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Graham Potter – a coaching story
How has Graham Potter an English coach taken a Swedish team from the bottom division and into the Europa League to play the might of Arsenal? By good coaching and developing players to be the best they can be…
In 2010 with his team relegated to the fourth tier of Swedish football, the chairman of Ostersunds FK Daniel Kindberg, was after a young coach who could help reverse their spiral.
Step forward English coach Graham Potter – he had been a assistant coach for the England University squad and at Leeds Metropolitan University.
“I suppose the club took as much of a punt on me as I did on them,” says Potter. “Daniel was looking for a young coach and luckily enough I fitted those requirements. I was looking to get back into football and I was suppose I was fortunate to start where results weren’t the be all and end all. You make mistakes at the results end of football and you can be out on your ear pretty quickly.”
So in December 2010, Potter signed a three-year contract as head coach of the club. In 2013, after two successive promotions, he prolonged his contract with the club for another three years. On 27 October 2015, Östersunds FK secured promotion to the Swedish top flight, Allsvenskan, for the first time in their history.And in April he won his first title as a manager when Östersund won the Swedish Cup beating IFK Norrkoping 4-1, to qualify for Europe for the first time.
A unique approach to team building
Ostersunds is not an ordinary football club. Their extraordinary achievements on the pitch are underpinned by a unique approach to team-building off it. They have developed a ‘culture academy’ where players sing, dance and act in front of an audience in an attempt to boost their performance ability. This has included staging a rock concert, at which Potter himself sang, and a performance of Swan Lake…
“It was a young lady who called me with the idea that cultural expression can be good for athletes. I thought it was very interesting – out of the box.
“We let the players and staff consume culture, organising workshops with theatre, dance, singing, book reading. In our culture academy, we have a different theme every year. It is a training method for decision-making and bravery.
“We’re trying to build a team that’s comfortable in uncomfortable situations. From a football perspective, putting young footballers into art, or singing – you’re doing something that’s not so familiar. It has helped us build a team and build a spirit.”
“I didn’t have any opportunities to enter the English game, if I’m being honest. This was a big move for [the family], particularly given that the club were in the fourth tier of Swedish football. It was all about making it work and trying your best.
“My wife went to the local nursery and she was asked:
‘What are you doing here?’
‘My husband’s got a job as a football coach.’
‘I’d go home if I were you.’
“It has all happened so quickly. Because you’re in it all the time you don’t really have a chance to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. It’s only when you start to articulate it to people that you realise just how much we’ve managed to achieve. We’ve done quite a bit I suppose.”
Knocking Galatasaray out
He led the team to a 3-1 aggregate victory over Galatasaray in the Qualifiying round of the Europa League.
He said: “We have a turnover of £5m. To beat a team like Galatasaray who have a turnover of £140m, that is impossible. It’s 28/29 times the turnover. It’s not possible but it happens in football because we can beat the numbers game. It’s not about the money here, it’s about the other stuff.
“Ostersunds is not just a remarkable football club, it is a family – one the entire city has now taken to its heart. They are also reaching out to other parts of the world, forging a partnership with Darfur United Football Club, a team made up of players from the Refugee World Cup, which was held in the Swedish city. In addition, each month a percentage of salaries are donated in order to support around 100 students and coaches from Darfur.
Potter adds : “A lot has happened here. Two kids have been born here, my eldest is at school. It’s a place that will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a wonderful place, a wonderful football club and fantastic people – so I’m very fortunate.”