Graham Potter And The Glass Ceiling: Why UK-Born Managers Fail At Elite Clubs

The Chelsea head coach is the latest domestic flop at a big club
12:00, 20 Feb 2023

Graham Potter was supposed to represent the new Chelsea. Under Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly’s ownership, the scatter-shot superstar factory was supposed to give way to a holistic, sustainable approach to club governance. But after £600 million worth of transfers, the worst excesses of the Roman Abramovich era remain in effect.

That regime was not a hospitable place for the holistically inclined. Take Andre Villas-Boas for example, a coach derided for crouching on his haunches and for his emphasis on clipboard-theorising. Maurizio Sarri was another tactics-first operator that the Chelsea superstar machine swallowed whole, despite the chain-smoking Italian reaching the EFL Cup final and going one better in the Europa League.


But Potter’s plight is not just notable for the fact a “project manager” is flopping in the role. It is also the latest instance of a UK-born boss colliding with the glass ceiling and failing to demonstrate world-level credentials. The former Brighton & Hove Albion gaffer had once been touted as a possible candidate to break the decade-long duck for UK managers in the Premier League. Overseas managers have won every league title since 2013, when Sir Alex Ferguson lifted the last of 13 career championships.

The chances of him ever breathing such rarefied air seem beyond remote now. Sadly, UK managers rarely get another bite of the cherry once they have failed at a top club. Just ask Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes. The current West Ham United manager took over from Sir Alex at Manchester United in 2013. He lasted ten months in the post before being sacked when Champions League qualification fell through his fingers.

Moyes’ reputation has never truly recovered. Disastrous spells with Real Sociedad and Sunderland condemned the Scotsman once and for all to life outside the Premier League jetset. He nearly made his own luck with West Ham, who he took into Europe on two occasions. But it feels like his current side peaked with their run to last season’s Europa League semi final. They are now toiling in 18th place in the table. If the Hammers do part way with Moyes, it is hard to envisage a bigger club being interested.


Moyes is not the only boss to have tasted a top job fleetingly before being put back in his box. Brendan Rodgers went closer than any Liverpool manager had to a league title in 23 years. But after his sacking he never again returned to what could be considered an elite level club, with all due respect to his current employers, Leicester City. 

Frank Lampard has gone on a similar journey. Despite steering Chelsea through a turbulent transfer ban and blooding a number of players they still benefit from today, he was sacked. Thomas Tuchel lifting the Champions League vindicated the decision, but Lampard is unlikely to soar any higher than the Everton job he lost last month. Former midfield colleague Steven Gerrard is unlikely to replace Jurgen Klopp at his beloved Liverpool either, given his failings at Aston Villa.

Eddie Howe could be the exception that proves the rule if his Newcastle United side continue the outstanding growth they’ve shown over the past year. While not one of the traditional “Big Six” clubs, they look good value to hijack that party. If they do, it seems likely that Howe will be allowed to sculpt the Magpies into a side that can compete for titles. If the results do ground to a halt though, with Howe paying the price with his job, it will be fascinating to see where the former Bournemouth coach ends up. Given the precedent, it would be surprising to see Howe darken the door of a club troubling the Champions League places.

It feels very unlikely that Potter will be given time to arrest the slide at Chelsea. It seems even less likely that the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool or the Manchester clubs will gamble on the 47-year-old in the future. The glass ceiling is yet to be broken and, if it does eventually get shattered, it probably won’t be Graham Potter breaking it.

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