Breath of fresh air: How 12 months under David Wagner has transformed Huddersfield Town

What a difference a year makes. Grapohic: Graeme Bandeira.
What a difference a year makes. Grapohic: Graeme Bandeira.
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THE Wagner Revolution. Not the words of a soundbite obsessed media trying to sum up Huddersfield Town’s unexpected rise this season, but those of the club themselves when launching a cut-price season-ticket deal last Spring.

Seven months on, that marketing slogan seems even more apt in terms of summing up the impact made by the club’s first non-British head coach.

Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner celebrates a year in charge on Saturday. Here he is with club mascot Terry Terrier. (Picture: PA)

Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner celebrates a year in charge on Saturday. Here he is with club mascot Terry Terrier. (Picture: PA)

Huddersfield Town have undergone a revolution with huge change having been wrought on the Terriers since David Wagner first walked through the door as the club’s new head coach a year ago this week.

Style of play, training regime, club identity, even the floodlights at the training ground – all have undergone a transformation every bit as marked as Town’s league position over those first 12 months with the German at the helm.

Even allowing for the dip in form that has seen three of the last four games lost and the naysayers rubbing their hands at a possible slide down the table, Huddersfield feel like a club reborn.

No longer are the Terriers locked in what, for the four seasons that followed promotion from League One in 2012, had been a seemingly endless treadmill of survival scraps.

Aaron Mooy, one of the players transformed by David Wagner since joining Huddersfield Town.

Aaron Mooy, one of the players transformed by David Wagner since joining Huddersfield Town.

Crowds that, a year ago, were 3,000 down on the corresponding period of 2014-15 are up with Saturday’s visit of Birmingham City – a game that marks the first anniversary of Wagner’s appointment – likely to nudge towards 20,000 once again.

No wonder even the recent spate of defeats cannot wipe the smile off Town faces.

In that respect, chairman Dean Hoyle deserves huge credit for having the boldness to back his belief that Town had to change direction as a club.

Hoyle appreciated that in a division where a third of the competing clubs benefit from parachute payments of up to £87m over three years and others benefit from the largesse of owners with seemingly bottomless pockets, Huddersfield – with a total turnover of £10.8m in 2014-15 – needed an edge.

David Wagner has overseen a dramatic upturn in fortunes for Huddersfield Town. (Picture: David Wagner)

David Wagner has overseen a dramatic upturn in fortunes for Huddersfield Town. (Picture: David Wagner)

Few would have seen a 44-year-old who, after retiring as a player spent five years at university and then managed Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team, as being the man to provide that edge. But Hoyle and Stuart Webber, Town’s head of football operations, did.

Once lured to England by Town’s blueprint for the future, Wagner quickly got to work. His first act was to whisk the players away to Marbella for a week-long training camp during last November’s international break.

Gegenpressing and its workings were outlined in the classroom using video clips, both before and after the players had been put through gruelling double-sessions on the training pitch designed to ensure fitness levels were high enough to support such a high-intensity approach.

Those double sessions continued twice a week once back in England, along with a shift in training times to mirror when games kicked off. It was this new practice that led to the Canalside training ground floodlights being upgraded, the previous ones not being bright enough for Wagner.

Performances improved quicker than results last season with Town finishing in the same 19th place the club had occupied ahead of Wagner’s first game at Sheffield Wednesday.

But the post-match praise from opposing managers suggested Huddersfield were making progress and this time around they have already won nine of their first 15 games. Last term, it took until February 13 to do the same.

Recruitment has been key, along with an ability to harness potential in players. Both of these strengths were apparent in Wagner’s first signing.

Ben Chilwell, a teenage left-back, joined on loan from Leicester City in late November last year without a senior appearance to his name, but returned to the KP Stadium six weeks later amid talk of possible £5m bids from Liverpool and Arsenal.

Among those to benefit in a similar vein this term have been Danny Ward, Kasey Palmer and Aaron Mooy. The latter arrived on loan from Manchester City firmly believing his best position was the ‘No 10’ role he filled for Australia, but Wagner thought otherwise. Mooy, the German felt, was better suited to a holding midfield role, a position that would allow him better to dictate the tempo of a game.

Four months on and Mooy has been convinced. He has also, until a couple of recent jaded performances, looked to be an early contender for Championship Player of the Year.

Permanent signings such as Christopher Schindler and Chris Lowe have also flourished, though perhaps Wagner’s biggest achievement has been the manner in which he has got an entire town to buy into his methods, upbeat persona and an insistence that the ‘Terriers’ must mean much more than a nickname.

“A terrier is small, aggressive and loves to fight bigger dogs,” he says. “That is our identity.”