Chelsea might have new owners but once again it’s the manager who is stabbed in the back as Graham Potter given his P45
SO much for the long term. So much for Project Potter.
The first manager appointed by Chelsea’s new ownership with a supposed new vision has been sacked after less than six months.
In fact, Graham Potter becomes their shortest-serving permanent coach in the Premier League era.
And chairman Todd Boehly and his sidekick Behdad Eghbali have learnt their most painful lesson about this particular club — and English football as a whole — very early on.
On the day Queen Elizabeth II died last September, the two Americans prised Potter away from Brighton with a £50million, five-year contract.
There was also the promise of patience. To anyone with any knowledge of Chelsea, that is a concept more alien than Martians landing on the Stamford Bridge pitch itself.
But it was all about slow burning, gradual building they insisted. Taking the best bits from other Premier League clubs bit by bit and ultimately moulding Chelsea into a global giant of the game.
Plans to buy up foreign clubs — as Manchester City have done — was only part of the more philosophical idea.
Arsenal’s masterplan of giving their bright, young head coach Mikel Arteta the stress-free environment in which to slowly plot a mountain hike up to the summit of the game was right up their street.
Results were important but not the be-all and end-all. Even failing to finish in the top four this season — traditionally the minimum requirement at Stamford Bridge — was not a deal breaker.
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The usual demand for a major trophy every season, the intense pressure of constantly sleeping with a suitcase by your bed in readiness for the axe was a thing of the past.
But after barely half a year, Potter is gone because of a “lack of progress”.
That may be the four wins in the last 13 games or the fact that some of the new signings made during the near £300m spend in the last transfer window have yet to shine. It probably relates to both.
The players were in for training yesterday. A session for those who swerved the embarrassment of Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Aston Villa. Recovery for those who played.
The entire squad left for home none the wiser and were under the impression that Potter was still the man for the job in the eyes of Boehly and Eghbali and would be in charge for tomorrow’s game against Liverpool.
Yet behind the scenes the knives were being sharpened.
And it was Potter’s supposed pal Paul Winstanley who was one the architects of the manager’s downfall.
The head of global talent and transfers, along with technical director Laurence Stewart, recommended the change to the board of directors, citing their belief that the hugely expensive squad was going nowhere.
That the new signings, many of them foreign and you would assume brought in by Winstanley and his team at vast expense, were not getting any better so something had to give.
Eghbali took the well-trodden path to Chelsea’s lavish Surrey training ground once it was quiet and did the dirty deed, like so many of his predecessors under the previous regime of Roman Abramovich — who now looks like a gullible, loved-up Sugar Daddy compared to the new guys.
It does not need a genius to realise Potter was struggling — results, odd team selections, tactics and a general sense of confusion were the overriding themes, easily overshadowing the odd bright spot.
Playing senior players like winger Raheem Sterling as a right wing-back, banishing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — the only out-and-out and fit striker on the books — from the matchday squad and sticking with Kai Havertz up front were three glaring examples of his peculiar methodology.
Only last Saturday, when Chelsea were crying out for an attacking edge against Villa, he kept Mason Mount on the bench as the cries of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rang in his ears.
Yet the constant drumbeat from within the walls of Stamford Bridge over time was that Potter could not have been more popular with his dream bosses, happy to spend almost £600m on 14 new players over the last two windows without getting any bang for their buck.
It would all come good in the long term and Chelsea would slowly emerge from the chasing pack behind Arsenal and Man City to once again reign supreme in a glittering new dynasty that would last for years.
Long-term contracts for players, a manager with the confidence of job security, a club on a steady treadmill to triumph.
There were many who suspected Boehly, Eghbali and their pals from Clearlake Capital were taking one helluva risk with this strategy at a club where the supporters have been brought up on regular trips to Wembley and beyond in search of silverware — and often finding it.
The Yankee hedge-fund schemers are now more than £5billion and one manager down and sit 11th in the Premier League with a massive squad of players who are no better now than when Potter arrived.
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