Happy to take important back seat role as brothers unite in Huddersfield Town’s cause

ASK Nicky Cowley if he could envisage working in football without his elder brother Danny, and the answer is instant: “No.”

Brothers in arms: Huddersfield's joint managers Danny, left, and Nicky Cowley.

The men in charge of Huddersfield Town come as a team.

Danny will tell you they are joint managers and have even shared their wages to reflect that, yet officially he is the manager, Nicky the assistant.

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It is something the 38-year-old is quite happy with, content to let his brother take the limelight and deal with the media. It was a rare treat, then, that before football went into lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak Nicky granted The Yorkshire Post a rare interview to provide insights into one of English football management’s most exciting double acts.

In part one, Nicky talked about working alongside Danny as a teacher for 12 years in Essex, and how those experiences moulded their coaching careers. Again, it was Danny who was head of the PE department at Fitzwimarc School. As football coaches, their partnership began at Concord Rangers and continued with Braintree Town and Lincoln City. Now, Nicky cannot see them working apart.

“No. I couldn’t imagine that,” he says. “I’m so used to going to football with Danny I guess we feel more powerful as a partnership. I like to think the club benefits from getting two managers rather than just the one. We’re always at it, always on it.

“The dynamic we have allows us to affect the group in the way we need to to get successful outcomes. When you work with someone you have really strong trust in, that’s hard to find, when you can balance your skill sets against each other, that makes it a healthy chemistry. I’m hopeful the players feel it’s a good partnership.

“It’s unusual for brothers to work together, there have been a couple of partnerships but not many. It’s a bit of a different dynamic to most management teams but we feel it works for us. There’s great trust between us and I think we have good chemistry. We know what each other’s thinking. We’ve got similar values, beliefs and principles.

“Before you try to tell anyone how much you know about football you should be a good person and try to connect. We try to do that. Hopefully, the relationship grows from there and, hopefully, you can influence them with your ideas about football and get that shared understanding you need to be successful.”

Nicky insists he has no problem being called Huddersfield’s “assistant” rather than “joint manager”. It is how it has always been.

“Danny and myself have never been caught up with titles, really,” he says. “We both invest all of our energies and time into our jobs and see it as a partnership.

“We’re also very aware it’s not just us, lots of other departments play a huge part in the team’s performance. It’s a collective effort and I guess that’s why we’re not to caught up with me being called the assistant and him being called the manager. It’s just making sure we’re working at a football club with clear structures in place to perform as well as we can and get the players in the best condition to produce performances the supporters can be proud of.”

Some managers are born to be frontmen, and Danny’s turn of phrase makes him a natural in the spotlight. I ask Nicky if he prefers to stay away from it.

“Danny has more involvement with the media and will send his message across and that’s always happened in the past,” he replies. “That gives me an opportunity to work on other things. We decided it was the best way forward for our dynamic.

“Quite often while Danny is holding a press conference I’ll be watching training back or planning for the rest of the week so Danny can come in without that pressure. He might break to do his programme notes whilst I’m working with the guys on recruitment.

“We’d like to think we both have quite broad skill sets so on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t have to be so structured because we’re able to balance off each other.

“I generally take the lead on the coaching, in terms of planning the detail of the sessions and the delivery, but Danny’s by the side of every training session giving important input and sending his message across.

“We work incredibly hard on the analysis side of it together and we have a good relationship with Phil Hodgkinson, the chairman, and Leigh Bromby, head of football. On a day-to-day basis, Danny will have lots of individual conversations with players on a man-management level while I’m in another room working individually going over a player’s (video) clips from the last match and preparing him for the next one.

“There’s so much to be done between Danny, myself and the rest of the staff you have to be very mindful of how you cover all that and give people clear roles and responsibilities to make it all work because you can get quite a lot more done in a day if you organise your staff appropriately.

“If you try to do everything yourself you often don’t get as much done or cover it with as much quality.

“We’ve really enjoyed coming to Huddersfield because we’ve got a much bigger department. At Lincoln (their previous club), we didn’t really have anyone when we first arrived so we had great fun building an infrastructure and putting all the necessary departments in place to make us look like a professional department.

“A lot of those guys came from universities as interns and now work at the club full-time. It was great we were able to leave Lincoln in a position where they felt like they had a real solid infrastructure to move forward.

“Here we have more staff members so the ideas we had in the past that were maybe not possible can actually come to the fore and we can see the benefits of them.”

It is a formula that has worked wonders so far.