All eyes will be on Steven Gerrard on Saturday as he leads his Aston Villa side for the first time away to Brighton & Hove Albion. The man occupying the home dugout, Graham Potter, is deserving of a few glances of his own. The Seagulls boss will be marking his 100th game at Brighton, and is enjoying the finest season of his tenure so far. Gerrard would also do well to take a closer look at Potter, as he may find the blueprint with which he can enjoy success at his new club.
There are parallels to be drawn between the two competing coaches. Both enjoyed success outside England, in leagues that are suspiciously-regarded by followers of the domestic game. Gerrard comes to Villa Park with an Scottish Premiership title under his arm, having led Rangers to a first title in a decade. Potter took fourth-tier Ostersunds up through the divisions, eventually finishing fifth in the top tier and winning the Swedish Cup.
Potter has been a shining example of how to bring these experiences to the domestic game and make them work for him. After a promising year-long stint at Swansea City in the Championship, the former Birmingham City left back joined Brighton after the club parted ways with Chris Hughton. The departing coach had been criticised for his negative football, and Potter introduced a more progressive, possession-based approach. Sharpened by a decade in management, honing his idea of the way football should be played in Sweden, Potter impressed observers who were unfamiliar with the Premier League newcomer.
Gerrard finds himself in similar, but not identical circumstances. Like Hughton at Brighton, a good spell in charge gave way to Dean Smith’s methods simply not working any longer. While Smith played far superior football, there are still clearly adjustments needed. But, as Potter did in 2019, Gerrard finds himself taking over one of the better-run clubs in the country. The squad carries great promise, particularly if he can get summer buys like Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia firing. There are also the pieces in place to play the sort of front-foot football he employed at Rangers.
There is an element of the Gerrard appointment that Potter never had to contend with when taking the Brighton job. While the former Stoke City, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion enjoyed a good playing career, his Villa counterpart holds an altogether different status. Steven Gerrard is the defining icon of the modern Liverpool, and is hailed as one of the greatest midfielders this country has produced. Potter was allowed to work unhindered by the spotlight for much of his early tenure, whereas Gerrard will always be back page news by virtue of who he is. You only need to look at how Chelsea were covered under Frank Lampard, or the sudden uptick in Derby County reporting when Wayne Rooney took over, to see what awaits the incoming Villa boss.
For the first time in a long time, we find a Premier League without many of its English coaching mainstays. Steve Bruce, Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew and Roy Hodgson are all on the outside looking in. Steven Gerrard and Graham Potter will take to the dugout on Saturday as two representatives of a new generation of English manager. They share similarities in their philosophies and profile as coaches, while they differ in terms of their notoriety and media focus. But the new arrival in the home dugout would do well to take a few lessons from the brilliant job Graham Potter is doing at the Amex.