Graham Potter is the new Tinkerman and Chelsea fans hate it

Graham Potter with Mason Mount – Graham Potter is the new tinkerman and Chelsea fans do not like it – Reuters/David Klein

As they left Stamford Bridge after watching their side succumb to their fifth defeat since the turn of the year, Chelsea fans were looking back, nostalgic for one particular aspect of their club’s past.

“Abramovich would have got rid of him by now,” one fan was saying. “Roman would never have appointed him in the first place,” said his mate.

The him they were referring to was Graham Potter, a manager who appears to have completely lost the backing of his club’s fans. At the final whistle after defeat to a Southampton side that remains bottom of the Premier League, the booing that echoed around the stadium was weighted with vitriol: “Potter, get out of our club,” one man yelled at the dug-out.

The shared belief is that were Abromovich still in charge, his ruthless speed in dispatching managers would have once again been in evidence. And unlike the removal of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Frank Lampard, this time the fans would be right behind him. Indeed, apart from the caretaker residency of Rafael Benítez, over Chelsea’s past 20 years it is hard to recall a manager who has been so universally unpopular.

And the criticism has validity: after spending several hundred million pounds, the team really should not be languishing in 10th place, having won once in their last five league games and scored just four goals in nine matches in 2023.

Worse, the manager appears not to know, in among his vast squad, the identity of his best team. Every match the changes are wholesale. Of his many predecessors the man he most resembles is Claudio Ranieri. This is the modern day Tinkerman. Against Southampton, he was asked why Reece James, Thiago Silva, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Hakim Ziyech and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were watching from the stands, not even from the bench.

“No injuries,” Potter explained. “More just the turnaround and demand of the games. It was a case of managing the load and managing the squad.”

Yet, with James in particular, the question is: what was he being managed for? Surely if you have the best right back in the country available, you play him? For the newly signed players, the constant churn means they are unable to form proper partnerships. The endless succession of right wingers in particular would surely benefit from having James behind them.

But it is in attack that the chopping and changing appears to bring the least reward. When Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz were brought off the bench at half time, they at least added some zest to a forward line that had defined the word insipid for the first 45 minutes.

Were it not for some inspired defending by the visitors, Sterling might have given Potter respite, however temporary. Which demands the question: when you have two such experienced players fit and firing, why start the game with David Fofana and Noni Madueke, who between them demonstrate an excess of youthful callowness? When you need a result, it seems entirely self-defeating. Potter, polite, calm and honest as ever, did not attempt to hide from his responsibilities,

“When we’ve lost 1-0 at home to Southampton, with the greatest respect to them, it isn’t good enough,” he said. “It is as much my responsibility as anybody’s because the performance wasn’t good.”

The question among the departing Chelsea fans is how much longer he can continue to tinker. And his position was not helped by the transformation of his rivals since they jettisoned an unpopular boss. Southampton, after weeks of embarrassment under Nathan Jones, suddenly looked a side. Unlike the Chelsea supporters, the Southampton fans were right behind their new – albeit so far temporary – manager Rubén Sellés, chanting his name throughout. And after a victory delivered through yet another wonderful free kick from James Ward Prowse, Sellés was not shy in making clear his own ambition.

“I don’t think there is a better free-kick taker in the history of the Premier League,” he said of his captain. “How many behind [David] Beckham is he? One? Hopefully he can break the record. Under me.”

How Chelsea fans would like to hear their manager talk of victory and records rather than defeat.

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