After Graham Potter’s departure from Brighton this week, it is easy to assume the Seagulls will soon be a spent force. The extremely highly-rated English coach has helped develop the club into one of the Premier League’s most forward-thinking and exciting teams, and he will certainly prove difficult to replace.
In three years at the Amex Stadium, Potter slowly developed a system and a style, which was both easy on the eye and effective, which took Brighton from consistent relegation battlers to mid-table security with hopes of battling for Europe. His affable nature convinced his players, and he began to impress a growing list of admirers. It always felt as though Potter would eventually leave the club, and finally last week, he joined Chelsea after the rather surprising sacking of Thomas Tuchel. Potter is something of a trailblazer; he is far from the first man to operate with a fast, free-flowing, possession-based philosophy, but the way he incorporated that into a club without a great history in the top flight or a huge budget to spend is nothing short of remarkable. Whether he can reproduce that in a much more volatile atmosphere, with a huge rise in expectation levels at Stamford Bridge remains to be seen, but nobody could deny that he has earned his chance.
So what next for Brighton? Is it time to worry? Well, to put it bluntly, no. After taking them to their highest ever Premier League finish of ninth last season, Potter departs with them sat in the Champions League places, coming off the back of a ferociously entertaining demolition of Leicester City. There is an opportunity to evolve from a position of immense strength; when Potter arrived in 2019, Chris Hughton had managed to secure a third straight-season in the Premier League, but by playing in a way that made Brighton susceptible to danger at any point. Hughton had got them promoted and kept them up, many people suggested they should be careful what they wished for in replacing him, citing previous examples of clubs attempting to grow and develop only for it to come back to bite them. Most clubs aren’t as well run as Brighton, though.
For two years, the results under Potter were not too dissimilar to Hughton, but the differences were clear. There was a bigger plan, an aim to go somewhere, with some very exciting players in the squad. Something that consistently plagued them, however, was a lack of goals. Their expected goals (xG) based on how many goals they should be scoring from chances created, was considerably higher than their tally and league position throughout Potter’s reign. For almost the entirety of it, that issue remained unsolved and still does so today despite Brighton’s lofty league position.
It is refreshing that Chelsea, one of the Premier League’s heavyweights, have appointed Potter, but they’ll need to change the culture of pressure and instant gratification of he is to succeed there. Potter is the best example in the marked improvement of English coaching over the past decade, and he’s proven that over extended periods of time both on the south coast and during seven years at Swedish side Ostersunds, during which he achieved three promotions and European qualification, before a year at Swansea.
This day was coming for Brighton and they knew it. Their success is not down to individuals, but rather a collective approach to moving on and improving with more talent when somebody moves on, be it players, staff or directors. Club policy dictates that they do not stand in the way of anybody when a bigger opportunity arises, so long as the deal suits them. Dan Ashworth, their technical director, left for Newcastle, but was forced to undertake a lengthy period of gardening leave during the negotiations over compensation. There have been profits on sales from Ben White, Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella, and when Potter’s new contract was signed months after he arrived, a reported £20m release clause was inserted. Brighton have come out well from each of those deals, banking on the fact that more untapped talent is out there ready to impress with the club.
The conveyor belt approach is already working this season. Bissouma was a key part of Brighton’s midfield under Potter, setting the energetic tone they needed to trigger Potter’s high pressing approach. He impressed plenty of clubs before joining Tottenham this summer; if there were any concerns over what would happen next, there shouldn’t have been. Moises Caicedo has impressed thoroughly since coming into the team after a £4.5m move last year and a loan spell away.
The Ecuadorian is a shining example of how to find good young players from niche markets. His impressive rate of 2.7 tackles per 90 minutes and 1.7 interceptions shows that there is life after a big departure.
Plenty of exciting managers would love the chance to build on Potter’s work, especially now the route working at Brighton can take people has been forged. The club could be excused for refusing to accept that fact, but embracing it would have a hugely positive, lasting impact on their future.