Graham Potter, the coach of tomorrow night’s Swedish opponents Östersund, says he’s excited to pit his wits against Arsene Wenger and that he remains full of admiration for the Frenchman despite his travails in recent years.
Since taking the reins at the Jämtkraft Arena in 2011, the Englishman – who Birmingham, Stoke, West Brom, Southampton and many others – has steered Östersund from the Swedish fourth tier to the UEFA Europa League knockout phase, picking up the club’s first ever major trophy, the Swedish Cup, en route.
On the eve of the biggest tie in their 21-year history, Potter says his Östersund players are excited but undaunted by the visit of the Gunners.
“I’ve never got through to the last 16 of the Europa League so of course, it will be the biggest [achievement],” he told press [transcript by Football.London]on Wednesday.
“Everything we do now is new to us. That’s why I’m so proud of the players.
“I have faith in the players to deal with the opportunity. If we are successful it’s a huge moment for everybody.
Giving context to the journey he’s been on – his side have played 12 games in the Europa League this season – he added: “We’d never won a major trophy before, we won that [the Swedish Cup]. We were never in a Europa league qualification before, especially against a big team like Galatasaray and we coped with that really well.
“We had never been in the Europa League before and we coped with that, so I have complete faith in the players in terms of their ability to deal with the challenge and the opportunity.
“It goes without saying if we are successful it’s a huge moment for everybody connected with the club. Not just mine, but the players and the chairman I imagine.”
Some people have suggested that Arsenal’s trip to Ostersund is a bit like a David vs Goliath FA Cup third round tie. While willing to entertain the suggestion, Potter underlined that his team are not in the competition to make up the numbers.
“In some ways I know where you are coming from in terms of a small team and a big team,” he said.
“For us, in this type of game we just want to play as well as we can, use the opportunity to show what we’re about.
“Usually, in the third round of the FA Cup you haven’t beaten Galatasaray and Hertha Berlin. We’re all excited about the visit of Arsenal and we’re looking forward to the game.”
Asked about the criticism that Arsene Wenger faces back in England, both from the media and the terraces, Potter went on: “It’s not for me to say how Arsenal fans should act. He’s done an incredible amount for English football. He’s up there with anyone.
“I remember playing in the 90s when we were just coming out of the European ban and it was a bit like the dark ages. He is part of the reason why English football has changed.
“When you talk about a human level and for him to cope with what he has and stay at the top level for so long. He’s an inspiration for me.”
If you’re looking to learn more about Potter’s time in Sweden, look no further than this fantastic article in the Coaches Voice by @SarahShepSport – in it, he outlines how his post-football education has shaped his coaching philosophy and how he’s helped a small Scandinavian town embark on one of modern football’s most romantic journeys.