing. Potter cites Pep Guardiola's philosophy of having a tactically flexible structure, controlled possession and progressive build-up play. However, he likes to have a squad capable of playing various formations and being able to switch systems.

The English manager drills his teams in training to a point where each player is clear about their roles. Potter enjoyed success with a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 during his time in Wales, while his time at Östersunds has three at the back.

Potter also likes to take his teams out of their comfort zone by using unfamiliar team-building exercises. His time in Sweden saw him involve players in theatre and musical production to teach players to gain confidence in adverse situations.

A diverse journey has seen Graham Potter become a sought out manager. Don't be surprised if he exceeds expectation at Brighton in the 2019/20 Premier League season!

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