LIVERPOOL manager Jurgen Klopp has already gone on record as believing Danny Ward has the potential to become first-choice goalkeeper at Anfield.
What better way, therefore, for the 23-year-old to prove his worth than by impressing Klopp’s best friend on a weekly basis and ensuring that the regular telephone calls between Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner and Klopp include a glowing reference or two.
“They do speak a lot,” said Ward, on loan at the John Smith’s Stadium this season and in line to make his debut today at home to Brentford, speaking to The Yorkshire Post.
“That will be a good thing for me, it can only help that the manager here has a close relationship with the manager at Liverpool. As long as it is positives, of course. I don’t want them to have any negatives.”
The past 12 months suggest that Wagner and Klopp’s regular chinwags will feature a fair few positive name-checks for Ward.
This time last year, the Wrexham-born goalkeeper joined Aberdeen on loan and proved a hugely popular figure at Pittodrie. Thirteen clean sheets in the first half of the season tell their own story and there was dismay at the Dons when Liverpool cut short Ward’s stay in January amid an injury crisis.
A first-team debut for Liverpool followed in a 2-1 win over Bournemouth last April, after which Klopp was glowing about the Welshman.
A couple of weeks earlier, Ward had made his international bow and he followed this by starting Wales’ opening Euro 2016 group game against Slovakia after first-choice Wayne Hennessey suffered a back spasm.
Ward rose to the challenge admirably as Chris Coleman’s men triumphed 2-1 to set in motion their amazing run to the semi-finals.
“The summer was crazy,” added Town’s new goalkeeper. “Not just for me, but all the players and the nation as well. I am so proud of what we achieved and, hopefully, this is not the end, but the beginning of something.
“We want to write a new chapter in Welsh football and carry on the form from the Euros into the qualifiers for the World Cup.
“The big moment for me has to be my unexpected debut against Slovakia. But, in general, picking out specific highlights is difficult.
“Our camp was full of special people and I think that showed both on and off the pitch. The way we played in games was unbelievable and it was unheard of for Welsh fans to be at a major tournament enjoying it like that.
“We went there with no expectation and that helped us. We enjoyed and embraced every minute.
“An experience like that can only benefit my career. Just being around top players and coming up against top players helped me.
“The environment was something different not just to me, but lads like Gareth Bale, too. We were all stepping into the unknown, but those are the type of experiences that we will always cherish.”
Klopp’s response to such an impressive past 12 months was to award Ward a new five-year contract. He also wanted the former Wrexham trainee to go out on loan and test himself in the tough environment that is the Championship, which is where Klopp’s good friend Wagner came in.
“The next stage in my personal development is to play every week,” said the level-headed loanee. “And to get that experience of a full season. I was looking to do that last year, but circumstances at Liverpool meant I had to come back (from Aberdeen).
“This is a new challenge with a new group of players, but one I am relishing. I do feel as though we have gelled well already. Hopefully, that can continue and we keep developing all over the pitch.”
Ward is likely to be one of six debutants in today’s starting XI after a summer that saw Wagner remodel the squad in his own image.
Twelve new faces have arrived in total and there is a genuine sense of anticipation in Kirklees, as will be underlined today by a crowd that is expected to top 18,000.
Many of those will have taken advantage of the club’s cut-price £179 season-ticket offer and the challenge for Wagner’s men is to harness that excitement against a Brentford side who triumphed 5-1 at the John Smith’s just three months ago as the curtain came down on the 2015-16 campaign.
“We have a young squad and need to keep an open mind,” said Ward when asked what Huddersfield’s target should be this term. “No point in putting any pressure on ourselves with targets so early in the season.
“Just try and play well. Our performances will take us where we want to go. But there is a good feeling here and I see similarities with what Chris Coleman has created with Wales.
“We achieved so much with Wales through spirit and I can genuinely say that there is a real unit here at Huddersfield.
“There is a good spirit and a good camaraderie between all of us. Considering the number of new players, that surprised me a bit.
“But I have been made very welcome and everyone is excited for the season. I arrived a couple of weeks ago. I needed a break after the Euros because it had been a long season.
“Now, though, I feel good. I feel sharp and ready to go. My aim is to play as many games as I can and do well for Huddersfield Town.
“As goalkeeper, I want to play my part in how the manager gets us to play out from the back. In that respect, distribution is key in the modern game. I have seen that change even in my short career. Golakeepers are an extra man on the pitch now.
“Every team focuses on that, but maybe we do it that little bit more because of how the managers wants to play. Pre-season has been good, but now we want to start well.”