On Thursday Graham Potter will fly the flag for English managers in Europe when his Östersunds FK side face Turkish giants Galatasaray in Europa League qualifying.
Potter was appointed by Ostersunds in 2011 and has guided the modest club from central Sweden to the most successful period in their short history. In 2015 Ostersunds won promotion to the top-flight Allsvenskan for the first time and last year they claimed their first major silverware in the Swedish Cup with a 4-1 victory over IFK Norrköping.
The reward is a European debut against Galatasaray, whose decorated history in the competition includes lifting the UEFA Cup in 2000 when they beat Arsenal on penalties in the final.
“As you can imagine everyone is really excited,” Potter tells The Set Pieces. “In terms of the opposition, it couldn’t get any better for us. It’s momentous, fairytale stuff. A real David and Goliath battle, and one we can be proud of.”
Potter, who featured for Stoke, Southampton and West Brom during his playing career, is under no illusions about the enormous challenge Ostersunds are now facing. Galatasaray may have lost several key players this summer, but manager Igor Tudor has been quick to find replacements. With only six weeks between the end of last season and the start of the new campaign, it has been a tight turnaround for the Turkish side.
“We’ve scouted them as much as we can,” says Potter, who was linked to the managerial vacancy at Swansea last December. “They’re a team a bit in transition because they’ve lost a couple of players. Sneijder looks like he’s moving on, Podolski has gone (to Vissel Kobe), Bruma (to RB Leipzig), so they’ve got replacements for them in.
“They bought (Younes) Belhanda, presumably as the replacement for Sneijder, and (Bafetimbi) Gomis for Podolski, so they’re buying players at a good level. As much as we can we’ve got an understanding of their quality, but because their preparation and formation will be new, we have to make do with what we have.”
The upheaval at Galatasaray follows a campaign in which they finished fourth in the Turkish Süper Lig, with former coach Jan Olde Riekerink sacked on Valentine’s Day following a run of poor form.
The loss of Podolski, the club’s top scorer last season, along with talented winger Bruma, could hand Ostersunds an advantage ahead of Thursday’s home leg.
The Swedish debutants are already 14 matches into the 2017 Allsvenskan and remain unbeaten on their own patch at the 8,466 capacity Jämtkraft Arena.
“Of course, being mid-season means you’re more into the competition mentality, but at the same time you have other areas to focus on,” adds Potter.
“We’ve had two matches leading up to the Galatasaray game and they were obviously really important to us. It has its benefits and disadvantages, but while Galatasaray are still trying to build relationships as a team and get their structure, we hope we can cause them problems.”
— Östersunds FK (@ofk_1996) July 12, 2017
Potter is firmly focused on causing an upset in Ostersunds’ second round qualifying tie, but whatever the outcome it has still been a historic year for a club that was only founded in 1996.
“Excitement is probably an understatement,” he says. “If we zoom out on the history of our club, 2017 is an incredible, incredible year. It will be hard to beat. We had the Swedish Cup final in front of our own supporters and it was an emotional day. And now we have the Galatasaray game.
“Sometimes you can get a little bit blasé about it all and think the next thing is just going to happen. But we have to keep focused and keep working because football isn’t easy. Our challenge is to keep improving, keep progressing, and hopefully we can carry on the journey.”