Graham Potter reveals reason for Kepa Arrizabalaga form as early Chelsea fear debunked
There are not too many football coaches who have completed a degree in leadership and emotional intelligence. Even fewer are working at the very top echelon of the European game. Yet Graham Potter has achieved both feats and it enables him to provide educated and erudite insight into how to motivate top-level players.
Potter has inherited many since taking charge at Chelsea last month – Champions League winners; a World Cup victor; World Club Cup champions. They all sit inside the Stamford Bridge dressing room and are all desperate to play come matchday. Inevitably, many will be left disappointed.
The challenge for Potter – and any elite coach – is to keep these players onside, to ensure they feel a valued and important member of the squad. A delicate touch is required.
“Six weeks ago, the narrative would’ve been that I didn’t have any experience dealing with these massive egos, these guys walking around apparently with all these complex problems,” Potter explained on Friday. “My experience is that everyone has those to a certain extent and at least these guys can play football to a good level! In the fourth tier in Swedish football, it’s not so easy!”
Potter continued: “It’s a fascinating one for me. You guys have got egos. We all have. My experience is that it’s not necessarily a bad thing and I think you have to respect the players here. I can only speak as I’ve found them and they’ve been really honest, open, really responsible.
“They’ve got ego, they’ve got ambition, they are really determined and motivated. All of those things are complex at times but then so are most human beings. Obviously, the pressure comes from outside because of expectation and that maybe changes the dynamic a bit – but not so much. “It’s about building relationships, being honest, building trust and things that are quite universal human values. And if someone doesn’t like that or can’t deal with that, then that’s probably their problem more than it is mine.”
After replacing Thomas Tuchel as Chelsea head coach last month, Potter held one-on-one meetings with each member of the first-team squad. He wanted to learn about their backgrounds, what drove them as people as well as professionals, and what they wanted to achieve. The personable approach of Potter and his staff has paid off; Chelsea are unbeaten in the seven matches overseen by the Englishman and the performances of several players has improved. Perhaps the standout achievement to date, however, has been the resurgence of Kepa Arrizabalaga.
It was during Frank Lampard’s tenure that Kepa’s confidence was obliterated and as a result, Chelsea had no real option but to go out and sign Edouard Mendy from Rennes. The Senegal international spent two years as the club’s undisputed number one but a knee injury sustained earlier in the campaign opened the door for Kepa.
The Spain international started Tuchel’s last match – a 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb – and has been in goal for every game under Potter. Impressively, he has kept clean sheets in the previous five and a string of spectacular saves have been produced by the world’s most expensive goalkeeper. So how did Potter and goalkeeper coach Ben Roberts, who also arrived from Brighton, transform Kepa’s fortunes in just six weeks?
“I think that’s part of the relationship Ben has with him – and he is good at that,” Potter explained. “At the same time, the past is the past. You’ve got to look at the situation now and in my interactions with him, [I’ve found] a really responsible guy, was not happy with how things had gone, and wanted them to go better. But sometimes life doesn’t go that way; it’s not a straight line.
“Sometimes you have to suffer and he probably has. He would’ve liked to have been better but maybe that is an experience that he has that makes him who he is now and maybe the future is a different story. The most important thing is he can embrace those challenges, embrace the suffering he’s had to have, and then show his quality. That’s why everyone is happy he is performing the way he is. It’s a positive story.”