MANCHESTER, England (AP) — With his team’s winless run stretching to six games in all competitions, Chelsea manager Graham Potter is facing a critical point of his early reign.
Potter, who is only five months into the job, has so far had the faith of American owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. Supporters, however, have started to turn against him and an online petition calling for him to be fired has received more than 40,000 signatures.
The 2-0 loss to Premier League rival Tottenham on Sunday was the final straw for some. And with games coming up against Leeds in the Premier League and Borussia Dortmund in the round of 16 of the Champions League, Potter needs results to turn quickly.
Chelsea has spent more than $660 million on players since Boehly and Clearlake bought the club for $2.5 billion last May. One Twitter poll, which received more than 110,000 votes, gave a binary choice of “Potter in” or “Potter out.” The result was 80% calling for the former Brighton manager to go.
Last week, Potter revealed he had received anonymous emails wishing death on him and his family.
At matches, there hasn’t been a widespread show of dissent from fans. That could change if Chelsea is knocked out of the Champions League next Tuesday, less than two years after it won the title under then-manager Thomas Tuchel.
Tuchel, who was hugely popular among supporters, was an early casualty of the Boehly-Clearlake regime. He was fired only seven games into the season.
Potter was quickly installed as the first managerial appointment by the new owners and there has been a clear intention to give him time to integrate the new signings after 16 players were brought in over the past two transfer windows. But Boehly and Clearlake are unlikely to have anticipated such an alarming sequence of results, especially after delivering marquee signings like Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez — a World Cup winner in Qatar — and highly-rated Ukraine winger Mykhailo Mudryk in a bid to turn the season around in January.
Fernandez became the most expensive player in British soccer history in a deal worth $131 million. Mudryk cost $108 million.
Despite going undefeated in his first nine games, things have unravelled for Potter with Chelsea winning only one of its last 11 in all competitions. The London club is closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League qualifying places.
Chelsea won every major trophy under former owner Roman Abramovich, including two Champions Leagues and five Premier League titles. Last February, Abramovich completed a full set of trophies when Chelsea won the Club World Cup.
Part of that success came from his ruthless approach to firing managers, with Jose Mourinho twice losing his job despite winning three league titles during those two spells.
Carlo Ancelotti was fired a year after winning a league and FA Cup double in his first season in charge.
Boehly and Clearlake looked to be following the same path when they dispensed with Tuchel, who won the Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup in his 20 months at the club.
There haven’t been any snap judgements in the case of Potter. That is likely in acknowledgement of the difficult position in which he’s been placed during a period of such upheaval both on and off the field with a new ownership and a much-changed squad.
The pressure, however, will only grow if Chelsea’s form does not improve.
After losing at home to last-place Southampton this month, relegation-fighting Leeds on Saturday is another game fraught with danger. That will be followed by the Champions League match against Dortmund, which the German team leads 1-0 on aggregate after the first leg.
Potter’s task has not been helped by a host of injuries to key players, including N’Golo Kante, Raheem Sterling, Reece James and Wesley Fofana. And he was given a further blow after scans confirmed Tuesday that defender Thiago Silva has knee ligament damage.
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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