His tenure as Chelsea manager had been hanging by a thread for weeks, but the club finally decided to act a day after Aston Villa had inflicted a 2-0 defeat on the Blues at Stamford Bridge. The new American owners had stuck by their man overnight. He was, after all, their choice. Indeed, on Sunday
His tenure as Chelsea manager had been hanging by a thread for weeks, but the club finally decided to act a day after Aston Villa had inflicted a 2-0 defeat on the Blues at Stamford Bridge.
The new American owners had stuck by their man overnight. He was, after all, their choice.
Indeed, on Sunday at 7.30am, 12 hours after the final whistle in SW6, the club were still so sure Graham Potter was staying that they invited reporters to a Monday afternoon press conference at the Cobham training ground, to chat to Potter ahead of Tuesday night’s Premier League clash with Liverpool.
So while it came as no real surprise that the club had run out of patience with the gaffer, despite showering him in half a billion pounds’ worth of new players, the timing of the announcement infuriated many supporters.
Chelsea regularly boasts that it is ‘One Club’ – a big family embracing the men’s, women’s, development, youth and disabled teams, uniting them under one vast umbrella and treating all of them with respect.
Yet the decision was made to issue the statement that Potter had been sacked right in the middle of Chelsea Women’s crucial WSL Sunday afternoon match at Walsall, rather than having the decency to at least wait until the game was over.
The fact that Chelsea Women won convincingly (against, yes, Aston Villa) made the contrast between the fortunes of the men’s and women’s teams even starker.
It’s still felt to be a year or two too early to contemplate, but if Chelsea men want a tactically brilliant leader and an inspiring manager with fresh ideas and an excellent track record and knowledge of the English and European game, the name of Emma Hayes should really be on the shortlist.
As it is, seven months after Potter’s reign began with such high hopes following his miracle work at Brighton, he has been temporarily replaced by one of his entourage, Bruno Saltor, as interim boss for the next few matches.
They include next week’s journey to face Real Madrid in the away leg of the Champions League quarter-final, drawing on Saltor’s knowledge of Spanish football, where he was a useful defender for many years.
Potter knew the game was up as the Chelsea v Aston Villa game moved into stoppage time last Saturday with the home side 2-0 down.
They could have played another hour and a half and still Chelsea wouldn’t have scored, so scarce have goals become of late.
The team and manager had been booed off the field at halftime, when they were only one goal down. Midway through the second half, after Villa captain John McGinn had blasted a second past Kepa, the chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ rang out from the Matthew Harding stand, directed at Potter.
Potter responded by making two substitutions, but to no avail. The final nail in the coffin came as Villa’s jubilant supporters crowed: ‘Sacked in the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning’, and Chelsea’s fans joined in, amplifying the doom-laden chorus all around the stadium!
Muttering to each other as they trudged back to Fulham Broadway, supporters agreed that Potter’s time was up, and that the only possible reason to hang on to him for another couple of weeks was because – despite the domestic season imploding – he’d somehow steered Chelsea into the Champions League quarter-finals.
With the Blues now in the bottom half of the Premier League table, and closer to basement club Southampton than top club Arsenal, the only hope of European qualification (a key reason why American investors felt it worth paying £4billion + for the club last summer) was to actually win the tournament this season.
In the cold light of day on Sunday, after Potter had told reporters in his post-Villa press conference the evening before that he ‘took full responsibility’, the American owners had second thoughts, and pulled the plug.
Potter was simply too nice. It wasn’t his style to give underperforming players the Alex Ferguson-style hairdryer treatment, shouting abuse in their faces to gee them up.
He was more an arm-round-the-shoulder kind of guy, gently encouraging and finding positives to try to improve play.
Indeed, the only person in the Chelsea dugout to be loudly shouting instructions to the players during the Villa match was club captain Cesar Azpilicueta, sitting two rows back and regularly getting to his feet to holler at his teammates. And Apilicueta was only there as part of the squad… he wasn’t even officially on the bench!
With a minute of stoppage time remaining of what turned out to be his last Chelsea match, Potter glanced down at the pitch with a look of despair on his face.
This 2022-23 season seems set to be a write-off, unless some miracle can be achieved in two Champions League games against mighty Real Madrid.
The next full-time manager will inherit a huge number of spare players, demotivated players, want-away players and bewildered fans. The very best of luck!