At Talk of the Town we like to highlight examples of great journalism just as much as we scrutinise those pieces which cast our club in a less than favourable light. This week’s interview piece by Melissa Reddy on Joe.co.uk was a perfect example of the former.
Even when journalists have written largely positive articles about Huddersfield Town, they have covered the same basic tropes and talking points i.e. Klopp’s best mate, Austria pre-season camp, German influence etc.
They’ve also not been able to draw much variety from David Wagner either. He has predominantly given the same answers and the same insight to the majority of the newspapers who have interviewed him. Melissa Reddy appears to have gone down a different path to get the write-up she wanted.
From the opening few paragraphs, this quote stands out:
“Everything that I’d known about Huddersfield before joining, the reality was honestly worse, which makes all this more unbelievable. I think my agent was very smart not to show me the training facilities before I signed.”
This insight is perhaps not surprising but this level of honesty from Wagner about what he encountered when he first arrived at the club is fascinating as to how he analysed the scale of the task he had in front of him. It also reinforces the size of the achievement that promotion to the Premier League was, if it could be hyperbolised any further than what it has already.
The article gives a brief background to the club’s current pre-season plans in Austria before diving into Wagner’s coaching past and the crossroads he faced when he finished his playing career:
“I had about two or three years where I was absolutely removed from this football circle and then slowly, I came back when I was close to finishing my practical studies to become a teacher. I felt I was missing something.”
“For two or three years, I missed nothing as I was discovering new friends, new interests and that really helped me, as ultimately, it became clear that above everything else I did, it was football that I wanted to be involved in.”
This line of questioning allows us to see the man behind the now famous cap, glasses and beard combo and his thought process into why he took the decisions that made him what he is today.
His man-management style is also laid out in more detail than he has ever done previously with his warm and good-humoured personality synthesising with his methodical approach, ensuring all of his players understood his key messages and took his instructions on board:
“You have to create a culture where there is understanding and belonging. You have to realise there are different ways of management within a group and find the right channels: one player can take things on board by just listening once, another doesn’t need a lot of talking it just comes naturally, a different player may need the message repeated five times…”
Wagner’s personality and naturally gifted charisma oozes throughout the interview with his inability to be anyone other than himself and the ideas he swears by an important facet to his success and the bond he has forged with the Town players.
Melissa Reddy also articulates what should be a basic fact but has been lost by many journalists to distinguish Wagner from Klopp completely:
“It unmerited that the man, who “as far as I can remember, always had a ball with me – in my hands or at my feet,” is primarily viewed through the prism of his friendship with the Liverpool manager.”
“Wagner may share similar ideals to Klopp and possess a comparable open and engaging persona, but he is not in anyone’s shadow.
“He has traversed his own path, hurdled divergent complications and been successful with his objectives in his way.”
This point should be a simple one but it is something that’s escaped many and one which Melissa should be applauded for. Klopp had nothing to do with Wagner’s achievements at Huddersfield Town outside of a philosophical resemblance that can only be loosely paralleled when you juxtapose the resources Klopp has to what Wagner had in his debut season in West Yorkshire.
A linear trajectory through the ‘Wagner Era’ is threaded throughout the article with nice nods to the radical changes he implemented to the squad when he first arrived like double training sessions and a compulsory geographical proximity for all the players to live within 15 miles of the training ground.
However, the additional insight from members of Town’s playing squad also serve an important purpose into gauging just how warmly received Wagner’s methods were initially, especially the Sweden survival trip. It’s clear that not many of the players, if any, thoroughly enjoyed the trip from a leisure perspective. The broader picture became clearer once the fraternal bonds they forged in that Nordic landscape had crystalised to deliver a tight-knit group that to this day has stood the test of time.
A more forensic examination of the now famous ‘Terriers Identity’ and ‘No Limits’ mantra comes from Collin Quaner. The striker-come-winger provides an interesting insight as to how ‘The Boss’ actually instills and reinforces these inspirational sound-bites:
“When asked what has been Wagner’s overarching message to the squad, Quaner offers: “He often asks: ‘Do you believe in yourself? Do you believe in each other? Do you believe you can be successful together? Do you believe you can win every challenge? Do you believe you can beat the odds?’
“Of course, the boss wants to make sure we get our tactics right and fulfil our roles in a game, but more than anything, he wants us to know we are capable of great things as a group. He tells us all the time that we have no limits.”
The final stanza of the article lasers in on the final few fixtures in our survival season of last year. With the looming games against Manchester City and Chelsea, the behind-the-scenes motivation that Wagner gave to his players reveals just why the players had so much belief that they could go out and get results in the unlikeliest of circumstances:
“Like always, especially as a manager, you have to sell the bad things as good things and you have to find a positive way to view situations. When it got closer to those games, it was the truth – Manchester City were already the champions – but the problem was they scored 100 goals and no-one managed to keep a clean sheet against them at the Etihad but we thought, ‘come on, let’s try.’
“We go there, get in their faces, try to press, try to be brave.’ For sure, on this day, City were not at their best, there is no doubt about that, but we played without fear and had a couple of good chances and we collected a point.
“We were full of euphoria after this game and then had to travel to face Chelsea, with that match only three days later…
“…Saints won, but the players had a completely different mindset. They were hugely disappointed as they wanted a draw or Swansea to win and there was this negative atmosphere in our meeting room.
“I can’t remember exactly the permutations, but there was a lot of bad vibrations so I stood up and said: ‘Listen guys, what’s the problem?
“‘We know exactly what we need now – just one further point – so why are you not happy like I am? We will fight for our point.’
“We played the next evening against Chelsea and for me, this game showed what Huddersfield is all about. We showed spirit, togetherness, we battled, we really gave every inch to meet our aim.”
“If you are not the giant club, you still have a chance – only a small one – but then you have to take that opportunity and apply yourself to make it bigger, bigger, bigger…”
This never-say-die attitude and the intelligence he showed in geeing his players back up to the level required to go to Stamford Bridge speaks volumes about the man, his coaching staff, and his players as well.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that as a body of work, this piece by Melissa Reddy is the most comprehensive and well-researched piece that we’ve had on Huddersfield Town since this entire rollercoaster. If any outsider wanted the low-down on our club and the journey we embarked on in 2015, this article would give them everything they need and more.