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Magic Potter showing there is life outside of England

The Solihull born manager has achieved three promotions and place in the Europa League knockout rounds in the space of seven years.

There has been plenty noise from the proper football men in the last few months. Chief advocate Sam Allardyce bemoaned to various different media outlets that British managers are afforded few opportunities in management against their foreign counterparts. However, is it that there are little opportunities for them or are British managers too deep in to a comfort zone that does not stretch beyond the channel tunnel?

There is one man that’s breaking the mould. Graham Potter, manager of Swedish minnows Ostersund, is far from a household name, but at this current time is the most successful British manager on the continent. Potter’s Scandinavian side last night qualified for the knockout rounds of the Europa League with a game to spare. Ostersund hosted Ukrainian side Zoyra in the Group J match, and came out on top with a 2-0 win in the northern Swedish town. The win has catapulted Potter’s credentials to a new level, as he has successfully guided the club from the fourth tier of Swedish football to the last 32 of the Europa League.

As Big Sam continues to sniff around the vacant Everton job, alongside Burnley manager Sean Dyche and caretaker David Unsworth, there has been some serious questions posed in the British press that the lack of successful home-grown coaches is a developing concern for the future of the national game. There has been plenty debate on whether the managers in question have the style or substance to challenge for anything higher than survival in the English Premier League; and it’s difficult to know if that’s true after Allardyce’s big opportunity as national team manager was short-lived. However, the proof is in the pudding for the current crop of compatriots. In recent years; Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes and Roy Hodgson have held 23 PL jobs between them, yet not one of them have picked up any silverware in this time. Should these managers be afforded more opportunities to progress, or is it a simple decision to look elsewhere? They can use Potter for inspiration, however it is doubtful they will.

Solihull-born Potter tasted domestic success with Ostersund in April, lifting the Swedish cup which allowed his side qualification to the Europa League. Prior to this, he guided the team to three back-to-back promotions and a best ever fifth-place finish just last month as the 2017 Swedish Allsvenska concluded. This meteoric rise cannot be underestimated, with the club never managing to climb beyond the third tier in its history before Potter’s arrival. The former Stoke and Birmingham full-back arrived in 2010, after forging an unlikely alliance with the clubs owner. Potter was mutually introduced to Osterund owner Daniel Kindberg through Graeme Jones, the long-term assistant of Roberto Martínez. Kindberg had first met Jones when the club toured Wales as part of a club tour in 2007, and Potter was recommended to the Swede three years later. Potter took on the task of re-building Osterunds after finishing off a master’s degree in leadership and emotional intelligence at Leeds Metropolitan University. The Englishman believes that when the opportunity arose, it was hard to turn down when considering the current sporting climate. He hasn’t regretted that decision once.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Osterund are situated in a rural part of northern Sweden, with little public transport to the main cities and temperatures dropping as low as -30c throughout the year. Potter admits that it has been a consistent struggle to attract players to the club, with the weather, locality and the lack of history meaning numerous transfer targets have sought alternative options. However, if you look at his current crop, his squad have come from near and far. Ghana, Nigeria, Comoros, South Korea, Mexico, the United States, Bosnia, Spain and England are just some of the nationalities which appear on his squad list, and it’s something the manager is immensely proud of.

Potter’s compatriots were recruited from the eighth tier of English football, yet now they are flying high in Europe. Jamie Hopcutt and Curtis Edwards have played an important role in the success of this Ostersund side, with the former a match winner in his sides historic play off victory over Turkish giants Galatasary. The manager believes the duo deserve all the praise they receive, especially for taking the leap across the North sea in the first place; “These lads have shown promise. There always has to be willingness on the players part as to try something new in their development”, Potter told The Indpendent in a recent interview.

He is certain that there will be more following in the duo’s footsteps now England reached global success in major youth tournaments. Potter said “Foreign clubs will now recognise the talent is there and if the block to the first team continues, will do their best to sign them. Ultimately, good players need to play and they don’t always at a young age in England.”

The fairy-tale story for Potter’s side is inspiring for all involved. Billy Reid – former manager of Hamilton Academical – was recruited as his assistant in 2013, and admits the success of his team still surprises him from time to time. The Scot, who won PFA manager of the year in 2008, reckons the squad have grown in to household names in Sweden, and the continued success will attract various suitors over the winter break.

Despite leading the team to remarkable feats, Potter remains humble about his achievements; “It’s just nice to be a part of history” he states in his recent interview. The Englishman is breaking the mould in emphatic fashion, and it’s a surprise he has not attracted any serious interest in the process. Many British based managers may have been put off by David Moyes calamitous trip abroad, as he channelled his inner Karl Pilkington in Sociedad – however for every bad choice, a good one lingers elsewhere (usually unnoticed)

Potter believes the key to his sides’ success has been its togetherness, and a belief that their squad unity cannot be matched elsewhere. He has put his masters degree to good use, in a successful yet unorthodox management method for his team. “We try to develop individuals as open-minded humans rather than just footballers. Educating players and being part of the community are very important. I want to take people out of their comfort zones and teach them to rely on their team-mates.”

Potter has done just that, by putting his Ostersund side through the paces in different collaborative exercises such as writing a book, staging an art exhibition, acting in plays and dancing. It’s hard to argue with his methods when you look at his managerial record thus far, showing he's just as magical as his namesake.

As it stands, Graham Potter is the most successful British manager in European football. An incredible feat, despite the fact his only competitors are Everton caretaker David Unsworth and Celtic invincible Brendan Rodgers. The latter could potentially meet Potter in the knockout rounds of the Europa League, which could in-turn, allows the Ostersund manager to lay down a marker to his home nation. Whatever the future holds for Potter, he has galvanised the arrival of the ‘new-school’ generation of academic based managers, and in the process has challenged the ‘old-school’ to get up off their backsides and look for opportunities, rather than just expecting them.

Read more about the changing perception of managers here

By Lewis McKenzie

Published 24/11/17