Chelsea target Graham Potter once got his players to perform ballet Swan Lake, and his assistant Billy Reid to rap
PRAY for Kalidou Koulibaly that they have a pair of pointed shoes that fit.
Chelsea are sensationally locked in talks with Graham Potter to take over as their new boss, after disposing of Thomas Tuchel.
Should that happen Potter could turn the Blues in a ‘Culture Club’ like he did in Sweden with Ostersunds.
Well before the English coach, 47, arrived on our shores with Swansea and then Brighton, he was making waves in Scandinavia.
But his management style was a little bit different to others.
He encouraged the arts on his players and staff – and in his time with the Allsvenskan club they wrote a book, put on an open-air rock concert and, most memorably, staged their own version of ballet Swan Lake.
Better still, his trusted assistant Billy Reid – who has loyally followed him on this journey – penned a self-written rap which he also performed live.
From 2011-18, Potter was a hero with Ostersunds.
He led the Swedish minnows from the fourth tier all the way to the top flight in just six years.
They even enjoyed a miraculous run in the Europa League, beating Hertha Berlin and, more famously, Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in 2018.
Behind-the-scenes, they worked with local artist Kevin Wahlen to create ‘culture academy’ to bring players and staff out of their comfort zones and challenge them outside of football.
Wahlen, in effect, became the world’s first culture coach.
“The players hated it at first,” Wahlen told Sky Sports in 2020.
“But we ended up having a lot of fun and life time memories. And it gave them courage, too. It’s not always the one who is the bravest on the pitch that is bravest on stage.
“It was controversial having a football club in the Swedish top-flight working with culture.
“People assumed that men can’t or won’t have the possibility to think about anything besides football, or perhaps FIFA when they get home.
“There was something exciting about getting a group of men to do ballet. The risk is that if we assume that men don’t have the capacity to do anything besides play football or video games, then it can becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Graham was a true inspiration to work with – and he always took a lead role, even if he thought it was scary.”
From Swan Lake to spitting lyrics
Back in 2013, Scottish coach Billy Reid joined Potter in Sweden following a long stint with Hamilton Academical.
Two years later, he found himself performing a dance routine to world-renown ballet Swan Lake.
A month later, Reid found himself channelling his inner Eminem.
Reid told Inside Sport in 2017: “The culture aspect is a massive part of what we are doing at Ostersunds.”
He added: “It’s different but it is tremendous for team bonding. It takes people out of their comfort zone and puts them in different places.
“But it’s really helped us on the pitch too, and what we are doing is big news in Sweden.”
Potter, too, understood the values in what they were creating.
“It was about being open to new things, stripping away the barriers which sometimes exist in a team, all the hierarchies, and developing players as people,” he recalled in 2020.
“You get to see people at a human level.
“It would be wrong for me to pick up that and copy and paste it here. I’ve kept the theoretical reasons why we would do that and tried to apply them in a different way.
“It’s fundamentally about whether you can build an environment which is empathic, where players can appreciate the differences amongst us, sometimes we want everyone to think how we think. Teams and groups can be better when there’s a difference.
“We’ve got a multicultural environment here, which is a gift, something we should cherish and appreciate. Just because we see the world one way doesn’t mean the guy sitting next to us does, and we talk about that a lot.”
Build him a statue
Although it never quite happened, Potter’s success in Sweden led to an Ostersunds resident writing to his council to build a statue of the Solihull-born tactician.
Potter modestly said when it was proposed five years ago, “I’m hoping they can spend their money somewhere else – it is very embarrassing.”
What isn’t embarrassing is Potter’s epic rise.
Although a Swedish Cup is all he has to show in terms of silverware in his management career, his teams have always won admirers for the way they play the game.
When he was coming up in the game, he studied Roberto Martinez’s training methods at Swansea and became inspired by his possession-based approach, along with the “holistic” training principles he observed during his travels to Spain.
Potter also cites the philosophy of Pep Guardiola and Raymond Verheijen’s periodisation model among his influences.
Should Todd Boehly make him his next appointment, expect Blues stars to be put through a different approach.
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