How Graham Potter became a Brighton great
Just over three years ago, Brighton and Hove Albion found itself in one of its darkest periods to date. Supporters appeared to be uninspired, victories appeared to be unobtainable, and the performances appeared to be nothing short of abysmal. In the end, something had to give for the Seagulls.
After an underwhelming 2018/19 league campaign, in which the Seagulls scraped survival with a disappointing tally of 36 points, the Brighton board made the difficult decision to axe manager Chris Houghton. The former Ireland international had enjoyed great success in his stint on the south coast, having guided the Seagulls to the promised land of the Premier League for the first time, as well as earning the Albion a spot in the semi-final of the FA cup. However, the latter stages of Houghton’s stint made it evident that Brighton’s dream of becoming an established Premier League outfit would not materialise. Understandably, there was an extent of disappointment when the decision was made to axe Houghton, with some supporters of the Seagulls sentimental about the man who guided their side out of the second tier. However, the departure of Houghton would mark the start of a sensational future for the Seagulls.
Three years after Albion axed Houghton, the club secured its highest ever league finish. The Seagulls soared towards a first ever top half finish in the top- flight, allowing the Seagulls to make a seismic step towards achieving their dream of being an established Premier League outfit. Whilst the talent produced by the south coast side in the past three years has undoubtedly played a strong role, a vast majority of supporters will agree that the Albion’s answer to its recent achievements is Houghton’s successor, Graham Potter. The 47-year-old has enjoyed great success since departing Swansea for the south coast in 2019, bringing Brighton’s long-term dreams back to life with his exceptional style of management after what had been an abysmal period for the Albion.
But how has Graham Potter established himself as such a respected figure during his ongoing stint with the Seagulls? In this article, the story of Potter’s success on the south coast will be explored, allowing an understanding of how Potter has earnt his plaudits during his time in the Premier League.
2019/20: First season on the south coast
Before the 2019/20 campaign commenced, it was crucial that Graham Potter strengthened his side with signings capable of securing safety for another season. Therefore, it was no surprise to supporters of the Seagulls when Potter brought in a number of new additions ahead of Albion's opening day clash with Watford. Among these signings were two new forwards in the form of Neal Maupay and Leandro Trossard, in addition to Adam Webster, a centre back from Bristol City who signed on in the summer of 2019 for a then club record fee of £20 million. Thankfully for Brighton supporters, Potter’s additions proved to be an instant success, with the Albion easing past Watford in a three-goal victory.
However, the Albion’s opening day demolition of Watford was not a precursor to a strong run of form for Potter’s side. Instead, the Seagulls would fail to win a league game for another two months, a run of form which saw them humiliated at the Etihad by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in a four-goal defeat. However, the Albion would soon avenge themselves for their barren run of form with three league victories in the space of a month, defeating Tottenham, Everton, and Norwich in a superb month for the Seagulls.
A month later, the Albion recorded a first ever victory at the Emirates, with summer signings Adam Webster and Neal Maupay assisting Graham Potter in sinking the Gunners as he did with former side Östersunds at the Emirates a year prior. Unfortunately for the Albion, victory away to Arsenal would be their last victory away from home pre- pandemic. The Seagulls slipped towards the relegation places between December and March, providing great uncertainty for the future of Brighton’s Premier League status. Alongside this, the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic meant that Brighton would have to play their last few games of the season behind closed doors, meaning that their fight for safety would have to be completed without the Amex faithful.
However, amidst such uncertainty, Graham Potter failed to be phased. Instead, the Solihull born manager would guide his side to safety with three crucial victories, the first of which being a 2-1 victory over eventual FA cup winners Arsenal in a match which saw the Seagulls secure a first ever Premier League double over the Gunners. At the end of a prolonged season hampered by the pandemic, the Seagulls would secure a highest ever points tally in the Premier League, in turn equalling their highest ever league finish as secured two years prior. Despite a tricky period, Potter had evidently proved himself. The Englishman had been successful in securing the Seagull's Premier League status for another season, a feat which did not go unrecognised on the south coast. However, Potter’s project had only just begun.
2020/21: The Potter Project in motion
As with the season prior, Graham Potter ensured that he made a number of signings to strengthen his squad, an important factor given that Brighton would have to play a vast majority of the season without the Amex faithful. Among these signings was a Premier League and Champions League winner in the form of Adam Lallana, in addition to former Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck, both of whom signed on for the Seagulls on a free transfer. Despite the number of new additions, Brighton did not enjoy the strongest of starts to the new season. The Seagulls won just two of their opening ten league fixtures, with the threat of relegation looming large once again for the Albion.
However, Potter would once again fail to be phased. Despite Brighton’s bad luck, it was evident that Graham was turning the Seagulls into a side which could be successful against the Premier League’s elite. In the early months of 2021, the Seagulls would defeat both Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham within the space of a week, a run of form which saw them climb ten points above the relegation zone having been far closer to it earlier on in the season. As the season progressed, the Seagulls would continue to climb away from the relegation zone, completing a successful campaign with a 3-2 victory at home to 2020/21 champions Manchester City in front of a limited attendance at the Amex.
Whilst Brighton did end the season with the same number of points as the previous campaign, Graham Potter’s project appeared stronger than ever. Brighton ended the 2020/21 campaign with their highest goal difference in the Premier League thus far, in addition to achieving both a first victory at Anfield since 1984 and a first ever point at Stamford Bridge. Whilst wins were, on occasion, hard to come by, Graham Potter was evidently beginning to build a Brighton side which could compete for something far greater than survival.
2021/22: Potter earns his plaudits
With fans returning in full capacity at the Amex, there was a great buzz amongst Brighton supporters for the upcoming campaign. However, there was business to be completed for Graham Potter ahead of his side’s opening day clash with Burnley. Potter ensured that his side would be strengthened ahead of the 2021/22 season, signing crucial figures such as Marc Cucurella from Getafe and Enock Mwepu from RB Salzburg, the latter of which signed for a club record fee. As with his first season on the south coast, it appeared Potter’s signings would provide an instant improvement to the side.
The Seagulls enjoyed their best ever start to a Premier League campaign, winning four out of their opening five league fixtures in a run of form which saw Potter’s side climb into the Premier League’s top four. However, it was not long before Brighton were once again haunted by a barren run of form. The Seagulls would find themselves failing to win a league match for three months, a run of form which saw them drop from 4th to 13th in a frustrating period for Potter’s side. Despite this, Graham stuck to his guns once again, with his side going on to win twice in the space of a week with victories over Brentford and Everton. As the season progressed, Potter’s goal of guiding Brighton to a stronger finish than the previous campaign began to materialise.
The Albion would win five out of their final eight matches in the 2021/22 league campaign, a period which saw them defeat Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United within the space of less than a month. In their final match of the campaign, The Seagulls would secure their highest ever league finish with a 3-1 victory at home to West Ham United, ending the campaign in 9th place with an impressive 51 points. In addition to this, the Albion had bettered their Premier League goal difference record as set in the previous campaign, one of many factors highlighting the progress made under Potter.
Three months on from Brighton’s best ever league finish, the Seagulls look set for yet another record-breaking campaign. Despite the departure of key figures such as Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella in the summer, there is a strong sense that Graham Potter’s side will only continue to improve under his leadership. Understandably, Graham Potter has attracted great attention from supporters of other Premiership sides. His ability to change the fortune of a Brighton side once destined for the drop is a feat worth noting for anyone within the game. Thankfully for Brighton supporters though, Potter is still their man. If they are able to keep him, there will be no limits to what the Albion can achieve.