The English Premier League is due to relaunch on 17th June with a fair amount still to be decided in spite of Liverpool waltzing towards their first league title in 30 years. One of those things is the fight to survive. One of the sides entrenched in that battle is Graham Potter’s Brighton, which got us looking at his career to date. It has its fair share of twists and turns, and we’re not convinced we’ve seen the end of it just yet.
Settling in Sweden
After a lower league playing career that spanned 10 different clubs saw Potter stay in England a move to Sweden to pick up the managerial reigns at fourth tier Ostersunds was perhaps an unexpected first step into the world of management. It worked out very well though.
When he first arrived, his side were low on confidence after a narrow relegation. It didn’t take Potter long to whip them back into shape though and 2011 saw him lead them to a first-place finish and subsequent promotion. A nine-point cushion and a goal difference of +39 was just a welcome icing on the cake. Ostersunds were expected to bounce back though so it wasn’t until the following season that people started to raise an eyebrow.
They’d just been promoted back to where they’d failed so miserably in 2010. Their style had been transformed with the side now a team that built from the back, slickly moving the ball around and they were winning games too. After a 26-game season they were Champions - again. Ostersunds were into the second tier for the first time since the leagues were restructured in 1997.
Slow and steady wins the race
The second tier proved a tougher nut to crack for Potter and co. They finished the season in tenth spot but spent five weeks in the relegation zone. Potter stuck to his guns though and insisted any success would be underpinned by shrewd recruitment and attractive football.
The start of the 2014 campaign was arguably Potter’s toughest time at the club as Ostersunds found themselves in the relegation spots for the opening six weeks. Thankfully, for all concerned, Potter had credit in the bank, and he turned things around to guide his team to fifth place.
Year three in the second tier saw yet further improvement by the ever-developing team with the home fans treated to an unbeaten record at the Jamtkraft Arena. A second-place finish - just one point off Jonkopings Sodra at the top - saw them clinch automatic promotion to the Allsvenskan.
A place in history
With Ostersunds making their strides into the top tier you would have forgiven Potter for switching to a more defensive style. He didn’t though. Instead, Potter set his team up to play exactly as they had done. It was working and he had no reason to question himself. He was right. Ostersunds managed a hugely respectable eighth place finish but it wasn’t that, which was the noteworthy achievement.
That instead came in the Svenska Cupen as Ostersunds breezed through to the final and thrashed Norrkoping 4-1 to claim the trophy. Better than that, Ostersunds - little old Ostersunds - were in the hat for Europa League qualification. They made it to the competition ‘proper’ too with wins over Galatasaray, Fola Esch of Luxembourg and PAOK.
The 2017 campaign, which would prove Potter’s last, saw Ostersunds flirt with the idea of Europa League qualification once again but this time through their league position. They ultimately fell two points short. Finishing fifth was a remarkable achievement anyway considering where they were when Potter arrived but, truth be known, it was never about the league. In the group phase of the Europa League they were paired with Atheltic Bilbao, Hertha Berlin and Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk. They lost just the one game - the away tie with Bilbao, which eventually saw Bilbao pip them to top spot on head to head results.
It was hardly bad news for Potter’s men though as it treated them to a knockout tie with Arsenal. Half an hour into the first leg, it might have felt different though with Arsenal going 2-0 up inside 24 minutes. On 58, the dream turned to a nightmare with Mesut Ozil making it 3-0 to the Gunners. There was still a trip to North London to come too. The odds were firmly stacked against Ostersunds.
Potter proved himself a stubborn man. Even against Arsenal, a team known for their pass and move approach, Ostersunds were going to get the ball on the deck and play. Two goals within a minute of each other had Arsenal fans biting their nails too as Potter had eyes on one of the greatest comebacks ever when Horsham Aiesh and Ken Sema both netted to give the Swedes a two goal lead. It proved a false dawn but Potter’s profile was sky high and a move to bigger things was inevitable.
Swansea success? Or stumbling lucky?
Potter moved to Championship side Swansea City in June 2018. He saw the Swans to a mid-table finish with a late flurry of form offering a glimmer of hope of the play-offs and a cup run that was ended by Manchester City saw Potter receive more recognition for the way he played the game. Dig deeper though and there were question marks raised by many as to whether he should have achieved more with a team that had just been relegated from the Premier League.
That summer, however, proved that people had differing views. Brighton sacked Chris Hughton despite him keeping them up in the Premier League and appointed Potter as his successor citing his entertaining and progressive style as key reasons.
The jury is still out
Potter ticked all the right boxes early on down on England’s south coast. Brighton scored four goals and took four points from their opening two games and after October saw good wins over Everton and Tottenham the club opted to give Potter a two year contract extension - despite the fact he still had more than three and a half years on his existing deal.
Many saw this as Brighton securing the man who would allow them to grow in a manner similar to Ostersunds but since 2020 arrived they’ve failed to win a game. They become as awful to watch as some of the worst teams in NFL history. The atmosphere had been turning prior to the coronavirus enforced break with a few pointing the finger at the side’s ability to ‘win ugly’.
The Premier League returns imminently, and Brighton are very much in a fight to survive. If they stay up, then Potter can build again but slip through the trap door and it could be a big climb for him to get his hands on a Premier League job again.