Pep Guardiola’s early interest in his work gave Graham Potter the belief he would one day manage at the top table.
Potter, whose first Premier League game in charge of Chelsea takes place at Crystal Palace next weekend, had a modest playing career and even early success at Swedish club Ostersunds initially failed to convince British clubs he could make the grade here.
When he applied for the manager’s job at his former club Stoke City, they opted for Gary Rowett instead.
Eventually, Swansea City took the plunge and Guardiola became one of the first converts to Potter’s meticulous and intelligent coaching – quickly followed by another managerial titan, Jurgen Klopp.
The Manchester City boss was amazed by the way Potter’s Swans played against his team in the 2019 FA Cup quarter-final – the Premier League team scraping through 3-2 after falling 2-0 behind.
Guardiola sought Potter out afterwards and spent 45 minutes talking to him in the manager’s office at The Liberty Stadium.
For much of that time, the rookie manager was taken aback that he was being grilled on tactics and philosophy by the most famous coach in the world – rather than him asking all the questions.
It was a pattern that was followed every time Potter’s next club Brighton faced City.
Even though Guardiola won five of the six matches they played against each other, he was thirsty for Potter’s views – believing England had finally found a manager with the tactical nous to compare favourably for the world’s best.
Publicly, he wasn’t shy about praising Potter: ‘I am a big fan of Graham Potter. From the first time at Swansea, it was a joy to analyse his teams but also a concern when you play them,’ said Guardiola.
‘His players have the courage to play, they all know what to do. The first thing I would tell my players is: ‘We have to be at a high level against them.’
‘They have runners high and wide, it does not matter if they are wing-backs, full-backs or wingers.
‘And after that, they create spaces for people in the middle. They press aggressive, all the things I would like as a spectator. I identify with his teams.’
Those one-on-ones with the Spanish legend convinced Potter that he was worthy of competing among the best company. If Guardiola thought he was worth being inquisitive about, he had to take it on board.
When Brighton called Swansea, Potter said Yes in the belief he could do a job in the Premier League. When Chelsea called Brighton earlier this month, it was another resounding Yes.
No English manager has won a major trophy since Harry Redknapp in 2008, no English manager has won a league championship since Howard Wilkinson in 1992 and no English manager has won a European trophy since Sir Bobby Robson in 1997.
With the backing of new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly, Potter can smash through the ceiling.
Guardiola and Klopp are usually polite about their rivals but it’s unprecedented for both of them to be so clearly enthusiastic about another manager.
Klopp faced Potter’s Brighton six times and all the games were close; three Liverpool wins, two draws and a victory for Brighton.
‘He’s definitely one of the best. I respect what he did at Brighton and how he set the team up. Between football people, he’s highly regarded,’ said Klopp.
‘I liked watching his Brighton team but didn’t like playing them – he is a really good manager and his teams mirror his ability. I hope they appreciate what they have.’
Like Arsene Wenger making an instant judgement on 16-year-old Wayne Rooney – ‘the best young English talent I’ve seen since I came here,’ he said – Guardiola and Klopp identified Potter as a stand-out pretty fast.
How he adapts to life at Chelsea will be fascinating. It’s likely he will prefer to play with three central defenders and wing-backs; Reece James on one side, Ben Chilwell or Marc Cucurella on the other.
The quality and versatility of individuals at Chelsea like Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling means he will enjoy being tactically flexible. He did at Brighton and now he has better quality to work with.
His former striker at Brighton Neal Maupay thinks Chelsea have to move on from the Roman Abramovich era and give the new man a proper chance.
‘He did a pretty good job at Brighton, especially with the budget they had compared to the other clubs in the Premier League,’ said Maupay, who spent three years working under Potter before moving to Everton.
‘Brighton don’t really spend money and when they’ve got good players, they sell them so I think he did well.
‘He’s a very good manager but won’t be able to change everything at Chelsea just like that.
‘He’ll need time but will he get it? At these clubs, you’ve got to win, be successful straight away.
‘Chelsea have good players and if he can work with them over a few months, he’ll be successful.’
Potter was a journeyman full-back for clubs like Birmingham and Macclesfield who had to go to the north of Sweden where winter temperatures dipped to minus 25 degrees Celsius to get a chance in management.
Yet here he is, now at one of the most famous clubs in England. He might have to pinch himself when his Chelsea walk out at Selhurst Park on Saturday but you fancy neither Guardiola nor Klopp are surprised he’s made it.