Welcome, then, Mr blue sky. As grand entrances go, in the long storied history of seizing the stage … well, this wasn’t really either of those. Instead Graham Potter’s first appearance as Chelsea manager was very much a reflection of the Graham Potter persona, the Graham Potter energy, the Graham Potter process.
Chelsea took a point at home to RB Salzburg and were solid, room temperature, mildly encouraging in their energy levels. But really of course, this was about an entrance. Did we get one? Kind of.
Stamford Bridge was a clammy place at kick-off, soothed by a power-ballad playlist that staked out a middle ground between “stadium” and Respectful.
There were union flags and a chorus of God Save The Queen (nice: old school) from both ends. And finally Potter came out, shaking hands, being nice, stooping a little. No waves, no performative stuff, nothing that really said, I am actually new here you know. As grand entrances go this was the managerial equivalent of taking your lunch tray and going to sit at the empty seat down from the teachers.
Instead Potter just stood there, comfortably, in his rectangle, dressed in a black suit and skinny black tie, looking a little bit wedding-guest-the-morning-after. He gestured a bit. He clapped. He shouted at Mateo Kovacic. But basically this looked like Graham Potter unexpectedly watching a football match . If nobody really cheered or sang his name, then Chelsea fans are loyal to their managers, but also choosy in how they bestow their favours. What will they make of Graham? How will this thing play?
Not least as Potter is very clearly intended as an expression of the new club culture, whatever that may be. Todd Boehly’s billionaire-bro schtick will be fascinating to watch and it is always wrong to judge too early. Although, sometimes you do wonder.
It seemed significant Boehly name-checked the Red Bull syndicate in his speak-your-brains session in New York this week. It seems he wants to create something of the multi-club model for Chelsea. Either that or he’s just looked at who they play next, done some Googling and had an idea. Who knows, perhaps next week he’ll be enthusing wildly about the Crystal Palace Model.
It has been an odd few days for the new blue dawn. Before those public comments this week it was tempting to wonder who was advising Boehly, who was actually explaining football to him. Now at least the answer is clear. No one. No one is doing that.
The best kind of spin you can put on his various ideas, the all-star game, the new mini-league at the bottom, is something along the lines of, hey, the guy’s a disruptor. Trust the big beast, the rainmaker.
But in reality this was nonsensical stuff. Even if these are really his ideas, and even if they turn out to be strokes of outsider genius, to talk about them in public now is laughably naive.
Do you actually want to be peering into a Zoom screen in a cardigan offering up a sad, pale apology? You can do stuff to English football. But you have to come with a smile and talk nicely as you wield the blade.
One good thing about Potter: he is undoubtedly a clean break with the past, with a sense that he represents something; that to pledge your troth to Graham, to give him a five or even seven-year contract (why not a 20-year contract?) is to show seriousness, moral fibre. This is good optics, good branding.
And it is to be hoped that everyone around here gives him time. You can see what the objections might be. Should results go the wrong way for too long people will say that he’s been over-elevated, that he’s a Nigel Adkins that got out of hand, a south coast Southgate. Can he make the step up? Will the people who give you no time actually give him some time?
He picked a sensible team here. He went with a back four. And Chelsea were the better team for most of this game. They looked eager enough, didn’t have any periods where the levels dipped or the passing became ragged. Three minutes into the second half they took the lead through Raheem Sterling. It came from a turnover and a quick break, a goal to be purred over in the video suite.
After which: not much. One eager thrust own the right was enough for Salzburg to equalise. Thiago Silva got drawn out of the middle and made a horrible lunging mis-tackle. César Azpilicueta didn’t get anywhere near Noah Okafor, who slid the ball home. Potter looked sad and shook his head. There was a kind of rally, if not really any sense of verve.
This team has been worse than this. This team has also been world champions recently. No doubt we are on a journey here, following a process; just probably best not to take too long about it.