Whilst the Premier League is widely recognised as the promised land, for many columnists, armchair supporters and pundits alike, the Championship is a distant unknown land where sleeping giants go to rest and the perennial losers in the most recent Premier League season disappear to, to be ridiculed by betting company Twitter accounts and Z-list celebrities.
Although these ‘footballing experts’ clearly show no interest or knowledge of football beyond the top twenty teams in England, that does not stop them making pretentious condescending articles appearing to understand the game beyond the top 20 sides.
One of the prime examples of this is the coverage of Huddersfield Town’s transfer activity, despite gaining promotion to the Premier League, the unfancied West Yorkshire side is still very much seen by these ‘footballing experts’ as a Championship club with a Championship squad and inevitably, at the end of next season, they will return to the Championship.
However, whilst this lazy narrative will continue to be peddled out of Fleet Street and eaten up by impressionable Premier League fans, it reveals the telling negligence that some journalists show towards the Championship and lower league football in general.
Since that afternoon at Wembley at the end of May, it has been a whirlwind month and a half for the West Yorkshire side.
As well as vitally securing the mid to long term futures of David Wagner and Christopher Buhler, the appointment of Celtic’s David Moss as the club’s Head of Football Operations to fill the sizeable hole left by Stuart Webber has been the latest shrewd appointment in what is a crucial position, both for the club and for Wagner.
The ensuing weeks have seen Town move quickly and efficiently in the transfer market. In a matter of four weeks since Christopher Schindler’s penalty sent Town fans into delirium, Town have made nine signings.
The acquisition of Elias Kachunga was already a formality and the permanent arrival of Aaron Mooy and return of Kasey Palmer came as no surprise as all three had played quintessential roles in Town’s fairy-tale season which resulted in Town’s unexpected but well-deserved promotion to the Premier League.
As well as these expected signings, Wagner and Moss moved quickly to bring in:
- Laurent Depoitre from FC Porto
- Jonas Lössl from FSV Mainz
- Tom Ince from Derby County
- Danny Williams from Reading (albeit he was a free agent)
- Scott Malone from Fulham
- Steve Mounie from Montpellier
- Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen from FC Copenhagen
To those who are unfamiliar with Huddersfield Town, Wagner and last season’s escapades, this came as a shock.
Not only did it come as a shock, a lot of articles began to pop up about Town’s transfer activity. They varied from positive informative pieces that suggested that Town were making all the right noises and refreshingly as a newly promoted side “giving it a good go” to condescending, patronising and quite frankly inaccurate pieces claiming that Wagner was taking an erratic “scattergun” approach and Town’s approach was not too dissimilar to a trolley dash. Other’s even went to the extent of claiming that Wagner’s approach would not work as too many signings would not be able to gel in time for next season.
Circumstance dictates the strategy taken
Whilst I’m going to debunk each of these myths in turn (even the obvious ones), the first thing to consider is that Town wasn’t expected or planning to gain promotion last season. This beautiful perfect storm which saw Town astronomically rise from treading water above the Championship relegation places to playoff victors in a single season is a feat which I think isn’t anywhere near appreciated enough.
But, the point, I make is a simple one. You can’t compare Town’s transfer activity to that of Newcastle United or Brighton & Hove Albion. Newcastle United gained promotion back to the Premier League with what is virtually a Premier League squad. Similarly, Brighton & Hove Albion’s disappointment to miss out on automatic promotion during the 2015-16 season drove them on to promotion.
With both Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion having squads ready to compete in the Premier League, they have not needed to work as hard in the transfer market to make their squads deep enough to be competitive in the Premier League. Therefore, it is the circumstances that dictate the transfer strategy taken and drawing comparisons between the newly promoted club’s transfer strategies which some journalists have done is a pointless exercise.
Too many signings, Too little time
Instead, I will respond to these myths which keep appearing in articles about Town and Wagner’s methodology. Firstly, every Town fan knows that the claim that Town has made too many signings and there is too little time for the signings to gel is a defunct argument. If journalists paid close enough attention, they would’ve seen that Town had made thirteen signings last season, a similar upheaval to the one that we’re witnessing this summer. Not only did Wagner gel a group of players, he created one of the most coherent, well-drilled teams in the entirety of the Championship.
Whilst much has been made of Wagner’s unorthodox methods including the trip to a Swedish uninhabited island for team bonding exercises, one of his most important and effective methods was his simplest, break down the language barrier. Every signing that Town made last season, whether it was from Germany or across Europe had at least a basic understanding of the English language meaning that there was no language barrier. Similarly, it is a trait that is shared by all of Town’s signings so far, regardless of where they have come from, as they speak English well already.
The final point to make about the claim that Town’s side won’t be able to gel due to the sheer quantity of signings is the stat that on the 29th of May when Huddersfield Town stepped out onto the pitch against Reading in the playoff final, eight of the eleven players were acquisitions brought into the club by Wagner in the summer transfer window, an impressive feat and a telltale testament to Wagner’s judgment in the transfer market.
The supposed scattergun approach
Moving on to the condescending claims that Town’s transfer strategy has been an erratic ‘scattergun’ process is both an insult to David Wagner and also to David Moss. The approach to me appears to be a very simple one, Wagner wants two Premier League standard players for every position on the pitch. On that shallow level of understanding alone (which seems to have gone over the heads of many football journalists), Wagner is recruiting players to either improve a position or provide cover for it, so the amount of signings and more signings being on the horizon, should come as no surprise.
Also the timing of this supposed ‘trolley dash’ is telling. Rather than waiting until desperation sets in and clubs hike up the prices to extortionate levels for their prized assets, Wagner is looking to make his moves early in the transfer window allowing him to pick up his first-choice targets at a fairly reasonable price.
The more important reason, however, is that Wagner is going to have a settled squad for the start of pre-season, meaning from the very beginning, Wagner can begin implementing his meticulous methods to have the team well-drilled well ahead of the opening fixture against Crystal Palace (again, to have the squad together at the very beginning of the pre-season debunks the myth that Town’s newly built side will struggle to gel next season).
If the accusation of a trolley dash is because of who Town are signing rather than the amount, then once again, I think it is an insult to Wagner who has shown how astute and shrewd he is in the transfer market over the past twelve months and that was before the appointment of the highly-rated David Moss as the Head of Football Operations. Despite Moss replacing Webber, the strategy appears to be similar, if not identical, to the successful one of last season. It appears that Wagner wants to blend a combination of domestic signings with a number of shrewd buys from Continental Europe.
The big difference this summer has been the money at Wagner’s disposal and the calibre of player that has become available. Rather than taking a Championship fringe player and developing and improving them tenfold into the finished product, Wagner is capable of bringing in players who are already the finished product or very close to it, who will still develop and improve further under Wagner’s management.
For domestic signings, rather than competing for Premier League journeymen looking for their next wage packet, Wagner has elected to bring in a number of high-end Championship signings who Wagner knows very well and believes that they have the hunger, ambition, and talent to not only make the step up to the Premier League but thrive.
In terms of the continental signings, it is similar to last season’s strategy once again. Whilst Wagner’s criteria for continental signings last season were focused primarily around leadership credentials and experience gaining promotion, the focus this summer is slightly different. Wagner’s focus appears to be on player’s who have vast experience playing in the top flight. Even though none of Town’s signings from across Europe have experience of England or the Premier League, three of the four new signings (Depoitre, Lössl and Zanka) have experienced top flight football in more than one country.
The final point to make about Town’s signings and the actual personnel brought in is that already, relationships are formed and the connections between the new signings and the pre-existing squad can be traced. Whilst Jonas Lössl comes to Town as a relative unknown with no connections to the squad whatsoever, following the signing of his compatriot Zanka from FC Copenhagen, already a strong relationship can be seen between the two Danes.
Similarly, Danny Williams spent the summer with Elias Kachunga and it is also well known that he is close friends with Michael Hefele. Whereas Tom Ince is close friends with Aaron Mooy. Whilst this may appear to be a frivolous trivial point, Wagner knows how to create the perfect environment for his players to thrive and the fact that relationships are already built means that the new arrivals will settle quickly and hit the ground running as Wagner’s meticulous plans are put into place.
Whilst a lot has been made of Town’s transfer activity so far this summer, it appears to me that Wagner is simply turning to the tried and tested methods of last season and if he is capable of replicating the success he had in the transfer market last summer, then Town fans have much to be excited about for the upcoming season (if they didn’t have a reason to already!).
I’m sure this piece will be outnumbered by swathes of condescending articles perpetuating these myths about Town’s transfer activity this summer, I hope I have provided you with an alternative portrayal of Town’s transfer activity.
From the observations made above, I’m extremely confident that David Wagner, a man whose managerial nous far exceeds what meets the eye, will once again create a team and a squad that defies all expectations.