Graham Potter has barely been in the Swansea City manager’s job for five months but he has already made an impact at the club having implemented a much desired ‘Swansea Way’ of playing.
Passing triangles are back, the team are making more than 600 passes in a game and surpassing 70% possession in recent games and it’s some coincidence to learn that Graham Potter’s inspiration for his style of play comes from him actually watching training sessions at Swansea City when Roberto Martinez and his assistant Graeme Jones were in charge 11 years ago.
In an interview from September 2017 for expressen.se – Potter revealed how he would watch Martinez and Jones’ training sessions at Swansea and how they helped me develop as a coach during his early “experimenting” years:
“They were killing League One with their ball possession. It was the first time anyone played like that in England, at least on a lower level. It became the identity of Swansea. There was a big reluctance against it within the club as well, but I saw how they were working towards something.”
“You try to steal some stuff. I was looking for something too. I had nothing. I had a bit of own thoughts but I needed a period of experimenting. I tried different systems and methods, and now when I think back that time was very important. I had a platform that showed me the things I needed to know and handle. Ideas of how I wanted to work started to grow and take shape.”
“But it wasn’t easy. There is this attitude in England, a culture that says: “the ball goes forward”. We don’t realise it before someone says: ‘I saw something else’. It is a bit difficult, you need to think a bit different, you need to train a bit different, but it is possible, I knew because I saw it happening in Swansea.”
It’s quite incredible to learn then that the man that Swansea City turned to to bring back the Swansea Way had witnessed its inception first-hand eleven years ago.
I wonder if it ever crossed his mind back in 2007 – as a 32-year-old that he might be manager at Swansea City one day!
Reading more of Potter’s quotes in the article, you get the feeling that he learned a hell of a lot from experiencing the lower English leagues as a player – the things he really didn’t like about the coaching and culture and how he wanted to be completely different to that as a manager.
“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.”
As with any job for a person without experience, Potter found it difficult to get his first coaching role as he revealed that League Two clubs asked questions that he just couldn’t answer.
“I was a university coach. No one was interested in me. They want to know: where are you signing players, what experience do you have of League Two, how are we getting out of this division? That sort of things.
They don’t wanna hear about a method, or how you work. Football is like that generally. When you start talking too much theory and tactics, people are going to see you as this high-brow bastard. It doesn’t help you being intellectually developed. You prefer someone who makes funny jokes.”
As we now know, Potter had to go a different route and try his luck abroad and he then reveals how he received an offer from Swansea City’s youth academy but it “wasn’t good enough”:
“I knew I had to take another path. I wasn’t exactly sure I had to go abroad. Very early, I got an offer from Swansea’s youth academy very early, but it wasn’t good enough.”
Potter also took inspiration from travels to Spain with Swansea’s former assistant manager Graeme Jones. Holistic training methods as well as Dutchman Raymond Verheijen’s training periodisation model.
“In football, result is everything. It is too much. There is a lot of great work being done but since the team doesn’t win its not interesting. Football is often simplified. The discussion seldom goes any deep, it stays short term and its danger, because we get into this conservative bubble. Then its easier to buy experience and refer backwards. That is why 95 percent of the leagues are determined by economical muscle. The big challenge of football is to leave the bubble.”
“In England, we do not like that with patience or short passing. It makes people angry when the ball passes around. That’s even the case with Pep Guardiola now. People want him to fail. “Look at him with his shoes and special trousers. What’s he talking about? Game-building?”.
Even before he joined Swansea City – a club run by American owners who are simply looking to save money wherever possible rather than looking to spend in an attempt for a quick return to the Premier League – Potter was talking about improving current players rather than simply signing players and looking to buy success.
When interviewed back in August about the lack of signings, some fans didn’t like his “yes-man style” reaction to the news. He spoke about focusing on improving the current players. He’s definitely consistent and his words were genuine as he was saying the same things a year ago:
“If you are a good coach, you can do more of what you have. That’s the trick.Then club leaders will start thinking: “Wait now, we’ve spent all these money, but things are not getting better, people do not develop.” That’s why it costs so much to buy experience, it’s safe. It’s up to coaches to develop a toolbox and methods that will in any case challenge this system.”
His final quote of the interview can’t be ignored either:
“I’m not worried about my reputation at home. I do not want to be what the conventional says you should be.”
Graham Potter is definitely not your typical, “conventional” manager. His approach, style and road to football management is very different to say the least. Like we said in the article here, Potter is unorthodox and so far it’s been a refreshing and welcome change from what’s been the norm here for the last few years.