Swansea’s appointment of Graham Potter as manager makes a great deal of sense.
The 43-year-old is a good fit for the newly-relegated side: he offers fresh ideas, an attractive playing style and promise of a return to the ‘Swansea Way’ of old.
Potter has done things the hard way, earning his stripes and reputation through diligent and innovative work with Swedish side Ostersund. He has helped the side from a small town in central Sweden achieve three promotions, win the cup and reach the Europa League, where they impressed against the likes of Arsenal, Galatasaray and Athletic Bilbao.
A move back to Britain for the former Birmingham and Stoke defender has looked on the cards for a while and his pre-existing links to Swansea made the destination predictable. As does the club’s ethos, which has seen progressive types Carlos Carvalhal, Paul Clement, Bob Bradley, Francesco Guidolin and Garry Monk in the hot seat since 2014.
We shouldn’t be surprised by his appointment. But while a scan of Swansea’s background and Potter’s credentials prompts plenty of head-nodding, his arrival in south Wales is interesting for other reasons.
When you take a wider look at managerial comings and goings, Potter appears to represent a sea change.
Swansea have just suffered relegation from the Premier League, the lucrative promised land where they have spent the last seven seasons. Like West Brom and Stoke, they are hoping to bounce straight back and are formulating the best way to do so.
Conventional thinking dictates that you require a settled group; deadwood needs to be offloaded and key players held onto. Overseeing the whole operation should be an experienced manager – someone who has been there, seen it and done it all before. After all there’s a reason Neil Warnock, who has just achieved promotion to the Premier League with Cardiff, has been promoted eight times – more than any other manager.
And yet a look around the managerial landscape at the moment reveals a different picture. Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Paul Lambert and Mick McCarthy are all without a club, while Potter, Frank Lampard, Jack Ross, Gary Rowett and Paul Hurst have bagged prestigious jobs and Darren Moore has been trusted to turn West Brom around.
Are the old hands being frozen out in favour of younger, up-and-coming names? While each example is different, they have all taken charge at former Premier League clubs hoping to turn their fortunes around.
The likes of Allardyce and Moyes have of course enjoyed plenty of success in their careers and will probably come again. But there remains a sense that ‘Proper Football Men’ are suddenly out of fashion.
As well as his coaching badges, Potter has a degree in social sciences and a masters in leadership and emotional intelligence. At Ostersunds he ran a ‘culture academy’ away from football to expose players to “aspects of life they wouldn’t normally experience”. Performance art projects, including singing, dancing and acting, were worked upon by everyone at the club.
“You need to know about football to coach, but you need to know about people too,” he wrote for website The Coaches’ Voice earlier this year. “Sometimes that can be the difference. It’s about how you bring a team together. How you communicate as a team.”
Grimsby Town manager Michael Jolley is Cambridge economics graduate and a former fixed-income City trader. While the 41-year-old is some way off the upper echelons of the Football League, his thoughts echo Potter’s approach.
“It’s about people,” Jolley told City A.M. in March. “Whether it’s a team of traders or footballers, they are human beings and have the same emotions and thought processes.”
Allardyce, who has often put himself forward as the spokesperson of the unfashionable experienced group of managers, declared in February 2015 “there is no coach more sophisticated” than him.
But his contention that this sophistication “comes from the amount of time you do in the job, how much experience you gain and how much knowledge you strive for” appears to be being challenged by recent managerial appointments.
Mark Hughes and Steve McClaren may have found employment in the last few months, with Southampton and Queens Park Rangers respectively, but increasingly new faces and new ideas are the order of the day, especially in the Championship.
At the time of writing the average age of the 23 Championship clubs who currently have a manager is 44, while encouragingly for coaching in this country, 20 of those are British.
With Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe, Burnley’s Sean Dyche and Neil Harris of Millwall in the top 12 longest serving managers in the Football League and leading the way in terms of progressive approaches, it’s no wonder clubs are recalibrating the way they think when it comes to recruitment.