Poor Graham Potter. He really did not like the reception which greeted him on his first return to Brighton as Chelsea manager. The Amex was a cauldron of noise; first boos, followed by chants of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” when the Seagulls led 2-0 giving way to “Potter, Potter, what’s the score?” as it finished a scarcely believable 4-1 to Brighton..
Potter was not the only one who bristled. In the days which have followed, plenty of pundits and supporters of other clubs have been quick to pile on Albion fans for the welcome given to their former head coach. Jamie O’Hara on TalkSport described it as “a disgrace”. Others think that Brighton supporters are out of order for booing a man who as recently as May led the Seagulls to the highest ever league finish in the club’s history.
And if that was all there is to this, then they might have point. Nobody could blame Potter for taking a job with one of the elite founder members of the European Super League. Nobody could blame him either for accepting a £60m, five-year contract. Even if Potter had been sacked in the morning after his humiliation at the Amex as the home crowd gleefully taunted him about the prospect of, then he would be a very rich man thanks to an almighty payoff.
This goes beyond a head coach seeking a new job opportunity, however. Had Potter scurried up the M23 to Stamford Bridge with only his trusted lieutenants Billy Reid, Bjorn Hamberg and Kyle Macauley in tow, then the likelihood is most Brighton fans would have wished him well. There would have been some disappointment at him abandoning ship at the first opportunity, when it felt like Brighton were on the cusp of something special.
Perhaps some anger at it being a pretty classless way for Potter to treat Tony Bloom, a chairman who stuck with him through six consecutive defeats, a club-record 14 home games without victory, a run of three months without a goal at the Amex, and two wins in 18 matches to set the worst start to a top flight season in Brighton history. All sequences which would have seen him sacked by any other Premier League owner.
But by and large, Potter’s decision would have been respected as a good opportunity, both career-wise and financially. Instead, Potter and Chelsea have made it their mission to pillage the Albion of everything they possibly can. This admittedly predates Potter; Marc Cucurella’s Player of the Season award had barely settled on his mantlepiece before Chelsea he was packing his stuff to move to West London with Todd Boehly writing a cheque for £62m.
Cucurella is not the only player Chelsea have snared from Brighton these past few months. The summer also saw the Blues capture two of the most highly-rated young players in the Seagulls academy – England Under 18 international defender Zak Sturge and 15-year-old Zimbabwean wonderkid Shumaira Mheuka.
Then it was Potter, Reid, Hamberg and Macauley’s turn. Not just them though. Potter and Boehly also waved enough cash under the noses of Bruno and Ben Roberts to convince them to move to Chelsea. Bruno being a club icon who had been at the Amex for over a decade, only the second man in Brighton history to captain an Albion side to promotion to the top flight – Roberts an outstanding goalkeeper in the Seagulls’ 2004 League One playoff winning side who became an even better coach when returning to the club in 2015.
Potter gutted the entire first team coaching staff upon his departure, taking club legends with him and leaving Brighton with nothing. The asset stripping has not stopped there. With impecable timing, in the week before Chelsea came to the Amex they asked for permission to speak to Albion head of recruitment Paul Winstanley. A Chelsea move for Leandro Trossard in either January or the summer seems certain. Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister are also likely to interest Potter.
The feeling amongst Brighton fans right now is that Boehly does not have a clue about football – hello presenting Thomas Tuchel with a 4-4-3 formation and suggesting a Premier League All-Stars game – and so he has looked for a smaller, successful Premier League club from which to buy everything proven to work. Players. Manager. Coaches. Recruitment specialists. It would not be a surprise to see Brighton mascot Gully or the team bus driver make the move to Stamford Bridge in the next few weeks, Boehly is that desperate to create Chelsea & Hove Albion.
Bloom has spent years putting in place structures, personnel and philosophies which allow Brighton to punch well above their weight, competing with clubs whose financial might far exceeds that of the Albion. And all that painstaking work is being torn away in the space of a few months by a billionaire American advised on what to cherry pick by a head coach whom Bloom gave unwavering support too. That is why Potter and Chelsea were booed to high heaven.
When Potter was asked about the reception he was accorded by the Amex crowd, he said he had nothing to say sorry for. Which was an odd response, because nobody at Brighton has ever asked for an apology. His answer betrayed his thin skin; something we saw at the Albion when he made not-so-subtle digs at supporters on the rare occasions criticism came his way from the terraces.
There was the time he told Brighton fans it was unhelpful if they shouted shoot following a 0-0 draw at home to rock-bottom Norwich City – the game which extended the goalless home streak to more than three months. A smattering of boos after a previous 0-0 draw with Leeds United led Potter to say he needed a history lesson, making a complete mountain out of a molehill to create an issue that was still being talked about 10 months later when he upped sticks for Chelsea.
Rather than an apology for leaving, what Brighton fans actually want from Potter is for him to leave their club alone. To stop coming back for staff, players, the tea lady or the steward that stands at the top of the West Stand. All the while Potter and Chelsea are determined to focus their attention on ravaging Brighton by throwing money at any member of staff who takes their fancy in any given week, then they will be held in such low esteem. Hardly unreasonable, is it?