By 90Min
February 14, 2018

An unadventurous full back in his playing days who, with the exception of a bit part role in the Premier League with Southampton, plied his trade in the lower regions of English football, Graham Potter was not tipped to have a future in the game from a managerial perspective. 

Potter “found the game, and management in particular, really, really frustrating”, according to former teammate Graeme Jones, and there were signs of disillusion from a man who sought other avenues in the game to broaden his horizons both mentally and materialistically. 

For a player who had scored just 19 goals throughout his career, six of them being the most in one single campaign and more indicatively that very campaign being the last of his playing career, there is a sense that Potter is a late bloomer; a man who has blossomed and seen his previously hidden credentials come to fruition later on his career as his personality developed.

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The man from Solihull graduated from the Open University in 2005 with a degree in Social Sciences before going on to complete a master's in leadership and emotional intelligence at Leeds Metropolitan University, with the intention of 'testing himself in the real world' such were the scant opportunities being offered to him within the English game, and in 2010, Potter was afforded a chance from the unlikeliest of sources. 

Ostersunds FK, a side competing in the fourth tier of Swedish football, came to the attention of Potter through the aforementioned Graeme Jones, but at some risk. 

"My wife had built up a business for 10 years and we'd just had our first child. So in that way it was a big move, it was her leaving her life. It was the fourth tier of Swedish football. It was a gamble." Potter had truly taken a stab in the dark. 

It looked ominous from the off. The swimming pool of a project that Potter had metaphorically thrown himself into the deep end of whilst having bricks tied around his ankles had been written off right from the very start by the majority, none more so than from one local who gave Potter's wife a glowing endorsement of the club who had just suffered relegation from the third tier.

"What are you doing here?" "My husband's got a job." "Great, what is it?" "Football coach." 'Who for?" "Ostersund." "I'd go home if I were you."

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Potter had to be unique in the way he went about this task. He knew that the club had next to no pull factors, a hugely restricted budget and a thread bare fan base. It seemed an impossible job, but strangely perfect for Potter; a blank canvas of a club, in which he could find the key to success through any measures he desired. 

He began by identifying that right kind of character that Ostersunds required. Players who had a point to prove. Players who by no means had reached their peak but also had not seen their playing days diminish. Players with a similar mindset to the one Potter used to possess whilst playing; determined whilst mentally lost, hoping to find themselves in football and in life. 

Jamie Hopcutt, released by York City aged 18, received an invite to a trial with the Swedish club via email, an offer he opted to take up given his previous interactions with Potter at York. Hopcutt impressed, going on to play a key role as Ostersunds achieved back to pack promotions in Potter's first two seasons at the club, a remarkable feat given the state of things when he arrived. 

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Following him through the door was a former Middlesbrough academy player, Curtis Edwards, another player looking to take the long road in football having wound up on a building site working alongside his dad. 

It's all well and good bringing these sort of characters in, but they are not the answer as they come. They were released from their teams for a reason, and as harsh as that may sound, Potter needed to do more for the human side of his players more than for their footballing ability. He needed to help them find themselves, and strangely, a 'culture academy' was his answer...

Potter encouraged his side to embrace the culture of their newfound environment, organising theatre, signing, dance and reading workshops in an attempt to improve team bonding and morale, as well as their 'decision making and bravery'. Most professional footballers may have scoffed at these ideas, but it is testament to Potter's Ostersunds side in the way that they have absorbed the town's morals and given the locals a real taste for football. 

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It's safe to say that these out of the box implementations have allowed Potter's men to come out of their shells somewhat, whilst prospering on the field as a result of that through a newfound sense of titanism throughout the ranks.   

Ostersunds won the Swedish Cup for the first time in their history last year, earning a place in the Europa League as a result, and it was in this competition that Potter and his men really put a small side from Sweden on the footballing map. 

A 2-0 win over Turkish giants Galatasaray at the Jamtkraft Arena shocked the footballing world, but it was the 1-1 draw at the Turk Telekom Stadium in Istanbul which really put the club's progress into perspective for Potter, especially after dispatching the highest ranked team in qualifying so convincingly. 

TOBIAS SCHWARZ/GettyImages

"At the end of the game their supporters were obviously irate at their team, but they started to clap us and we did a lap around Istanbul. That was a wonderful moment which started off the journey."

Thanks to Potter, Ostersunds FK have seen their average attendance increase from roughly 900 to 6000, transforming the way the locals feel about football through more than unconventional methods, and it's safe to say that the man once disillusioned with the beautiful game has certainly found his feet in Ostersunds. 

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