Graham Potter is trying to implement new ideas at Brighton but the new boss is keen for his players to take control of their own actions, writes Sky Sports reporter Johnny Phillips.
Against the backdrop of heavy industrial drilling and digging on a building site just a few yards from the main first-team training pitch, Brighton and Hove Albion’s head coach is speaking to his players.
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The builders are disruptive neighbours, albeit ones bringing huge benefits by constructing a new indoor arena at the club’s Lancing training base.
“It was a bit noisy out there,” concludes Graham Potter an hour or so later as we survey the scene from his office, but there is no suggestion that he is annoyed by their presence.
Potter had been on the training pitches since setting up the mannequins before the players strode out to work, and he was one of the last to leave, staying behind for a quick chat with Dale Stephens on his way back to the changing rooms.
Potter exudes a calm authority and does not appear to be ruffled easily, be it by either a Sky television crew rearranging his office furniture or some inflammatory words from striker Florin Andone, who is out on loan at Galatasaray.
The former Swansea manager has taken five points from his opening five fixtures. There would have been two more had Burnley not equalised in injury-time at the Amex Stadium last weekend.
“It’s fine margins, everybody has their own little story to tell. The points you get are the points you get,” says Potter, although he believes the team have played well enough to merit a higher points tally so far.
Supporters have embraced the work of the new man at the helm, keen to see the club push on after a desperately close flirtation with relegation last season.
“I didn’t really come in with any expectations other than that it’s going to be a real challenge and it’s proved to be that,” Potter says.
“As a coach in this environment, time isn’t something you have too much of. You know that you have to get results quickly, it’s the nature of the game, and then you want to try to improve the club, improve how you want to play.
“I don’t want to talk about philosophy or identity, all these big words that sound great, the reality is that it’s the Premier League and you have to be competitive.”
So how easy has it been, trying to implement new ideas with players who, in some cases, had worked with former manager Chris Hughton for the entirety of their Premier League careers?
“I think that’s where your work is; as a coach you’re trying to convince, you’re not dictating anything,” Potter continues.
“You’ve got to make sure the players are comfortable with what you’re asking them to do, make sure it fits them, make sure you go onto the pitch with an idea about what you are doing regardless of the style.
“The style isn’t going to win you the game, it’s how well you do whatever it is you decide to do. Anybody can choose to do anything, and nothing’s better or more guaranteed than anybody else’s way. We’ve just got to try and do what we do as well as we can.”
The noticeable change since last season has been the implementation of a back three, but last Saturday, against Burnley, Potter quickly reverted to a back four. Was that a brave admission that he got the set-up wrong initially?
“I’m not sure, sometimes it’s a bit of a feeling that you think, ‘Ok, we need to help the players here’. It wasn’t quite happening for us for different reasons. It was just a decision you sometimes make.
“Thankfully the players are quite open-minded and we’ve worked around different formations, it’s not a complete surprise to them. Again, it’s the understanding, we live in a world where picking a system or formation is quite easy.
“There’s a lot of tactical information out there and that, in itself, is quite easy to do. It’s whether or not the players believe it’s possible to do something if you do change something.”
Once he has sown the ideas, Potter is keen for his players to take control of their own actions, giving him more flexibility in the process.
“I think in a game of football it always changes, that’s how it is, nothing stays the same throughout the 90 minutes,” he adds.
“There’s periods where you have to defend, there’s periods where you have to attack, there are periods where the opposition are on top, and I think all the time you have to adapt to that and at the same time try to maintain what you are trying to do yourself.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge and also the biggest bit of enjoyment. You look at the top teams around the world, they’ve got a Plan A of course, but they can also do something else if it’s not quite working, I think that’s what we are trying to do as well.”
The head coach was not afraid to make some major changes early on in his tenure, sending out a message that is unafraid to make the big decisions.
Jurgen Locadia, once the club’s record £14million signing, was dispatched to Hoffenheim on loan. Anthony Knockaert went to Fulham and Andone made the switch to Galatasaray.
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Speaking in the mixed zone after the Turkish club’s Champions’ League fixture against Club Brugge on Wednesday evening, Andone claimed, “We signed a lot players…and they had a lot of games, they could get to that level to play with confidence. Why didn’t that happen with me? I’m really disappointed with the club about this situation.”
Potter was diplomatic and politely final in his response, when quizzed on the matter in his weekly press conference.
“He’s had a frustrating time here historically, hasn’t really had the opportunities or the game time he would like, but I’d avoid having a discussion with Florin via the media, if you don’t mind.”
So what about the players who are currently under his guidance, has Potter got a squad he feels comfortable working with now that the season is fully underway?
“Yeah absolutely, the guys behind the scenes have really supported what we’ve tried to do, the club have been brilliant in that regard. I think we have got a group of players that want to be here, want to play for Brighton and want to do their best.
“I see it every day in training, they are competitive and they are disappointed when they don’t play, which is what you want, but they are ready to help the team, so I’m lucky in that respect. They do their best every day, every game.
“There will be times when the opposition are better than us or a bit of play undoes you, but in terms of our attitude and application it has been top.”