Graham Potter’s journey to the Champions League from non-league via Sweden’s fourth division
Just five years ago, any media wishing to hear Graham Potter speak lyrically about his unlikely rise from the ninth tier of English football to the group stages of the Europa League could simply call the mobile number published on his club’s official website.
otter was working miracles in subarctic Sweden with Ostersund, taking them from fourth to first tier and then into battle with some of the giants of European gaming.
As his side reached the last 16, where they won a famous 2-1 second-leg win at Arsenal, the former York defender was only too happy to make himself accessible to an increasingly intrigued global press. .
Potter recounted how he began his coaching journey with Leeds Carnegie in the Northern Counties East League in 2008, and how Ostersund’s treble promotion was inspired by a larger-than-life chairman, Daniel Kindberg, who viewed the cultural enrichment as an integral part of training. program.
Under Kindberg’s supervision, players were brought in to practice and perform a dance routine to “Swan Lake,” some became published authors, and it was not uncommon to end a session with a workshop. about the indigenous Sami people of the Swedish Arctic.
“I didn’t feel like the typical course was enough for me,” Potter told the PA News Agency in 2017. “That’s the beauty of football. You never know where things are going to end.
As he travels to Stamford Bridge this week, he can reflect on a playing career that culminated in 10 Premier League appearances for Southampton, including the famous 6-3 win over Manchester United at the Dell in 1996.
Potter’s playing career came to an end at the age of 30 and he completed his master’s degree, entered the education sector and joined Carnegie, the team representing the university. from Leeds with whom he took his coaching badges.
An unlikely recommendation from Graham Jones, then assistant to Swansea boss Roberto Martinez, saw Potter accept the challenge from Ostersund in 2011, just outside the Arctic Circle where temperatures routinely dipped below minus 35 degrees in winter.
He took with him a motley collection of apparent has-beens and never-were-beens, including Jamie Hopcutt, who had been freed by York as a teenager and suddenly found himself answering a phone call just as unlikely as the one who drove Potter to pack his suitcases.
“I was on loan at places like Whitby when I got an email inviting me to a trial day at the University of Warwick,” Hopcutt recalls. “I scored a hat-trick and got a call from Graham, and he invited me to Sweden to see how I liked it.”
Strange as Potter’s trajectory might seem – let alone his transfer policy – it turned out to be a heavenly marriage as he elevated his old-fashioned side to Sweden’s top tier, Allsvenskan, during his five early years at the helm.
They won the Swedish Cup, earning them a chance in the Europa League, where they then beat Galatasaray and PAOK, earning a place in the group stage where Potter would, at least initially, be the sole British manager.
Advancing behind Athletic Bilbao after losing just one game, Potter led his side into a round of 16 clash with the Gunners and inspired a 2-1 victory in the second leg, despite a 4-2 aggregate loss.
“At 2-0 we thought we had a chance,” admitted Potter, now versed in the improbable football. “We played well, won the match, but it was just short of a miracle.” Inevitably, Potter’s achievement drew attention and in 2018 he was appointed manager of newly relegated Championship side Swansea.
He proved equally at home in sunny South Wales as he was in the Arctic Circle – and his unlikely odyssey had only just begun.
He joined Brighton in 2019 and led the Seagulls to their record Premier League points total in that Covid-hit season. Brighton equaled that tally again the following campaign, before recording their first first-half finish with ninth place from last year.
Potter’s continued success made him Chelsea’s number one target after Thomas Tuchel was sacked.
Presumably Blues officials didn’t have to scour the internet for his cell phone number. But Potter’s message has always remained staunchly the same.