Brighton manager Graham Potter has pulled back the curtain on his role as boss Potter led the Seagulls to ninth last season, their highest Premier League finishThe 47-year-old said he finds the role 'incredibly challenging', but also 'brilliant'
Every seven days Graham Potter laces up his trainers and goes for a jog down the Brighton seafront. It is, by some margin, the worst half hour of his week.
‘I absolutely hate running,’ the Brighton manager tells Sportsmail.
‘But I try to do it once a week just for my brain, just to deliberately do something I don’t like. It’s kind of a torture but I have to be prepared to deal with the pain.
‘I just think, “I hate this, I hate this. Why am I doing this?” I don’t find a zone or a mental high. No. I Just find real satisfaction when I have done it. That’s all it’s for. To show that I can.’
Graham Potter reflects on Premier League management as he begins a fourth year at Brighton
Football management is a stressful business. It could be argued there is enough pain and anguish at work without adding more on top in your spare time.
But Potter’s outlook on life has always been about asking himself just one more question, taking just one more step. Three years into his time at Brighton that philosophy remains.
‘In football the best way to convince people you are on the right path is to win,’ says Potter. ‘And when you are at Brighton or a lot of clubs in the Premier League, you don’t win that often. International breaks come, you get draws, you get a defeat, the fixture schedule throws big clubs at you.
‘Psychologically that can be a big challenge so I try to see it as something I am fortunate to experience. I try to think, “I am getting this challenge that allows me to try to grow as much as possible”.
The 47-year-old led the Seagulls to their highest ever Premier League finish of ninth last season
‘It is brutal at times. But you have to see it as a way of making you better as a person. Because what is the alternative?
‘Work is sometimes needed to find perspective, to zoom out of the emotional rollercoaster of the Premier League.
‘Because if you can’t do that it can drive you insane and change you for the worse. I’d never want that.’
Three months ago almost to the day, Potter watched his Brighton team demolish Manchester United 4-0 at the Amex Stadium. Brighton were to finish ninth in the Premier League, a record for the club.
‘It was one of those days you have to appreciate,’ he recalls.
‘The sun was shining, the team was playing well, we scored, caught the opposition at a good time and that was everything we needed. It was a good game and a good day. But it’s gone.’
On Sunday, Brighton begin their season at Old Trafford. United have a new coach and new players. Brighton will be without Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella, sold to Tottenham and Chelsea for a combined total of £90m. Potter, as always, is optimistic.
He says: ‘Sometimes you find yourself standing on the side of these pitches thinking, “Wow, this is amazing”. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be a shame if I ever thought differently.
Potter admitted his three years at Brighton had been ‘challenging’ amid grief and Covid
‘My mum and dad aren’t with us any more, bless them. But they were working people and would have loved to have watched these games.
‘Think of all the people in the world who would swap places with me. It’s incredible.
‘So you owe it to the game and everyone who has supported you to at least try to enjoy the opportunity to succeed or fail. It’s not always so simple. It’s tough but you really do have to try.’
Potter lost both his parents during his first season at Brighton. Soon after that, Covid struck. At the end of it, he kept Brighton in the Premier League by seven points but at times it felt a little more twitchy than that.
‘The three years here have been incredibly challenging,’ he nods.
‘It’s been really tough but brilliant as well. The older I get the more I realise life is like that. There is loads of good stuff but loads of bad stuff as well. Nobody escapes it. We are all the same.
‘The first year was probably the toughest of my life. Losing two parents so quickly and dealing with the emotion of the Premier League.
Potter lost both his parents in his first season before football was shutdown due to the virus
‘I was asking myself if I was feeling angry or upset because of the football or because of the stuff I was going through as a human being. You have to try and work that out. Maybe I still don’t know.
‘Then the pandemic hit and with all this in the background I was trying to convince everybody we were on the right path here and the truth is there isn’t a massive amount of patience in the modern world.
‘Ultimately people want to win and when you are getting 41 points — as we did — then it’s clear you are not winning that much.
‘So it’s tough to keep going forward and that’s where I am fortunate to have a good club here with good people to give me the stability to be able to be a coach. None of us are perfect. We all need that support and I am at a place where I get that. I am grateful.’ Brighton’s patience has been repaid. The team’s football is clever and progressive and has steadily improved under their 47-year-old coach along with their league position. Potter has also ignored at least one — possibly two — overtures from Tottenham in the last year or so.
Always a man to follow his own path, Potter arrived at Brighton having coached at university level, then in Sweden and only briefly at Swansea in the Championship. If anybody was going to turn away from a chance to jump at the first big club that approached him, it was him.
‘There are different jobs and different challenges,’ says Potter.
‘The truth is that in this league there is nothing easy. You look somewhere else and you could think, “More money, more problems”.
‘The ego can constantly make you look or compare yourself to someone else. You can think, “That could be better”.
‘But I try not to compare myself to another manager or this club to another club. Because it’s a game I can’t win. I don’t know about anybody’s circumstances apart from my own.
‘All I know is my own journey in life, my own ups and downs. So I focus on me and this club and how we can improve. It still feels right for me here.’
Realism about Brighton’s long term plans is partly behind the sale of Marc Cucurella to Chelsea
Cucurella’s sale to Chelsea for £60m this week represents superb business by Brighton. The Spanish defender was bought last summer for £15m. It is, in some ways, typical of what the club do but at the same time it feels pertinent to ask whether this serves as any consolation for a manager whose job it is to win matches.
‘We could soon be in a position where we have sold £150m of players in the last three windows,’ Potter acknowledges.
‘Would it be easier to win games with Ben White, Dan Burn, Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella? Yes. But that’s the job here. I have to understand these things will happen and it’s then about what we do with the money and how we keep progressing. That’s the interesting bit.
‘If the remit here was to win the Premier League, I would be saying a different thing. But it’s not. Our aim is to be a top-10 Premier League club and part of that strategy is understanding that if Champions League teams come for your players at the right time and right price then you have to use it as a way to recruit your next player and develop and grow your club.
‘It is tricky as we need to be mindful of the supporters. We don’t want to be seen as a development club.
‘We are here to win points and move forwards but most of our supporters understand that it’s not a straight line upwards.
‘We have a good foundation and strategy and that enables us to keep calm even though it will once more be a huge challenge. Because, as I say, the Premier League is brutal.’
Potter tries to keep himself busy with a weekly walk, as part of his recovery from management
Before his first season at Brighton, Potter spoke to this newspaper about the challenges ahead. He said he hoped the pressures of the Premier League would not change him. So have they?
‘I am sure I have changed but I would like to think it has been for the better,’ he says. ‘Three years ago I am sure you asked that meaning would it change me for the worse.
‘Of course the challenge is increased. You need to continually fight off the external noise. It’s so all-consuming and because the bubble is so ridiculous — and I say that not in a bad way — it can make you feel like it’s incredibly important.
‘It is, of course, but at the same time I look at my kids and ask myself if it really is that relevant.
‘I am at a club that has fought relegation and we know the consequences of going out of the Premier League. So it can consume you. Therefore you have to work hard to put things in place that give you a breather emotionally and mentally so that you can maintain the quality of your work.’
For Potter, release comes mainly from his wife, Rachel, and three children. During his early time at Brighton he felt he was not exercising enough or reading enough. He believes he has fixed that now.
He occasionally escapes to walk on Brighton’s South Downs — usually with a hat on — but admits the emotional impact of 90 minutes on the touchline can be hard to exorcise. ‘I try to be controlled during a game as if I am too emotional I am not helpful to the team,’ he explains. ‘Being angry is fine but it has to be at the right time and I don’t always get that right.
‘But games do take it out of me. After a match I say you need 48 hours. That’s the recovery process. Games are so emotional and so much happens to your body it takes me two days before I can feel normal again. Every week you are pushed to a limit.’
Potter is an ambitious man. His natural equanimity should not be misconstrued. He will manage at a big club one day and is deservedly high on the FA’s list as an eventual replacement for Gareth Southgate.
For the meantime, his objectives remain pure and that is rare. ‘My motives at the start of my coaching career were about making a difference to myself and other people,’ he says.
He believes his spell at Swedish side Ostersunds has taught him his job is about helping people
‘In Sweden at Ostersunds we won promotion three times, won a major trophy and went in to the last 32 in Europe.
‘So winning is part of the process. It convinces people and it speeds up development. You need both and, don’t get me wrong, I want to win trophies.
‘But I am also clear that this job is about helping people and making a difference to teams and clubs.
‘That’s fantastic and that’s what you do it for. It’s not me doing this, it’s the players. My role is relatively small. I am just trying to provide them with an environment in which they can progress.
‘But when I think back to Sweden and guys who came from lower levels who then had great experiences that enabled them to change their life, that’s an amazing thing as a human being.
‘I still track them and am still happy for them. Helping people is essentially a really good thing in life, isn’t it?’