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Potter magic has Seagulls flying high

Potter magic has Seagulls flying high

FOOTBALL: The season may only be five games old but a quick glance at the table might surprise many to see Brighton in fourth place, nestled between the two Manchester giants and only one point off the summit.

By Ben Tirebuck

Saturday 25 September 2021, 09:00AM

Graham Potter’s unconventional methods are paying dividends. Photo: AFP

Graham Potter’s unconventional methods are paying dividends. Photo: AFP

Cynics will point to a favourable opening run of games but the more observant will argue that it has much to do with the manager, Graham Potter.

The 46-year-old Englishman is very much a shepherd amongst sheep, innovative, refreshing and fearless in adopting an unorthodox approach to his management style.

Following a career spent mainly in the lower leagues, Potter pursued an unconventional route to top-flight management, coaching at Hull and Leeds Universities, the England Universities Squad and the Ghana women’s team at the 2007 World Cup.

He took the manager’s job at Swedish fourth division side Östersund in 2011 where he produced a minor miracle by guiding them to three promotions, a national cup victory and a run in Europe with impressive performances against the likes of Arsenal and Galatasaray. Next a move to Swansea before he took up the reigns at Brighton in 2019.

His teams play a possession-based, enterprising style of football, encouraged to take risks. Pep Guardiola describes him as the best English manager in the game.

Human touch

With a degree in Social Sciences and a Master’s in leadership and emotional intelligence, Potter is very much about the human touch. Success on the pitch for him is guided by people first and players second. While at Östersund he introduced the “cultural academy” where players, coaches and staff would collaborate to create community art projects and perform theatrical productions for the public every year.

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The reasoning, explained Potter, is to take people out of their comfort zone, to test them as individuals and a group; to promote bravery and responsibility and to see how they respond by finding solutions, all factors that can indirectly translate to scenarios in a game. You can be sure that a squad having to perform Swan Lake before an audience won’t be phased by much on the pitch.

“I just think it’s the only way you can get better, ultimately,” Potter told The Guardian in 2019. “As soon as you stay comfortable, I think you’re on the way down. There are bits when the lads don’t really want to do it [but] you have to try and manage that as a team, as a club.

“We are our own worst enemies and as a coach you can help people recognise that, raise their self-awareness and then see if they change or do anything about it.

“That is actually a very rewarding thing about the job because you are actually helping people’s lives in a way. People think that coaching is about winning football matches – which, of course, it is – but throughout my career it has also been about helping people become better, more able to deal with life and be more successful in their lives, on and off the football pitch.

“If you just pin yourself to a result, it is a bit of a rollercoaster. You cannot win all the time and, often, we don’t win that much. I think if we can create an environment where people genuinely think that we are trying to help them, to improve them, maybe they will try a bit harder and do a bit better for the team and the club. I have to remind myself of that a lot, especially if we’ve got beat. It takes me probably 24-48 hours to come out of that darkness of defeat.”

This is not something Potter has experienced of late with only one loss thus far this season. Further defeats will come, of course, but in Potter the club have someone who can clearly manage the balance.

Sharing a famous surname with a fictional wizard, there are no doubts this thoughtful and creative coach will continue to weave his own brand of unconventional magic for many moons to come.

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