Small club, big club – there is always the assumption that outstanding managers or players with good performances, the so-called “smaller” teams in the Premier League will soon move up the ranks – and much of the focus right now is put on Brighton & Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter led his team to sixth place after seven games.
More often than not, this happens – but if any of the top clubs choose to go without their boss in the next few months, do they have the patience to let Potter bring success to their pace?
His talent may prepare him for such a role, but there is an argument that Manchester United and Tottenham, perhaps the most likely to change at this point in the campaign, are not the right places for him just yet.
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This is not a take on Potter, but the culture he works in on the South Coast is very different from what he might know if he were to evolve. At the American Express Elite Football Performance Center, located just outside Brighton, the set-up is gradual and settled.
Albion are an ambitious club, with hopes of finishing in the top 10 ahead of a potential challenge for Europe in the years to come. But the big difference between his current employers and a move to teams like United and Spurs is that the pressure on the results is nowhere near as great.
As a previous column has already mentioned, the impressive start comes as no surprise when looking at the numbers from last season. Now, to a certain extent, the pressure is released and the seagulls can play with relative freedom, which can make them more dangerous.
But in the more high-profile clubs, Potter may not have time to get to this. In the first few months of last season some Brighton fans were starting to lose their patience and wonder if the project was worth it. They have more wins (four) after seven matches this campaign than they had halfway through the previous (three).
Seeing through the process does pay off, but it took a while to get there. The patterns of play are now ingrained in the squad (best demonstrated in a relentless 20-minute game against Arsenal on Saturday), and the culture off the pitch and on the training ground clearly plays a big role as well.
Shane Duffy gave some insight on that, and Potter appears to be the main reason for his resurgence this season after a nightmarish loan spell at Celtic.
“Someone makes a mistake, someone scores a winning goal, it doesn’t make a difference. It’s all of us and that’s how it is. No one is honored for an amazing performance and no one is hammered for doing anything wrong.
We are all balanced in this club. There are no superstars, we are all very good players and we bond very well as a team both away and on the pitch, so it’s going in the right direction.
This last point could be the centerpiece of the argument that Potter would be better off staying where he is, for now. If United or Spurs were to fire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nuno Espirito Santo respectively, they would inevitably do so because something is broken. The pressure would be to fix it quickly, and the board and fans might not be giving much time to fix it.
Potter is in a role where expectations are lower and he has time to move the team forward. His methods are so unique and so clever (he has a social science degree and a master’s degree in leadership and emotional intelligence) that he needs time to make these changes – not rushed.
Maybe, then, there are two natural places for him if he wants to finally move on and progress at a club that should be a challenge for the titles. Pep Guardiola has described Potter as the current ‘best’ England manager, and although there are mixed messages about leaving, he will clearly be leaving Manchester City at some point. His close relationship with City director of football Txiki Begiristain could mean that Guardiola will at least be heard if he makes a recommendation for his successor.
Likewise, if Jurgen Klopp decides to leave Liverpool for new opportunities, this would be the perfect place for Potter. The style isn’t that far removed from what he put together at Brighton, and both managers like to work with small teams.
Potter might be the man who could fix any club, but if we’re real, many would have to radically change their culture to give him the chance to do so.
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