Whatever the stage, Graham Potter has always risen to the occasion.
By taking charge of Chelsea, the 47-year-old will gain his first experience of the pressures of working for one of Europe’s elite clubs and managing in the Champions League.
But acting outside his comfort zone is nothing new for Potter.
While the boss of Sweden’s Ostersunds, the Englishman and his players embarked on a different cultural project each season, culminating in a year-end show. They staged a play, staged rock and rap concerts and, most memorable, performed their own version of the ballet Swan Lake.
Graham Potter staged a performance of Swan Lake as one of his unconventional team building exercises during his time in charge of Ostersunds
“He did a solo ballet dance in front of thousands of people,” recalls Jamie Hopcutt, who signed Potter for Ostersunds of non-League Tadcaster Albion.
“As a manager, he could have easily sat back and laughed, but he really stuck and showed the players, ‘I’m doing this with you’.
‘We’ve done seven gigs together. The first was a play where we did a locker room scene and the players pulled the manager out of the clutches. He did another solo performance where he sang a Swedish song that was popular in Ostersund, and he did a rap wearing one of those wool hats that go over your ears.
Graham was so far out of his comfort zone, but he wasn’t afraid to laugh at himself if it would help the team. The players have more respect for a manager if he is willing to put himself on the line like you do.”
The Ostersunds ‘culture academy’ was the brainchild of the club’s then chairman Daniel Kindberg, who wanted to develop the players as people and improve the team’s togetherness.
“Graham’s Swan Lake performance was top-notch,” Kindberg recalled to Sportsmail.
His rapping also made me cry with pride. I was part of the concert and we were terrified, but he went first, overcame his nerves and was actually pretty good.
Jamie Hopcutt played under Potter in Ostersunds and recalled the new Chelsea boss’s willingness to laugh at himself
“He thought he should always go first. He didn’t demand anything from anyone that he wouldn’t do himself. That shows who he is.
“He is never less than 100 percent. He would always do his best.’
It was Kindberg who plucked Potter from obscurity to give him his first break in management in 2010. Potter, a junior journeyman, coached at Leeds Metropolitan University when he was offered the job in Ostersunds on the recommendation of Graeme Jones. , the Newcastle coach who played with him in Boston.
It turned out to be an inspired appointment. Potter led Ostersunds from Sweden’s fourth tier to first, winning the Swedish Cup and reaching the last 32 of the Europa League when they joined Arsenal but won at the Emirates.
“Having achieved that in a small, small club in the mountains in a small country ranked 26th in Europe, that is absolutely world class,” admits Kindberg.
“He is a tactical and leadership genius. He is a gentleman as a person. He is extremely intelligent.
Potter transformed Ostersunds from fourth-tier fighters into one of the top teams in Sweden
“He helps players to use their potential as a person and as a player to win football matches. He has helped many players who came out of nowhere to become top players.”
Kindberg refers to Modou Barrow, Ken Sema and Saman Ghoddos, who were signed by Ostersunds and went on to play for Swansea, Watford and Brentford respectively in the Premier League.
Hopcutt also went through a remarkable career transformation under Potter, from his release from York City as a 19-year-old to starting in the Europa League against Arsenal.
“He was incredible for me and what he has done for my career,” said the 30-year-old midfielder, who now plays for IFK Mariehamn in the Finnish Premier Division.
“I’ve had about eight managers since Graham and you realize how much better he is than others. It is primarily his playing style. Then it’s the way he works with the individual on and off the field. He really cares about the person, not just the footballer.’
Hopcutt gives a specific example. “After we were promoted to the Premier League, he emailed the parents or loved ones of all the players and asked them to send a handwritten letter about how proud they were of our achievements,” he reveals.
Then he wrote his own letter about each player. He printed both letters, put them in a personalized envelope and gave them to the players at the end of the season. It was a really nice touch. There were a lot of those little things.’
The 47-year-old has achieved cult status at Ostersunds due to his success at the club
It is no surprise to Hopcutt what Potter has achieved, first with Swansea in the Championship and then Brighton in the top flight, which led to him landing the job at Chelsea.
“A more remarkable rise in football is hardly imaginable,” he says. “The step from Ostersunds to the Premier League is huge. But you could tell he had the qualifications to go on and lead the big teams.”
Kindberg also had no doubts about what the future held for the English manager. Now he predicts that Potter will use his magic on Stamford Bridge.
“For me it was only a matter of time before one of the biggest clubs in Europe tried to recruit him,” Kindberg added.
“I said he was the best manager in Scandinavia in 2014 when we were still on the second row and people were laughing.
“In 2017 I predicted that he would lead a top European club and now I say today that Graham is one of the top five coaches in the world.
“The Chelsea owner is at least as brilliant as I am because if he can recruit Graham Potter he is a very intelligent man.
“With Graham, the club will achieve things they have never done before, both on and off the pitch.
“He’s starting a new era in world football.”