Chelsea’s season has descended into chaos after they fired Graham Potter and began looking for their third manager since being bought by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital last summer.
Julian Nagelsmann is prominent in Chelsea’s thoughts after the ruthless dismissal of Potter, who was informed of his fate at 2.45pm on Sunday, but the former Bayern Munich manager is believed to be reluctant to take the job until the summer. A full-time appointment is not imminent. Chelsea have installed Bruno Saltor, who was part of Potter’s backroom staff, as interim head coach and want to think carefully before making their next move.
Chelsea have drawn up a shortlist of candidates, including Mauricio Pochettino, and would like someone in place before pre-season. Nagelsmann is the early favourite but Luis Enrique could come under consideration. Chelsea have been linked with the Eintracht Frankfurt manager, Oliver Glasner, while Rúben Amorim is building a strong reputation at Sporting Lisbon.
However, eyebrows will be raised at the new regime’s behaviour. Much has been made of Boehly and Clearlake, which is owned by Behdad Eghbali and Jose Feliciano, trying to move away from Roman Abramovich’s sacking culture.
Yet Chelsea, who are 11th in the Premier League despite spending close to £600m on signings since last summer, have fired two managers in seven months. Potter was hired after the departure of Thomas Tuchel in September. Chelsea paid £21.5m in compensation to Brighton & Hove Albion to bring the 47-year-old and his coaching staff to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea have not paid the £50m that was left on Potter’s five-year contract but he is understood to be due significant compensation. The former Brighton manager’s No 2, Billy Reid, has also been sacked. Chelsea said that Potter had “agreed to collaborate with the Club to facilitate a smooth transition”. That is understood to refer to the manager’s trusted assistants, Bruno, Bjorn Hamberg and Ben Roberts, not leaving the club. Anthony Barry is waiting to find out if he will be allowed a reunion with Tuchel at Bayern.
It had seemed that Potter had bought himself time after Chelsea reached the last eight of the Champions League by beating Borussia Dortmund last month. They play the first leg of their quarter-final away to Real Madrid next week.
Last month’s mini-revival was not sustainable and Potter’s fate was sealed by Aston Villa winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. There was alarm at Potter’s tactics against Villa. Chelsea had two centre-backs, Trevoh Chalobah and Benoît Badiashile, on the bench and two full-backs, Reece James and Marc Cucurella, in their back three. Cucurella gifted Villa the opening goal.
Discussions about Potter’s future began on Saturday night and continued into the morning. Yet at 8.32am the club’s press office sent out an email stating that Potter would hold a press conference on Monday to preview Chelsea’s home game against Liverpool on Tuesday night. A source close to Chelsea’s owners said that there was no indication a change was imminent.
The decision came out of the blue. The players had not been warned. The news was delivered to Potter by the club’s sporting directors, Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart, in a “short and sharp” call.
Potter has been linked with the Leicester City job after Brendan Rodgers left by mutual consent on Sunday, but is likely to need to recover mentally.
Chelsea feel they have done everything to support Potter. They bought eight players during a wild January transfer window, although Potter cautioned against too many signings. He was left with a bloated squad once the window shut and struggled to find a settled starting XI, with injuries playing a part.
But while Chelsea are in a challenging period after their change of ownership the poor results exposed Potter and drained the board’s patience. Chelsea felt they were seeing no signs of progress. They are at risk of missing out on European qualification and decided that a change was necessary before they play Madrid. It was felt they will have a better chance of beating the European champions with Bruno in charge. The 42-year-old has no managerial experience.
Winstanley and Stewart will be involved in an exhaustive search for a new manager. Stewart and the technical director, Christopher Vivell, worked with Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig. Nagelsmann is available after being replaced by Tuchel at Bayern and the 35-year-old has admirers at Chelsea but the German must prove he can handle top players. Chelsea also spoke to Pochettino when they fired Tuchel. However, Pochettino could return to Spurs after the departure of Antonio Conte last week.
Boehly and Eghbali said: “On behalf of everyone at the club, we want to thank Graham sincerely for his contribution to Chelsea. We have the highest degree of respect for Graham as a coach and as a person. He has always conducted himself with professionalism and integrity and we are all disappointed in this outcome.
“Along with our incredible fans, we will all be getting behind Bruno and the team as we focus on the rest of the season. We have 10 Premier League games remaining and a Champions League quarter-final ahead. We will put every effort and commitment into every one of those games so that we can end the season on a high.”