What can be said about David Wagner that hasn’t been said already? It’s genuinely difficult to put into words what this charismatic German has done for my club in such a short space of time, but I will give it a go.
In the space of just 18 months, David has turned our club from one that was content to float along the bottom of the Championship table and happy to maintain its Championship status to one that set its goals so high and dream so big that we are now a Premier League club and no, it still doesn’t feel real yet when I say that. However, this is not to say that Wagner has had to overcome several hurdles along the way to achieving icon status at our club.
The first was successfully communicating his ideas of the ‘gegenpressen’ style he wanted to play across to the squad. We should not underestimate this task. In order for him to implement the identity that his team wanted to play in, he had to have the support of his senior players within the dressing room.
With the utilisation of reactive pressure, attacking full-backs who supported two tucked in wing-forwards, a goalkeeper who was as comfortable on the ball as the defenders in front of him as well as centre-backs who could distribute the ball with ease and quality, we must pay appreciation to senior pros like Dean Whitehead, Jonathan Hogg and Mark Hudson.
Without players like these getting fully on board with Wagner’s methods from minute one and ensuring there were no backdoor murmurings or player rebellions, Wagner ensured that even if he did not have all the correct players he wanted to start with, the players he had already would carry out his wishes to the best of their ability.
The second was identifying the right players himself alongside owner Dean Hoyle and now departed Stuart Webber. The prices for Championship players became more and more exorbitant after, ironically the transfer of former Town striker Jordan Rhodes to Blackburn for £8m, rising to £12m in the summer of 2012. This was followed by the sale of striker Jonathan Kodija to Aston Villa from Bristol City for £14m.
After these tremors caused the transfer market to become hyper-inflated, especially for strikers, Wagner needed to explore alternative markets in order to find value for money. Handily, as a German coach and former manager of Borussia Dortmund’s II team, Wagner knew the market well and was shrewdly able to pick up high-quality players at low cost. These came in the form of players like defenders Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele and Chris Lowe from 1860 Munich, Dynamo Dresden and FC Kaiserslautern respectively as well as forward Elias Kachunga from FC Ingolstadt.
Wagner didn’t get all his transfers in this market spot on, with midfielder Ivan Paurevic being sold back to the club Town bought him from, FC Ufa in January due to a combination of homesickness and competition for places. However, this was a minor blot on his copybook, with Wagner taking advantage of an untapped market rich with talent and players who could seamlessly fit in with his ‘terrier identity’.
Following on from this, Wagner also used the German market to exploit an inherent weakness at Town which was an insufficient number of leaders. This is not without recognising the work of Mark Hudson, Dean Whitehead and Jonathan Hogg who had all been excellent role models and positive influences within the dressing room.
Jonathan Hogg encapsulated the terrier identity and “working and fighting attitude” Wagner has used countless times in post-match press conferences this season. Dean Whitehead and Mark Hudson had both been great servants to the club and had performed at a very high level going into last season. However, Wagner inwardly must have probably acknowledged that they in their final years of professional football and would not be playing as regularly as they had done in previous seasons. He also needed to shore up a defence which had conceded at an alarming rate in the years they had been in the Championship thus far.
To this end, the three defenders he bought, Chris Lowe, Michael Hefele and Christopher Schindler were all club captains of their previous clubs and would bring the additional required leadership on the field and off it. He also gave much more responsibility to defender Tommy Smith, making him the on-field captain when Mark Hudson wasn’t playing for the majority of the season or giving it to Jonathan Hogg. This was one of the best managerial decisions Wagner made as although we won promotion with a – goal difference, this was largely due to our miserly defence which rarely conceded more than one goal a game and which meant the vast majority of our 25 league wins were won by a margin of a single goal.
Another barrier he had to overcome was the correct utilisation of his squad rotation policy. With the budget restraints he had and the new rule stipulating no emergency loans could be made outside of the two designated transfer windows, Wagner knew how important it was to keep his players fresh and firing in spite of the full-throttle style of play he enforced and the inevitable drain this would have on the players over the course of a 48 game season.
As such, the signings he made in January have probably been the best of any town manager in our recent history. Town fans were crying out for another striker to support Nakhi Wells, who was vital to our promotion campaign but who at times, looked out on his feet in games with no suitable option to be brought off the bench to replace him. In stepped Collin Quaner, a striker from 2 Bundesliga side FC Union Berlin who signed for an undisclosed fee.
Although perhaps not the bullocking barn door of a centre-forward some fans had been crying out for, Quaner offered versatility, skill and a different option to Wells if we wanted to use him. Perhaps his goal tally at the end of the season could have been better but his contributions in games have been hugely important. It was his elusive movement in the penalty area which rescued Town from a stalemate at home to Preston North End when he stole in ahead of the PNE defender to slot home the rebound from Aaron Mooy’s saved penalty. It was also his assist in the play-off semi-final to Nakhi Wells after coming on as a substitute that helped town take Sheffield Wednesday to extra time and eventually a dramatic but victorious penalty shoot-out.
His other masterstroke signing was that of Chelsea forward Izzy Brown. After spending half the season at struggling Rotherham who were relegated after a sorry campaign, Wagner convinced Izzy Brown to switch clubs mid-season and help Huddersfield gain promotion. The impact was immediate with Brown scoring 4 goals in his opening 6 appearances including against arch-rivals Leeds United in a play-off 6 pointer (or so it appeared at the time). Brown gave much needed depth to Town’s forward line after Kasey Palmer’s unfortunate injury problems and some cutting edge up front that ensured we achieved maximum points from games we would otherwise have drawn or lost. A pertinent example of this being his wonder goal against Wolves at Molineux that sealed our play-off place.
These two signings demonstrated Wagner’s proactive capability to exploit our advantageous position at the top of the table and address the obvious gaps in our playing squad. Credit must also go to Dean Hoyle who backed his manager in a period where he could have played it safe.
Other barriers which Wagner has had to overcome which perhaps had less of an impact but were equally significant was the prejudice and snobbery which he received from other managers as well as pundits. A lot of this criticism was often shrouded in a thinly veiled reference to the fact he was a foreign manager. Predictions at the start of the season from individuals like Ian Holloway and Chris Iwelumo who said town would be relegated and even finish bottom provided the perfect motivation tool for Wagner to give to his players.
The fact that Wagner cut Holloway down to size in his post-match interview after the play-off final and seeing the players chanting “there’s only one Ian Holloway” in their wild celebrations in the dressing room summed up their determination to prove people wrong and let them know about it afterwards.
Managers also had their fair share of swipes at him, with former Leeds manager Garry Monk and Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray taking unjustified pot shots at him. After Wagner’s admittedly exuberant celebrations against Leeds, Monk appeared to deliberately antagonise Wagner on the touchline into a confrontation for celebrating with his players following town’s last minute winner before accusing Wagner of a lack of “class, humility and respect”. Wagner replied by apologising for his actions in the heat of the moment but adding he was proud that he wasn’t a manager who “tried to battle other managers”.
Blackburn manager Tony Mowbray also had an uneducated and if we’re being frank, xenophobic tirade against Wagner, accusing him of not knowing how the British game works and bringing the game into disrepute. This was all after Wagner had rested 10 players following the securing of a play-off place to give other squad players some game time and prepare them for the playoffs. He appeared to be criticised for doing his job. Analysing all of these factors, it truly is remarkable how Town have achieved promotion against all the odds.
As Chris Schindler scored the £190m penalty kick past Reading keeper Ali Al-Habsi and send the 40,000 town fans who had traveled to Wembley into delirium and tears of joy, it is utterly incomprehensible how we have reached the ‘promised land’.
Never in my lifetime did I think when we were in the depths of League Two and in the doldrums of League One that we would be playing against the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Never did I think I would be able to actually pick Huddersfield Town players in my fantasy football team or that I could watch the highlights of my team before 11:30 on prime-time television. Never did I think that I would be paying £199 to watch Premier League football in a league awash with foreign owners who show complete disregard for the loyal fans who support their clubs or the corporate entities that clubs have now become.
One man has delivered that success to all of us, fan, player and owner alike and that is David Wagner.
I am convinced this man will go to the very pinnacle of football management and I will no doubt be overcome with jealousy when he leaves our club and another set of fans pine over him like we have done but it will all be worth it.
This man has given me the greatest day of my life and fulfilled the wildest dreams of an entire town. Build the statue, rename a stand and give him the keys to the town. David Wagner, you will never know the joy you have brought to this little club in West Yorkshire but we will spend the rest of our days as football fans thanking you for it.