Graham Potter : The startling truth behind his appointment at Swansea City
Wednesday, 24th Feb 2021 09:00 by Keith Haynes
It has to be said, Swansea City have an excellent pedigree in unearthing coaches and managers, as well as players and the appointment of Graham Potter was a majestic move by the club back in 2018. However, what made that process almost seamless, and why did Potter come to the swans so keenly for just one season ?
We have seen it so many times and almost every football club, a manager or player ( usually ) signs for a team and it’s evident they are merely taking a stepping stone to better paid and more illustrious new pastures. We can all accept that, no problem. However, Graham Potter came to the swans with his Östersunds club in tatters,they were absolutely falling apart. He left the club when all seemed lost for him, distancing himself from those issues and problems that had surfaced in the last few months. Some said he jumped ship, others stated he stayed too long. In the end that didn’t matter, his European success and incredible management of the club taking them to the upper echelons of Sweden’s A league, the Allsvenskan, was the most evident statistic. Regardless of the criminality going on behind his back, Potter had walked the walk and was now a prized asset. He must have felt completely let down as well, his director of football and financier of the club, Daniel Kindberg had fallen foul of the authorities, and not in a small way, it completely ruined Östersund as a club.
Kindberg literally days before his arrest in 2018
Quite simply Potter and his staff moved on very quickly from Sweden, the owner Daniel Kindberg was under investigation regards huge money issues, including fraud. He had just been arrested, and Potter and his football ethic was in the firing line. Quite right too, Potter the football coach with a huge footballing ethic must have been devastated. As soon as Kindberg was arrested the fragile structure of the club started to collapse. Potter would not want to be implicated in any way ( he wasn’t at any level ) but the man who had brought and bought the club so much success was right in the mire and helpless. Potter was also helpless, and the uncertainty albeit timely for Swansea couldn’t have been better for Graham Potter either. He had already turned down an offer to join the swans some years before as youth team manager, but the offer financially didn’t suit Potter. So both club and coach knew each other well.
The question many were asking when Potter was appointed was ‘How’ ?
Most fans of the swans will know that Östersund FC have had close ties to Swansea City FC since 2007, a tie first initiated during the Graeme Jones and Roberto Martínez era at the Liberty. For many it was enough that Potter had achieved huge success in Sweden. Under Potter, Ostersund rose from the amateur ranks in 2011 to Sweden’s top league in 2015, and won the Swedish Cup in 2017. That qualified Ostersund for the Europa League, where it advanced to the knockout stage before losing to Arsenal despite winning the second leg 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium. The only records broken as a result of the close links would have been the potential signing of Sotiris Papagiannopoulos, had he become a Swansea player he would have had the longest ever name in English football. His success now is easily gauged as he is a Swedish international playing for AIK. Modou Barrow was a slight success and these players were all as a result of Potter’s training and scouting. Especially utilising his experience gained at the now closed Nike Football Academy.
Roberto Martinez one of the main influences in Potter’s training methodology
The tie between Swansea and Östersund came about due to Kindberg’s friendship with Roberto Martinez, a tie that flourished initially from 2007, players did go between clubs to train. And the swans played the inaugural game at Östersund’s new ground and facility as the club progressed. In fact it was Graeme Jones who recommended Potter to Kindberg, a young English manager with a clear philosophy of learning in an affective state, that is being placed in to uncomfortable situations and then learning not only from what happened but how it felt. The player would be asked to reflect upon their feelings when they were most uncomfortable, what it did to their decision making and how that impacted upon them. This wasn’t just in football terms, he would place players in to a situation and ask them thereafter to talk about it. Things as simple as singing in front of team mates, Potter managed to equate that to the players development personally. A clever learning and development tool for any football person to be aware of, let alone be able to implement it without alienating his players. It clearly worked.
Training the Ostersund FK way, find your comfort zone and push the boundaries
In amongst all this progressive and clever coaching methodology Kindberg was under investigation. On 17th April 2018, club chairman (also the director of football) Daniel Kindberg was taken into custody by the Swedish Economic Crime Authority, suspected on probable cause of serious fraud and for assisting in serious gross accounting violations. Together with two other people, Kindberg was suspected of submitting false invoices in several companies, according to the prosecution. Several of these companies have strong ties to Östersunds FK and the club's sponsorship deals. Several years before, in 2014, Kindberg was subject to criticism when Östersundshem, the municipal housing company where he was the CEO, became a big sponsor of Östersunds FK. The success and structure of the club was in turmoil. It didn’t take Potter time to make his mind up. And it didn’t take Swansea City to take advantage of the situation. Graham Potter and Billy Reid, who once turned the swans down for the managers job ahead of Brendan Rodgers were Swansea bound.
Kindberg, arrested charged and later jailed for financial crimes
Graham Potter lasted only one season at Swansea, newly relegated and in some financial concern the club were managed well initially. Potter’s stock rose, and it wasn’t a surprise that premier league clubs became interested in him, his staff, and of course training philosophy. The crisis reported by the club at the time was eeking it’s way back to once Chairman Huw Jenkins, who had not curried favour with the majority American owners by declining to sell Daniel James on the cheap to Leeds United. Two days later on February 2nd 2019, Jenkins left the club. His last action blocking the Dan James deal was to prove a master stroke financially for incoming director Trevor Birch. Thereafter Jenkins would be the blame for everything negative, and nothing positive, his work for years was forgotten. Something we should all remember, in all our lives.
Potter having witnessed a club in turmoil only a year before in Sweden would have been unsettled by the clubs financial problems, it would not have sat well with him. As soon as Brighton came calling and were able to pay the reported two million compensation he and Billy Reid, numerous fitness coaches and scouting network were gone. As has been reported of late by Andy Scott, now head of recruitment at Swansea, it was an absolute mess of a situation. He had to start again. And he did that with another unproven but well thought of manager, Steve Cooper. The results as we know were not rapid, but testament to the hard work done is this seasons success at Swansea City.
Graham Potter studied Jones & Martínez and learned most of his tactical play in his early years from them, then turned down an early offer to join Swansea
Graham Potter - “When I was playing there was no culture of learning. There was a culture of blaming, filled with mistakes and fear. As a coach you need to challenge it. But how do you do it differently?” How do you cope with failure and mistakes? That started to create a more theoretical understand of leadership in me. How am I going to use this knowledge in football? Mistakes happen. How do you react? How do we develop responsibility, self-consciousness and empathy? It is the most important thing in a football team. I knew it, but now I had the tools to develop it. Anyone can see a training session or practice on Youtube, but if it is delivered in a bad environment, its not going to work.”
We shouldn’t leave Graham Potter as some self appreciating man who has forgotten his roots. When Östersund were declared financially on their knees Potter made a substantial donation of his own free will to the club. A Michu Oviedo situation, an appreciation of what they gave him, and helped him to achieve - his prize of premier league management. Kindberg went to trial with two other defendants and in November 2019 was banned from any business activity for five years, he also received a three year prison sentence. A part of the process was he repaid over million pounds back in to the same public funds he had drained over several years. The pathways of Potter and Kindberg from 2018 couldn’t be more different.
Many swans fans recall Potter’s time as manager affectionately, and they are right to do so, he re-engaged the club with the fans. His philosophy hailed a return to the heady days of Laudrup and Rodgers in the top flight. As always nothing is certain in football, nothing remains equal and the parts of any success will always seek or succumb to the greener grass elsewhere. The same will happen to Steve Cooper and more in the future, well, we hope so, it’s a rubber stamp of their success whilst at our club. However, Graham Potter was an enigma, he reinforced a football philosophy in Swansea. From nothing he enforced change in Sweden, thanks to his Swansea links even way back in 2010. He knew exactly what the swans needed and stripped it back to its foundations. Sadly when he left those foundations were exposed when the main framework of those foundations went with him. And this is testament to the new era that dawned in Swansea in 2019. Things change, personalities and identities move on, but some of it remains. The same thing will happen at every club, the new incumbents will have their own style and ideas, but at a club like Swansea City if it’s managed appropriately, like it was when Steve Cooper and Mike Marsh were appointed, there is a fighting chance. If those new faces recognise the clubs identity and can move that forwards, you may just find yourself disappointed that a first loss in eight weeks as happened on Saturday is frustrating, even annoying. But the structure won’t collapse on the back of one defeat, even three, and that’s why swans fans need to invest their trust in the current management team, because if they do it could well be that faith is repaid, and the journeys end is just the start of a brand new chapter.
Two fantastic managers have held the title of Swansea manager since relegation from the premier league, the first reinvented a football identity the club was always admired for. The second a perfect mould of the first in style, approach, methodology and process. There isn’t too much wrong at all at Swansea City FC, but as Steve Cooper has said many times, even when we win well, we still look to improve.
That’ll do for me.
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