Shortsighted Betrayal from Long Term Project Man

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Brighton? Really? I’d have put money on Potter turning down any approach outside a big six job (which he wouldn’t be offered yet anyway), because he’s a Long Term Project man. Or at least, was.

His defence that he couldn’t turn down a Premier League job is thin considering Brighton and Swansea could conceivably be passing in opposite directions this time next year. If Swansea were only better at defending set pieces, and Cardiff had played against Fulham they way they went after Palace and Man United over the last weeks of the season, that could already be the case. This is an offer he couldn’t refuse? Please.

It’s a senseless move. Potter is known to be best at working with young players, and it’s not an exaggeration to say Swansea – on a relative scale – are experiencing a golden generation of young talent right now. Dan James, Joe Rodon, Connor Roberts, Oli McBurnie, Matt Grimes, Bersant Celina and George Byers are all 23 or under and were all first-team regulars last season, with James likely to move to Man United any day now.

Next season will probably see the emergence of 20 year olds Yan Dhanda and Joel Asoro, and maybe even some development from Declan John, who is still only 23 himself. Plus, we’re in The Pressing Age. Pressing requires elite athleticism, and athletes tend to hit their physical peak early. Now more than ever it’s “a young man’s game”.

I’m no expert on Brighton, but it seems unlikely they’re got a comparable crop of first-team ready youngsters, partly because they play at a higher level so it’s harder to blood youth, and partly because almost nobody has a comparable crop of first-team ready youngsters. Part of Potter’s magic is shaping the footballing brains of young, malleable minds, players who haven’t yet been schooled in outdated tactics or picked up irreversible bad habits.

A struggling Premier League team – which Brighton were and still will be until proven otherwise – need results right out the gate. The talent gap between the big six and the small fourteen is so vast that Potter can immediately cross 12 games of experimental development off the calendar; those will likely be defensive slogs, with a solitary win when they catch Arsenal on a bad day over which pundits will fawn and patronise Potter for doing good football with his crappy little team that “don’t even cost as much combined as Sergio Aguero’s hairdresser” (Brendan Rodgers got this a lot in Swansea’s early Premier League days).

In other words, Potter won’t be afforded the time, the comfort away from the spotlight, or the leniency that Swansea – a lower league team in heavy transition – offered. Does he really think he’s ready for the big time? He hadn’t figured out how to coach defending corners last I checked (Excuse the cynical burn, but Potter and Swansea were perfect for each other because they were developing together. That’s what makes his move harder to appreciate.)

From Brighton’s side, the move makes even less sense. Here’s a Long Term Project Man, who worked wonders over 7 seasons at Ostersunds, transplanted his entire family to do the same for Swansea, and then left at the first opportunity. The fact he tore up those new roots so quickly to join a team that in footballing terms are no more than half a punt better off than Swansea at this moment in time means six months from now he’ll probably be replacing Marco Silva at Everton. In other words, the fact he was so willing to leave his Long Term Project at one club should tell Brighton he might not commit to their Long Term Project, either. It was a Catch 22; if he was the right manager for them, he would have said no.

Had he stayed at Swansea and taken the massive (in Championship terms) new contract he was offered, he could have joined the Big Boys league the baller way: by getting his team promoted, just like Rodgers did one season before getting headhunted by Liverpool. He could have engineered a comfortable mid-table finish the following season, scooped up all the praise for restoring The Swansea Way, and probably replaced Pochettino at Tottenham. Or Solskjaer at United. Instead, if he does well at Brighton he might be head-hunted by a marginally safer Premier League side (Newcastle? Leicester?) but still won’t have proven much, and if he does poorly he’ll be sacked by Christmas. And in the meantime Swansea will hope to dodge the many, many bullets present on the numerous “next manager” lists that are doing the rounds.

YJB? YB maybe. J not so much.