Graham Potter's Chelsea record is rotten - but Blues board are right to back beleaguered manager
There was a sense of deja vu as the boos rained down from the stands on Graham Potter and his Chelsea players following their loss to Southampton on Saturday. Yet again, the final whistle was greeted with anger and disgruntlement as a defeat to a so-called weaker Premier League rival extended a miserable run of form.
In years gone by, that would have been the death knell for a manager's time in the Stamford Bridge dugout, with the dreaded 'club statement' arriving within a matter of hours as Roman Abramovich swung the axe.
While club owners are often at odds with a fanbase over transfer strategy and finances, it is rare that they aren't aligned on the manager's position, but Potter - possibly the least offensive manager around - is proving to be highly divisive.
Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, though, want to do things differently, and rightly so.
There had been isolated calls for Chelsea to move on from Potter after a run of two wins in 13 games despite their eye-watering £320 million ($387m) January outlay, but the 1-0 home defeat to bottom-club Southampton seemed to bring matters into sharp focus for some sections of the fanbase, who made their feelings clear at full-time.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, a beleaguered Potter was forced to respond to a somewhat cruel question about being labelled 'the worst manager in Chelsea history' by one particularly irked supporter.
"I am sure there will be people out there who think that I’m the problem," he said. "I don’t think that they are right, but I am not arrogant enough to say that their opinion isn’t worth articulating."
Fortunately for Potter, co-owners Boehly and Eghbali are in agreement with him. With calls growing increasingly louder for the head coach to be axed, in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat it was reiterated that the board still backed the man they chose to replace Thomas Tuchel.
Contrary to the January of frivolous spending that saw their judgement widely criticised, this is a level-headed and sensible approach in the circumstances.
Over the course of his 19 years at the helm, Chelsea supporters became far too accustomed to Abramovich's ruthless hiring and firing, where the briefest dip in form could lead to a manager's head rolling and minimal fan backlash as the good times swiftly returned. It's resulted in a complete lack of patience when things aren't going according to plan.
Though it seemed the new co-owners would be continuing that tradition when they ousted Tuchel - a man who looked like a potential legacy manager - just seven games into this season, they have since made it clear that Potter will be judged in 'years rather than months' - a notion that is in direct contention with the club's ingrained short-term mentality.
It is a step in the right direction, and a clear indication that Boehly and Eghbali want to move away from the Abramovich MO as they seek sustainable success. According to The Telegraph, there are a host of reasons why the owners aren't ready to part ways with Potter.
They are said to understand the challenges he is facing behind the scenes in terms of injuries, juggling a bloated squad and embedding a hoard of new signings, which suggests they empathise after Potter explicitly said he had little say in new arrivals.
Potter's mentality - which has often been called into question by the fanbase - has also impressed his bosses behind closed doors, where he is supposedly far more animated than his reserved public-facing demeanour would suggest.
That should be hugely reassuring to those supporters who think he may lack a winner's mentality when compared with charismatic previous incumbents such as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea were never going to click into gear immediately after making no fewer than eight January signings, but the lack of progress to date should be a concern. There has been no significant uptick in form since Tuchel was relieved of his duties and Potter was handed the reins.
You could argue that the World Cup break was both a help and a hindrance, giving him plenty of time to work closely with those not involved but no time to work with a large portion of his squad who were away for a significant period. It's not all that surprising that Chelsea's form didn't pick up in the aftermath, and consequently it still feels like early days.
Indeed, you need only look at Potter's time at Brighton to understand that it may well take a long time before we see the best version of his iteration of Chelsea. His Seagulls side gained notoriety for underperforming their xG (expected goals) and finished deep in the bottom half if his first two seasons, despite their obvious potential.
Things finally clicked into gear at the back-end of 2021-22, and their superb form carried over into this season before the Blues came calling, but Potter's hallmarks are still evident in Roberto De Zerbi's impressive Brighton team.
His achievements with far, far more limited resources on the south coast, all the while growing and learning as a coach, give real reason for optimism.
This was always likely to be a slow burner, whether Chelsea fans liked it or not, and Boehly and Eghbali have shown a willingness to accept that. Sacking Potter now as they try in vain to salvage something from a season that is all but over would be nonsensical.
Chelsea have little hope of reaching the top four, they are out of both domestic cup competitions and face an uphill battle to overturn a one-goal deficit in the Champions League last 16. The remainder of the season should serve as a blank canvas; an opportunity for Potter to begin to mould this new-look squad in his image and turn things around.
If there is no improvement by the end of the current campaign, then there is fair reason to reconsider, and any new appointment would have a full pre-season to work with the players. For now, though, Potter deserves his chance to turn those boos into cheers.