Huddersfield Town quickly moving forward in bid to go one better next time around
Finals, especially lost ones, often signal the end of a football team’s cycle. In the 21st Century Championship, the end of parachute payments is often an even clearer line in the sand.
But the sense from coach Carlos Corberan in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s Championship play-off final defeat to Nottingham Forest was that this was not the end of his over-performing team, but at the same time it will not stand still either, content with what it had done by finishing third in the Championship, and losing the chance of promotion in a tight final.
As 2021-22 was Huddersfield’s third season since relegation from the Premier League, it was its last of receiving subsidies from the world’s most lucrative football league, yet the departure of the last of the Wagnerian era signings (only Jonathan Hogg remains from the German’s time at the club) last summer felt like the club getting back on a Championship footing again after the excesses and bad decisions of their second top-flight season.
The advantage of being a team of few superstars punching above its weight is that the vultures will not have their eyes on many of their players.
Lewis O’Brien showed talent and leadership worthy of a grander stage – Leeds United had already recognised it to a degree last summer but were unwilling to meet Huddersfield’s valuation – and head of football Leigh Bromby will have to be at his persuasive best to get 19-year-old centre-back Levi Colwill back on another loan from Chelsea.
Likewise, Corberan is not anticipating a flurry of transfer requests. Those that do catch the eye of Premier League and richer Championship clubs could almost certainly earn more money but there are fewer options to work with a coach and club as well set up to improve them.
If O’Brien is sold, it will provide the funds unavailable last summer when the focus was on clearing the decks and the signings were exclusively free transfers and loans.
Also invaluable could be the pain of defeat, the ultimate spur in pushing many top professional sportsmen to greater feats. The season was so good, the odds are against that, but they are far better than they were 12 months ago.
“Without any doubt we are going to use this because first of all we are going to believe we can be here,” said Corberan, whose own stock has shot up too. “When you have one defeat in one game you need to use the pain for the next game. It’s true it’s not easy to repeat a season like the one we have had this year.
“To finish third in the Championship is not easy but we have done. My target will be to go again and finish in the highest position I can. I hope and I will try to use everything we’ve done this year, to keep doing the good things, and I think we need to improve to try to change.
“I will try to do this analysis in the coming days.”
For Huddersfield, as for Forest, firm planning had to be on hold until Sunday because the transfer budgets and targets are so different for Championship to Premier League teams. During the stasis, West Bromwich Albion have signed John Swift –one of only two players to make more Championship assists than Town’s Sorba Thomas last season – for example.
“The club needs to start the (recruitment) work because you can’t do any work if you don’t know if you’re going to be in the Premier League or the Championship because the of course the possibilities change massively and the targets are completely different,” said Corberan.
“Now we need to see our reality, our possibilities, our situation and I know the club will not be calm with the situation, they are going to want more because this is the character of the chairman (Dean Hoyle) and the sporting director (Bromby), they will strive for more and they are ambitious to analyse how we can keep improving the squad.
“The players we cannot keep won’t be here and I will work with the players we have but if you ask any of our players do they want to leave I don’t think they will consider this option and the club can provide the structure and the organisation if they have enough ambition for them to keep growing.”
Huddersfield’s season started a week earlier than most and ended about three weeks later, and their consistency meant there was no coming off the gas either, yet Corberan is keen for everyone to know how energised and restless for improvement he is.
“I have no fatigue right now and I feel I could be working tomorrow with the group and going again to prepare for another game,” he said in the bowels of Wembley stadium.
“This is partly because the team followed my ideas a lot and were working really well, making everything possible for me as a coach.
“But now is a moment to stop for a little bit because maybe in the next two days I will start to feel fatigued.I would have played another final the next day if you’d asked me but unfortunately I can’t do this.”
This is by definition a club at a crossroads but the indicators strongly suggest there is a good chance they will choose the right path.