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Exclusive: Graham Potter on Chelsea ownership, relationships with players and his rise to the top
Potter looks ahead to his first match in charge of Chelsea, a home Champions League tie against RB Salzburg exclusively live on BT Sport.
Graham Potter has admitted that his whirlwind move from Brighton to Chelsea has been "surreal" as he prepares for his first game in charge of the Blues.
They host Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League on Wednesday night, a game you can watch exclusively live on BT Sport.
Once Thomas Tuchel was sacked last Wednesday morning, following the English side's surprise 1-0 loss at Dinamo Zagreb, Todd Boehly and the new Chelsea hierarchy acted quickly to snap up Potter, appointing him barely 24 hours later.
Despite having led the Seagulls to fourth in the Premier League this season, after a ninth-placed finish last term, the challenge and expectation that the 47-year-old faces at Stamford Bridge is of a completely different magnitude to what he's encountered before.
In his first exclusive sit down interview, Potter reflected on the past week, telling BT Sport it was the biggest in his professional life.
"I’ve always been one of those people that likes to think about the word 'enjoyment', because the challenge is so intense that I think of course you have to enjoy these moments," he said.
"[It's been] very intense, very hard, very challenging, but at the moment, how grateful am I to experience this as well.
"It's an incredible opportunity, we’re really looking forward to the game [against Salzburg], really looking forward to getting out there on the pitch, meeting all the supporters, getting started - because it’s been a surreal few days - but we’re really, really looking forward to it."
Coping with the demands at a club with a billionaire owner and sky-high expectations is a far cry from Potter's initial post-playing roles.
He worked as a football development manager for the University of Hull and as Ghana's technical director at the 2007 Women's World Cup after hanging up his boots in 2005, before returning to the men's game with assistant coaching roles at the England Universities team and Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett).
Potter's first role as a head coach saw him take charge of 10th-tier outfit Leeds Carnegie, spending two-and-a-half years there and leading them to the brink of promotion in a season that saw the Met, as they were known, score 101 goals.
Could he have imagined then that a job at one of the biggest clubs in world football would be part of his future? Potter is candid.
The ownership that I spoke with was very impressive in terms of the ideas, the plan, what they wanted to achieve.
- Graham Potter
"I have to say no to be honest. It was that far down [the line] then that you can’t imagine this, but this is what life is. This is football.
"It’s been an amazing 17 years I think since those [playing] days so a lot’s happened, but obviously I sit here very very proud of that journey and grateful for the luck I’ve had along the way, but also the support I’ve had."
Was the decision to join Chelsea something he had to think much about, despite Brighton's fantastic start to the season?
"In terms of Chelsea, no, because the football club is amazing. The ownership that I spoke with was very impressive in terms of the ideas, the plan, what they wanted to achieve, so [it's] very, very exciting.
"Of course I left a football club that I will be forever grateful for and had an amazing three years [at], and it’s sad to say goodbye to these [people], but life is short and these opportunities come along and it felt like it was the right thing for me.
"[The role] came out of the blue and it came at a fairly rapid pace, but after speaking with my key people and family and friends, everybody involved, it felt like the right opportunity at the right time.
"The beauty of life is there’s always more to us than sits here now. There’s more growth, there’s more development, but in order to do that, you need to step out of something that’s safe and secure and take on a new challenge and that’s what we’re doing here."
However, there will be some continuity between his time on the south coast and in south-west London as he brings five of his backroom staff from the Amex with him, including coaches Billy Reid and Bjorn Hamberg, who worked alongside Potter at Ostersunds during a golden era for the Swedish club, before moving with him to Swansea and then Brighton.
Potter stresses the importance of bringing a core group of key confidants with him on his latest challenge.
"I’ve said before that often head coaches, they get the headlines they’re at the front of the organisation, but it’s always a group of people and I’m very grateful to the staff I have, the people I’ve brought – fantastic people, very competent – and I think when you come into a job like this, you need people that can help spread your message to the football club to build relationships with everybody."
Potter is aware of the task he faces, with Chelsea currently sixth in the Premier League and struggling at both ends of the field despite a £250m summer spending spree.
The defeat in Croatia was the epitome of that, meaning that tonight's game against Austrian champions Salzburg holds more importance than many would have imagined, but Potter is confident that the players have enough quality to haul themselves out of their current predicament.
I’ve always tried to connect with the players, I’ve always tried to get to know them. That’s an important part of how I work, to build relationships.
- Graham Potter
"[We have] a lot of talent. Very impressed with their attitude, very impressed with their honesty, with their personality, so I’ve had a great first impression and I’m really looking forward to getting to know them more.
"Anybody will say in coaching that that process takes time and it’s about understanding each other.
"I’ve always tried to connect with the players, I’ve always tried to get to know them. That’s an important part of how I work, to build relationships.
"It’s not about necessarily what I want to do, it’s about getting everybody on board and we’re going together as a team and as a football club.
"You have to treat people with respect, understand them, understand what they want to achieve and work out how you can help them.
"It sounds simple - in practice it’s not as simple as that - but that’s ultimately what it is and the better I work at it, the more I understand the people I’m working with and that’s the challenge for us now, that’s the exciting bit. We’re at the start of the journey, but so far so good."
Turning his attention to tonight's match, Potter is aware of the threat Salzburg pose after they held reigning Serie A champions Milan to a 1-1 draw in their opening Group E encounter.
"I know a lot [about them], he reveals. "We signed a player from there [Enock Mwepu] and followed them a lot over the years.
"[They're] a very strong team, [have] a clear idea how they want to play, [are] very aggressive. They’ve done fantastically well in Austria and compete in the Champions League, so it’s a tough game."
And on a personal note, it is Potter's first match in Europe's premier competition. His reaction? "Super excited - there's nothing more to say is there?"
The upcoming 90 minutes may indicate a more sobering reality, but there's no doubting Potter's energy levels and enthusiasm.
He is in uncharted territory (unlike his predecessors), but embracing the unfamiliar is something he's thrived on. Make no mistake though: this is his biggest test yet.
Watch Chelsea vs RB Salzburg from 7.15pm on BT Sport 3 tonight.