Once upon a time, not so long ago, a team from West Yorkshire of England used to finish continuously in the bottom half of the Championship table after it’s promotion from league one. It’s average attendance had gone down to the third lowest in the league. Lack of an exciting brand of football, lack of a bold approach and too many unappealing results saw the club heading towards a relegation battle and they had to escape from the clutches of stagnation as well. Instead, the wind changed and a chairman’s decision left the country stunned.
Today, amidst the giants of the country, the club stands proudly and locks horns without a sense of fear. The stadium is hardly ever empty and the buzz never ceases to die during match days. The woes of the past have turned into cheers of confidence and strength. I give it the tone of a fairytale because this has been nothing lesser than that.
The club we are talking about is David Wagner’s Huddersfield FC. Dean Hoyle sacked Chris Powell in the November of 2015 and backed it up with a brave decision to appoint a former assistant of Jurgen Klopp and that appointment has turned out to be absolutely wonderful. From battling relegation, how has Wagner turned the fortunes around?
The summer of 2016
One of the most important periods of Wagner’s era has to be the summer of 2016. The club undoubtedly lacked depth and the manager had to rope in new players. Apart from this, he had to make them gel as well. Huddersfield moved swiftly in the market and got in players complimenting the demands of their manager. A total of 5 were lured in from Germany and two of the current key squad players arrived from England. Christopher Schindler, Elias Kachunga, Chris Lowe arrived to strengthen the Terriers from Germany and Mooy as well Rajiv Van La Parra moved from within England.
A new side would generally take time to bond and in several of the cases, this happens on the pitch. Wagner, however, chose an alternative and perhaps having a degree in Biology and Sports science helped his cause. The team was taken to Sweden as a part of pre-season and they had to survive in a survival camp with limited resources. This was one of the most effective methods that helped and transformed the mood completely.
The foreign lads immediately bonded with the English ones and a team spirit was hence created. Over the course of the season, it becomes evident as to how much the side stepped up as a team and such cohesive play needed such a bond indeed. The spirit instilled was one of optimism and strength and it reflected in the 20 games the side won out of 22 and the margin of all of them was just one goal!
The game on the pitch doesn’t change on its own with the arrival of a new manager. It needs certain instructions, a pattern of football, a sense of discipline and cooperation and after all this, a brand gets built. One of the heaviest negatives under Powell for Huddersfield was the lack of attractive football and Wagner had to produce something delightful to fill up the stadium again and make the expectations to rise and he certainly did just that.
He adopted one of the most well-known formations that is the 4-2-3-1 and then the flexibility followed from this foundation. It became a 2-4-3-1/2-4-1-3 during the attack and a 4-4-1-1 during the defence. Hogg and Mooy’s excellent pivot, high line and long balls from Schindler, rapid overlapping from Smith and Lowe provided superb incentives. This was accompanied by the supple movements of Van La Para and Kachunga who cut inside regularly to make space for the fullbacks and Nakhi wells remained as the focal point.
Wagner’s high-intensity, incisive football created a strong reputation in the Championship and this was admired by the rivals such as Shelvey of Newcastle United as well. Another key opponent of the tactics off the ball was the famous Gegenpress. Jurgen Klopp had set a standard for this but Wagner got it along with his style without hesitation. The loading of midfield and a high-line provided the perfect organization to press and the opposite team going wide was pushed to the corner without mercy.
The positioning of the centre-backs cut off the decision to go long too. Most of their goals came from low crosses and through-balls. Huddersfield were one of the most innovative teams in the Championship and they’ve carried that along to the Premier League as well.
The Positive Demeanour
So much has happened in the past one year that it’s difficult to exactly list down the influence because it’s been from the roots of the club itself. From the board to the players, Wagner’s effect has shown through. It looks like a long time since that finals win over Reading on penalties. He’s used the window of 2017 to full-effect as well and filled the club with immense depth.
The arrival of Mounie from Montpellier, Lossl on loan, the permanent transfers of Mooy, Ince, Zanka and Depoitre have all propelled the team forward. Today, the club sits prettily in tenth place with a great chance to even reach up to seventh. Deemed to be one of the sides that might go straight back into the championship, Huddersfield have risen above such comments and have been astonishingly good.
The stadium of John Smith backs the home-team with ecstasy and cheers reverberating around what it seems like the entire town. The tactics, the efficient strategies of bringing the team together and a fantastic usage of the transfer windows have changed the fortunes for Huddersfield and largely it’s down to one man and that is indeed David Wagner. Huddersfield have beaten Manchester United convincingly after 65 years! If that’s not down to the manager and if that’s not a sign of the fortunes changing, then what is?