The making of new Chelsea boss Graham Potter

The making of Graham Potter: Rapping in a woolly hat, dancing in Swan Lake and picked from obscurity while coaching at Leeds Metropolitan University… the incoming Chelsea boss has done it all in over three decades in football

  • Graham Potter has done it all during his three decades working in football 
  • The Chelsea boss has employed several unconventional team building methods
  • At Ostersunds, they put on a play and staged rock and rap concerts 
  • Potter was working at a university when he got his first job in management 
  • The 47-year-old will now take charge of one of the biggest clubs in football

Whatever the stage, Graham Potter has always risen to the occasion.

In taking charge of Chelsea, the 47-year-old will get his first experience of the pressures of working at one of Europe’s elite clubs and managing in the Champions League.

But performing outside of his comfort zone is nothing new for Potter.

While boss of Swedish side Ostersunds, the Englishman and his players would embark on a different cultural project each season, culminating in an end-of-year show. They put on a play, staged rock and rap concerts and, most memorably, performed their own version of ballet Swan Lake.

Graham Potter staged a performance of Swan Lake as one of his unconventional team building exercises during his time in charge of Ostersunds

‘He did a solo ballet dance in front of thousands of people,’ recalls Jamie Hopcutt, who Potter signed for Ostersunds from non-League Tadcaster Albion.

‘Being the manager, he could easily have sat back and had a laugh, but he really got stuck in and showed the players, “I am in this with you”.

‘We did seven performances together. The first one was a play, where we did a dressing-room scene and the players were taking the mick out of the manager. He did another solo performance where he sang a Swedish song that was popular in Ostersund, and he did a rap where he was wearing one of those woolly hats that go over your ears.

‘Graham was so far out of his comfort zone but he was not afraid to laugh at himself if it was going to help the team. The players have more respect for a manager when he is willing to put himself on the line like you are.’ 

Ostersunds’ ‘culture academy’ was the brainchild of the club’s then chairman Daniel Kindberg, who wanted to develop the players as people and improve the togetherness of the team.

‘Graham’s Swan Lake performance was top class,’ Kindberg recalls to Sportsmail.

‘His rapping also made me cry my eyes out with pride. I was part of the concert and we were s*** scared, but he went first, overcame his nerves and was actually quite good.

Jamie Hopcutt played under Potter at Ostersunds and recalled the new Chelsea boss’ willingness to laugh at himself

‘He believed that he should always go first. He did not demand anything from anybody else that he would not do himself. That shows you who he is.

‘He’s never anything less than 100 per cent. He would always do his best.’

It was Kindberg who plucked Potter out of obscurity to give him his first break in management in 2010. A lower-league journeyman full back, Potter was coaching at Leeds Metropolitan University when he was offered the Ostersunds job on the recommendation of Graeme Jones, the Newcastle coach who played with him at Boston.

It turned out to be an inspired appointment. Potter led Ostersunds from Sweden’s fourth tier to the first, winning the Swedish Cup and reaching the last 32 of the Europa League, when they went out on aggregate to Arsenal but won at the Emirates.

‘To have achieved those things in a small, small club up in the mountains in a small country ranked 26th in Europe, it is absolutely world class,’ admits Kindberg.

‘He is a tactical and leadership genius. He is a gentleman as a person. He is extremely intelligent.

Potter transformed Ostersunds from fourth-tier strugglers into one of the top teams in Sweden

‘He helps players fulfil their potential as humans and as players to win football games. He has helped many players who came from absolutely nothing to be top-class players.’

Kindberg references Modou Barrow, Ken Sema and Saman Ghoddos, who were signed by Ostersunds and went on to play for Swansea, Watford and Brentford respectively in the Premier League.

Hopcutt also experienced a remarkable career transformation under Potter, from being released by York City as a 19-year-old to starting in the Europa League against Arsenal.

‘He was unbelievable for me and what he did for my career,’ says the 30-year-old midfielder, who now plays for IFK Mariehamn in the Finnish Premier Division.

‘I have had about eight managers since Graham and you realise how much better he is than others. First and foremost, it’s his style of play. Then it’s the way he works with the individual on and off the pitch. He really cares about the human being, not just the footballer.’

Hopcutt gives a specific example. ‘After we got promoted to the top league, he emailed the parents or loved ones of all the players and asked for them to send a handwritten letter about how proud they were of our achievements,’ he reveals.

‘He then wrote his own letter about each player. He printed both letters off, put them in a personalised envelope and gave them to the players at the end of the season. It was a really nice touch. There were a lot of little things like that.’

The 47-year-old has achieved cult status at Ostersunds for his success with the club

For Hopcutt, it is no surprise what Potter has gone on to achieve, first with Swansea in the Championship and then Brighton in the top flight, leading to him landing the job at Chelsea.

‘It is hard to think of a more remarkable rise in football,’ he says. ‘From Ostersunds to the Premier League, the step is huge. But you could see he had the credentials to go on and manage the big teams.’

Kindberg, too, had no doubts about what the future had in store for the English manager. Now he predicts Potter will work his magic at Stamford Bridge.

‘For me, it was a matter of time until one of the biggest clubs in Europe tried to recruit him,’ Kindberg adds.

‘I said in 2014 that he was the best manager in Scandinavia when we were still in the second tier and people laughed.

‘In 2017, I predicted he would manage a top European club and now I say today that Graham is one of the top five coaches in the world.

‘The owner of Chelsea is at least as brilliant as myself because if he can recruit Graham Potter, he is a very intelligent man.

‘With Graham, the club will achieve things that they have never done before, both on the pitch and off the pitch.

‘He will start a new era in world football.’

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