When Bruno Saltor says he wouldn’t be able to call himself Chelsea’s interim manager were it not for Graham Potter, he’s right in more ways than one.
Potter’s departure on Sunday night suddenly left Chelsea in need of a figurehead, especially with perennial rivals Liverpool visiting Stamford Bridge just 48 hours later, live on Sky Sports.
With no permanent replacement lined up, the decision makers at Cobham called on Bruno – a 42-year-old with fewer than four years’ experience as a coach and who admits he has never picked a starting XI – to step into the void left by Potter.
But it’s not just Potter’s sacking that has provided Bruno with the opportunity – however brief it may be – to experience life as a head coach.
In fact, the Spaniard admits he may never have moved into coaching – following a playing career that finished with seven years at Brighton – were it not for the former Seagulls boss.
“Why I’m a coach right now and why I’m sitting here is because of Graham,” Bruno tells Sky Sports in an exclusive interview. “He’s been guiding me as a coach, as a human being and I’ve got full admiration for him.”
It takes just a few minutes in Bruno’s company to understand that his words aren’t just platitudes offered to a colleague who now finds himself out of a job.
Chelsea’s next six matches
- Liverpool (H) – Premier League, Tuesday April 4, kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports
- Wolves (A) – Premier League, Saturday April 8, kick-off 3pm
- Real Madrid (A) – Champions League, Wednesday April 12, kick-off 8pm
- Brighton (H) – Premier League, Saturday April 15, kick-off 3pm
- Real Madrid (H) – Champions League, Tuesday April 18, kick-off 8pm
- Brentford (H) – Premier League, Wednesday April 26, kick-off 7.45pm
Taking part in his first press conference since being handed the reins, Bruno spoke about how tough the past 24 hours had been for everyone involved – including the coaches’ families – before adding: “Seeing friends leave, it’s a really hard situation.”
It’s not hard to see why Bruno feels this way, given his entire coaching career had been spent under Potter.
After ending his playing career at the Amex during the same summer that Potter arrived on the south coast, Bruno spent the next three years learning his trade under the former Swansea and Ostersunds boss. Then, when Chelsea came calling in September last year, Bruno was one of the coaches Potter brought with him to west London.
The message coming from the club after Potter’s appointment was that, with Todd Boehly and his consortium now in charge, things would be different. Roman Abramovich was gone and so was his habit of hiring and firing managers, with stability now prioritised and a long-term plan being worked towards.
And yet, Boehly has just overseen the sacking of his second head coach in seven months, more than £600m has been spent on 19 new players over the past year and the team now finds itself led by a head coach embarking on the most high-profile challenge of his career without the person who did the most to help guide it.
Players signed since Potter’s appointment
- Benoit Badiashile – Monaco, £35m
- Andrey Santos – Vasco da Gama, £18m
- David Datro Fofana – Molde, £10m
- Joao Felix – Atletico Madrid, loan (£9.7m fee)
- Mykhailo Mudryk – Shakhtar Donetsk, £88.5m
- Noni Madueke – PSV, £29m
- Malo Gusto – Lyon, £26.3m
- Enzo Fernandez – Benfica, £106.8m
- Jimmy-Jay Morgan – Southampton, undisclosed
Asked whether he feels disappointed – and maybe even frustrated – at Potter’s exit, Bruno says: “Yes, I would agree with that,” while he also used his press conference to point out that processes take time.
Unfortunately for Potter, time – particularly on the training pitches – was in short supply during his time in charge. The head coach had to oversee 13 matches during a six-week period leading up to the World Cup, before resuming the campaign with six games in less than three weeks.
Potter was also denied the luxury of a pre-season and summer transfer window given Thomas Tuchel began the campaign as Chelsea’s boss. Then, a crippling injury list during the winter further hampered his chances of success and another six first-team players being signed in January meant a need to manage a bloated squad.
“Obviously it’s really challenging,” Bruno said of the circumstances his former boss faced. “A pre-season is massive to implement a playing style.
“A lot of players, a lot of injuries – it was really difficult to step in, especially after a really good manager as well. It’s been very challenging to deal with day by day.”
In November, at the height of Chelsea’s congested fixture list, Potter described his first few months in the job as like being in a “washing machine”. The phrase prompts a wry chuckle from Bruno, who adds: “I completely understand.
“It’s a club in the middle of a process and there are so many changes. You feel that way because you have to build a lot of relationships and you feel you’re being pulled in every single direction, trying to create a culture… there’s a lot going on.”
But regardless of the sympathy he has for Potter, Bruno understands it’s now on him – at least in the short term – to elicit a response from a Chelsea side that have won just seven of their last 25 matches in all competitions and find themselves in the bottom half of the Premier League.
The interim boss has had just one training session to prepare his side to face Liverpool and, while not wanting to provide too many clues for Jurgen Klopp, admits he is unlikely to rip up Potter’s blueprint when he takes charge of his first game.
That blueprint was unable to save Chelsea on Saturday when they fell to a 2-0 home defeat against Aston Villa, a result that proved to be the final straw for Potter despite his belief that his side had produced a “positive performance”.
Chelsea had 69 per cent possession and 27 shots compared to Villa’s five, with Bruno describing the display as “dominant” even in defeat, adding: “I thought the players gave everything last weekend. The scoreline didn’t go for us.”
That was the case too often under Potter, with his side’s inability to convert their chances a consistently undermining factor.
The defeat to Villa was a case in point, with no goals scored from an expected goals total of 2.16, and Bruno said: “It’s a problem that the whole team needs to help. It’s not just about the forwards – it’s a team structure.”
While he needs the rest of the team to help his forwards, Bruno also wants the Chelsea supporters – who greeted the final whistle against Villa with a chorus of jeers – to help his team.
Recalling the euphoric scenes last month that greeted Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund and qualification for the Champions League quarter-finals – undoubtedly the high point of Potter’s reign – Bruno said: “The players always need the supporters behind them.
“It’s the player No 12 and it’s a massive difference when there’s that energy in the stadium. We saw that against Dortmund and that’s what we need.”
The mention of that victory is a reminder that it’s not all doom and gloom at Stamford Bridge, with two quarter-final legs against Real Madrid to be played this month.
The first takes place at the Bernabeu next Wednesday and, given the uncertainty over who Potter’s successor will be, there is the real possibility that Bruno will take to the touchline in one of world football’s most iconic stadiums as Chelsea’s head coach with a place in the Champions League last four on the line.
The suggestion raises a smile from Bruno, who never won at the Bernabeu in four attempts as an Almeria and Valencia player, but he quickly bats away the question with the same professionalism he showed during the 200-plus appearances he made on his way to becoming a cult hero at Brighton.
“I know it sounds boring – ‘game by game’ – but that’s what we have to do,” he insisted. “We have to focus on the training session, preparing the best we can and then focusing [on Liverpool].”
The idea of Bruno leading Chelsea out at the Bernabeu may have sounded fanciful just days ago, but then so did the idea of Roberto Di Matteo guiding Chelsea to their first Champions League title just months after being promoted to the role of interim manager when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March 2012.
But as soon as the idea of replicating Di Matteo’s remarkable achievement is put to him, Bruno swats it away. “We have to focus,” he repeats. “Day by day.”
But then again, who knows what each day is going to bring during another remarkable season at Stamford Bridge.
Bruno’s first game as interim Chelsea manager will be shown live on Sky Sports as they host Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening in the Premier League.
Coverage begins from 7pm on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event, with kick-off at 8pm.
You can also follow all the latest updates in our dedicated live blog on the Sky Sports website and app, with free in-game clips and free match highlights available across Sky Sports’ digital platforms shortly after full-time.