Comment: Deja vu for new Huddersfield Town head coach Michael Duff with the similarities to his arrival at Barnsley FC being uncanny

“I KNOW there’s things that are broken and the priority is to fix them as quickly as possible.”

New Huddersfield Town head coach Michael Duff stated those very words at his opening press conference at former club Barnsley back in June 2022.

Just under two years on and don’t be surprised to hear something pretty similar when he speaks to the media at his official Terriers unveiling this week.

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For Barnsley in the summer of 2022, read Huddersfield in the here and now.

WELCOME: Michael Duff poses for photographs at Huddersfield Town's Canalside training groundWELCOME: Michael Duff poses for photographs at Huddersfield Town's Canalside training ground
WELCOME: Michael Duff poses for photographs at Huddersfield Town's Canalside training ground

The similarities will be staring Duff in the face as he takes on another Yorkshire club at a low ebb with the 46-year-old again entrusted with fixing a disconnect between sections of a fanbase and the club following a divisive season which ended in relegation from the Championship.

He will arrive on ‘high alert’, just as did at Barnsley.

Back then, he quickly made it his business to find out which players wanted to be at the club following relegation and who did not.

Duff will possess that same mindset when Town players begin pre-season under him at the end of June.

He will be ready for whatever comes, that’s for sure.

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At Barnsley, a core of leading players soon expressed their desire to leave. Pre-season training was disruptive at times and Duff would later reveal how he had to stop training two or three times early on due to a lack of intensity.

In his words, it resembled ‘a group of lads having kickarounds’ at times. He would also recall how there were lots of ‘hidden agendas’, ‘disruption’ and players who ‘did not want to be here’.

Speaking at the time, Duff said: “I have come in on high alert.

"I won’t be heavily involved in the training in the first week or two weeks as I will be watching players closely to try and pick up on body language and I will be having conversations with them as well. I need to find out who does want to be here.

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"I have been in dressing rooms where teams get relegated and the whole team says ‘Right, that’s me done, I am off back to the level I have been from.’

"But you cannot all be Championship players as you have just been relegated from the Championship.”

That summer window saw Cauley Woodrow, Carlton Morris, Callum Brittain, Callum Styles and Michal Helik - now at Town - leave alongside two signing flops and big-earners in Aaron Leya Iseka and Obbi Oulare.

By the autumn, new leaders began to emerge - Mads Andersen, Liam Kitching and Luca Connell to name but three - as Barnsley set sail in a 2022-23 season which saw them reach the play-off final and go heartbreakingly close to promotion.

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At Huddersfield, Duff must successfully now build a new group mentality and culture if Town are to get anywhere next term.

His card will have been certainly marked by the recent comments of his predecessor Andre Breitenreiter, whose main service to Town was in the very candid and damning words he delivered in his closing press conferences in charge when he called a number of players out and spoke of ‘many, many changes’ needed regarding the playing culture.

Duff has effectively been passed on the baton to just do that.

From military stock, Duff, whose father John served in the Royal Air Force for 50 years and earned an MBE, has strong core values. They extend to how he wants his teams to behave and conduct themselves.

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Respect, hard work, humility and enthusiasm are the core values that guide Duff’s working life.

He also does not like people with egos, but individuals who come to work with a ‘smile on their faces’ every day and realise they are doing ‘the best job in the world’. As opposed to massaging egos, he strips them back.

At another former club in Cheltenham, he occasionally asked his players, who trained near to a village primary school, to listen to the sound of schoolchildren playing to provide a sense of perspective and to keep them grounded during the supposed daily grind of training.

While at Barnsley, he once took his players to the nearby National Coal Mining Museum to give them an insight into the kind of people who they were representing each week.

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Duff is the ideal candidate for the current situation at Huddersfield, fortified by his experiences at Barnsley. His ‘pressing’ footballing style is also a good fit.

The stability and structure behind the scenes which he was never truly afforded at Barnsley, is also there at Huddersfield.

Duff knows sporting director Mark Cartwright well and now has some proper time to plan for the new season, refreshed by his time out of the game after leaving Swansea in December. He arrives at Huddersfield in mid-May. At Barnsley, he came in mid-June.

At the end of a fraught first year in charge, Huddersfield’s hierarchy appear to have made their shrewdest decision to date at a timely juncture.