Even in disaster, Graham Potter maintained the same demeanour.
Some would call it measured. Others might say boring. Whatever the perception, it is perhaps to his credit, and might well be how he gets out of this. It’s just difficult to see that happening right now.
If Potter again cut the same figure, he has given even a club with as colourful a history as Chelsea something new.
His team now have a mere six points from nine games, and not even the notorious 2015-16 season got that bad. It is actually the worst extended run since 1994-95, when December-February saw Chelsea get a mere six points from 10 games. They’ve had bad runs since, but never for so long. That’s the kind of time we’re talking, in what is looking the ultimate test of patience.
If the inevitable question is once more how long the hierarchy can put up with this, and whether Potter has the capacity to turn it around, there is an alternative perspective. This is what transforming a club looks like.
It is a fantasy to think you can smoothly go from one model of success to one that is totally different. Fallow years are almost essential in that process, let alone inevitable.
Not even the most relentlessly successful of football institutions can try and change every element of their culture and go without significant ructions. Manchester United found that. Liverpool found that. Even Roman Abramovich found that, and that after the most superficial of changes. This is what must be accepted. This is why the new Chelsea hierarchy have been taking the long-term perspective.
The stance right up to the end of this week has been that Potter is overseeing a mismatched squad who must adapt to a new ideology, and that almost everything is going against him. The farce of Joao Felix’s red card only added to injury after injury.
These are not elements that Potter can control, but the further problem is that they are all coming together to foster a sense everything is going out of control.
“Sometimes these things happen and you suffer,” he said after the 2-1 defeat to Fulham. “And, believe you me, we are suffering.”
The challenge is somehow to play through it, to coach through it, to have faith through it. This is the message the hierarchy have been stressing – to trust.
And yet there is an obvious question from this, that leads to more complicated debate. Does the suffering have to quite be this bad?
It’s entirely possible that the Chelsea hierarchy can have the right attitude, but still picked the wrong man – or at least the right man at the wrong time.
The argument made right from the start was that, before taking the step to one of the global super clubs, Potter could have done with time at a regular Europa League club. That might even be what Brighton will become.
Instead, he has made the jump without any experience of managing world-class players and their baggage, or any proof that he can earn their respect. This matters. It is well known it is the first question high-achieving players start asking when things go wrong.
“What have you won? What have you done?”
The Independent has been told that some of Chelsea’s transfer targets haven’t known that much about him.
It is why Potter’s appeals to how Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp initially struggled aren’t that relevant. Both had superb careers prior to their English appointment, as well as an unmistakable charisma.
Those are the two most pertinent facts, but there’s also the reality that both had immediate effect in the way Potter hasn’t. Klopp started by winning some of the biggest games – including against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in that 2015-16 season – and getting Liverpool to two cup finals. Guardiola instantly won his first six games, offering a statement of what he wanted.
Even his own reference to Mikel Arteta only goes so far. The Arsenal manager had an even worse spell than Potter in 2020-21, claiming a mere five points from 10 games, but there was one significant difference.
Arteta confronted this problem by getting rid of anyone he couldn’t win over, which was a minority of the squad, given most were young and hadn’t won anything of note. That isn’t the case at Chelsea, which still has so many senior players and Champions League winners. Some of them have also been dropped or had new roles with little explanation.
None of this is to preclude the idea that Potter coaches his way through it, and learns on the job. He has the pure coaching talent. He’s a smart and emotionally intelligent man. These attributes can assert themselves with enough time – which is the big question.
How much “suffering” can even this Chelsea hierarchy tolerate?
Some with knowledge of the board believe they are prepared to miss out on European football next season. Todd Boehly has been telling people – including, of course, Potter – that he is willing to persist with this. He’s been so strong on it that the American billionaire would arguably look weak to the Clearlake investors if he went back on that now.
This is the kind of faith required, though, in a situation as testing as this.