Chelsea ran out of patience with Graham Potter on Sunday, firing the English manager with the club languishing in the middle of the Premier League standings despite a spending spree on new players totaling $630 million across the last two transfer windows.
The team announced Potter’s departure a day after a 2-0 loss to Aston Villa, which left Chelsea in 11th place, and nearly seven months after taking a gamble on him as the replacement for the fired Thomas Tuchel.
“We have the highest degree of respect for Graham as a coach and as a person,” Chelsea co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali said. “He has always conducted himself with professionalism and integrity and we are all disappointed in this outcome.”
The American ownership’s first managerial appointment ultimately backfired. Potter was brought in from Brighton on a five-year deal despite his lack of experience coaching at soccer’s biggest clubs — in a somewhat obscure coaching past, the only trophy he’d won was the Swedish Cup in 2017 — and he failed to get the best out of an expensively assembled squad.
Chelsea won just seven of its 22 Premier League games under Potter and — with 10 games remaining — is 12 points off the top four, meaning the team is unlikely to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Chelsea lost to Manchester City in both domestic cup competitions but has reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League, where it was drawn against titleholder Real Madrid with the first leg on April 12.
Bruno Saltor, a member of Potter’s coaching staff, will take charge of Chelsea on an interim basis and there was no immediate timescale on a new full-time appointment
“Graham has agreed to collaborate with the club to facilitate a smooth transition,” said Chelsea, whose next game is against Liverpool on Tuesday.
Heading a list of potential successors to Potter is likely to be Julian Nagelsmann, who is available after being fired by Bayern Munich during the international break.
Former Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino, who was interviewed for the job along with Potter in September, could also be a candidate.
The same two managers would likely be on a short list of options for Tottenham, which is also searching for a permanent manager after firing Antonio Conte last weekend. That situation across London might have prompted Chelsea’s owners to act fast on Potter so as to not risk missing out on their favored replacement.
British media reported Sunday that Chelsea reached a compromise with Potter over his payoff so he didn’t receive the full value of his remaining contract.
He leaves Chelsea with his reputation damaged, even if his first stint at an elite club has come in unique circumstances. The spending overseen by Boehly was unprecedented — $280 million in Europe’s summer transfer window, the first in the post-Roman Abramovich era, then an estimated $350 million in January — and innovative, giving players contracts of seven or eight years to spread “amortization” costs of transfer fees across the whole deal.
It left Potter with a talented yet bloated group of players, many of whom expected to be first-team regulars but had to be content with being rotated as the manager tried in vain to find his best formula.
Potter tried a back four and a back five, wingers as wing backs and full backs as center backs, all while trying to implement his own style and under the glare and pressure of working at one of the most talked-about clubs in soccer.
It proved too much for him.