Brighton and Graham Potter: Why the club have considered an unlikely return

Brighton & Hove Albion have given consideration to hiring Graham Potter for a second spell as head coach.

Whether he ends up back at the Amex Stadium is another matter, but it would have been remiss of the club not to contemplate the possibility of a return for the 49-year-old.

Potter, in the words of Brighton’s long-serving captain Lewis Dunk, did an “incredible job” in his first stint. He improved them during 40 months in charge, transforming Brighton from bottom-six fodder in the Premier League to ninth at the end of 2021-22, while playing a progressive brand of football.

Having beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford on its opening weekend, Brighton were fourth in the table six games into the 2022-23 season when he left to manage Chelsea.

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Potter celebrates with Dunk (Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)

The departure of his successor Roberto De Zerbi in May due to differences over player recruitment policy — after the Italian built on Potter’s work by improving Brighton further to take them to a sixth-place finish that season and European competition for the first time in the one just ended — has left the club conducting a meticulous process to appoint a replacement.

The timing of Potter’s move to Stamford Bridge, during the first international break after the start of that 2022-23 season, demanded greater urgency in pinpointing the team’s next leader.

De Zerbi was appointed 10 days later. It is now 14 days since De Zerbi’s tenure ended with a 2-0 home defeat by Manchester United, a loss which dropped his side to a final league position of 11th after a campaign undermined by inconsistency and long-term injuries to key players.



What now for Roberto De Zerbi?

During that time, Kieran McKenna, a top contender to replace the Italian, has chosen to stay put at Premier League new boys Ipswich Town. Tony Bloom would have been prepared for that possibility as the owner-chairman weighs up other names on the data-led A-list with chief executive Paul Barber and technical director David Weir. Reports that former Nottingham Forest manager Steve Cooper is now leading the race are wide of the mark.

There has been no shortage of interest in the job from at home and abroad. Brighton are, after all, a more attractive proposition than ever before, with a stable ownership and having proven they are capable of competing with the next tier of clubs outside the Premier League’s elite.

Last week, the full board were together for three days at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire, just north of London, to discuss the season that has passed and to look at future plans. That is normal practice at the end of every campaign, although on this occasion the next head coach would have been a hot topic of conversation. Last week was also a half-term holiday for UK schools, when some potential candidates can be distracted by family getaways.

Potter still lives on Brighton’s doorstep in nearby Hove with his wife and their three sons. Barber is a neighbour, as was Dan Ashworth before the former technical director’s summer 2022 move to Newcastle. That is one box ticked.

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Potter improved Brighton during his 40 months in charge (Robin Jones/Getty Images)

Potter is still out of work following his Chelsea sacking and, in theory, readily available without any need to pay compensation, although Brighton have a substantial pot of money which would not have presented a problem in paying Ipswich what would have been around £4million for McKenna.

They received £21million in compensation for Potter and his staff when they left for west London. The parting of ways with De Zerbi by mutual consent also includes a payment if he joins another club this summer.

There would be no repeat of the player recruitment issue that prompted De Zerbi’s departure. Potter was comfortable with the processes in place at Brighton during his first spell in charge.

He would be welcomed back by senior figures in the dressing room such as Dunk, who also described Potter when he left as a “top manager and a top man”. And with a new wave of young talents with whom to work — Joao Pedro, Bart Verbruggen, Carlos Baleba, Facundo Buonanotte, Valentin Barco — together with the prospect of significant further investment in the coming summer window to strengthen the squad, there is genuine hope of re-establishing the club in the top 10. They are a team with European qualification and domestic trophy aspirations.

More boxes ticked.

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Potter’s stint at Chelsea was short-lived (Rob Newell – CameraSport via Getty Images)

There are buts, though.

Sections of the fanbase hold grudges against Potter over the way he left, and regarding comments he made both during his time in charge of Brighton and when at Chelsea.

Taking two long-standing club servants in assistant coach Bruno Saltor and goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts with him to Chelsea went down badly, although they too multiplied their salaries and had an opportunity to work at a bigger club. Roberts is still at Stamford Bridge, but Saltor is likely to be working again with Potter wherever he is appointed next.

Some supporters have not forgiven Potter, either, for his comments in November 2021 after a 0-0 home draw against Leeds United was greeted with a chorus of boos. Brighton were eighth in the table at the time. “They’re entitled to their opinion,” he said. “I disagree with them completely. Maybe I need a history lesson of this football club.”

Or, when he was at Chelsea, that: “If I wanted a nice, easy life I’d have stayed at Brighton.”

Any dissent would surely soon dissipate if results picked up again under Potter. If they did, he could become a target for a bigger club once more — but that would be the case with the next coach Brighton hire, regardless of who it is.

Potter has been out of work for 14 months since his ill-fated Chelsea reign, which ended up lasting just 31 games. Lucrative compensation for losing his job less than seven months into a five-year contract has afforded him time to consider his next move carefully.

It may not be at Brighton, but there are not many better jobs out there than at a progressive, soundly-run Premier League club with no financial worries.

And if Bloom ended up deciding Potter is the right man again, that ought to be enough to calm the reservations of supporters.

(Top photo: Robin Jones/Getty Images)

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