HAVING been alongside Mark Hudson for the first and last of his 109 appearances in Huddersfield Town colours, Tommy Smith knows more than most about the man who has been handed arguably the toughest managerial debut in Premier League history.
Those three years spent together sharing a dressing room as players are why the Terriers captain is adamant that the West Riding club could have no safer pair of hands at the helm following David Wagner’s departure.
“From my point of view – and I think I speak on behalf of all the players – I don’t think there are two better people who could lead the club forward in Dean (Whitehead) and Mark,” said Smith to The Yorkshire Post at the end of a tumultuous week at the county’s sole top-flight representative.
“They are a great appointment for the here and now, however long they are in charge. If the appointment is until tomorrow, next week or next month, that is up to the chairman (Dean Hoyle). He will decide on that.
“But, from my own experience of working with the two of them, I would say the club is in as good a pair of hands as it could possibly be.
“A caretaker manager is a caretaker manager and once a manager has been permanently named people might be a little bit more at ease. That is just a fact. But, for now, to have these two steadying the ship there are not two better people.”
Hudson joined Huddersfield in the summer of 2014 after five years at Cardiff City.
He was captain throughout that time in south Wales, Dave Jones handing the armband to the Guildford-born centre-half within weeks of his arrival from Charlton Athletic in a £1.25m deal.
Hudson led the Bluebirds to promotion from the Championship and was such an inspirational figure at the heart of the defence that it seemed only a matter of time before he assumed the same role at the John Smith’s Stadium following his move north.
Sure enough, a month after making his debut alongside Smith, by then an established part of the Town defence, Hudson was leading the team out.
He retained the role right up until retirement in 2017 before handing the armband over to Smith.
As captain the 26-year-old felt this week’s departure of Wagner as keenly as anyone at the club.
The pair had struck up a good rapport since the German’s arrival in November, 2015, and shared in several never-to-be forgotten memories such as the play-off final triumph over Reading and last season’s survival in the Premier League against all the odds.
“His record speaks for itself,” said Smith, who along with the rest of the squad bade an emotional farewell to their former manager on Tuesday morning.
“What he has done for this football club is nothing short of spectacular. I have worked with him day-in, day-out for over three years and I know what his capabilities are.”
Asked if he had noticed a difference in Wagner over recent weeks as Town’s plight became more and more precarious, Smith replied: “It is no secret we have not won in nine games.
“Automatically that has an effect on you as a person. Same with the players. Knowing David as well as I did, I could see his determination to want to end this run people were talking about.
“The only change I saw in David was more determination on his part to put things right. The same face he had in front of you (the media) was the same face he was giving to us and the same face we were pulling to him.
“It was a joint thing that we had to get this run out of the way, and win football matches. No one is ever happy when not winning matches, that is the nature of the game.
“I certainly think he was no different, he just wanted this run out of the way.”
Wagner’s departure has created a vacancy that is much more attractive than it was when the German arrived.
Premier League survival may be a tall order considering the Terriers are eight points adrift with just 16 games remaining.
But whoever succeeds Wagner will be taking over a club transformed on every level over these past three or so years.
As for the man behind those improvements, Smith hopes he can take a break before returning to the game.
“He is that type of character,” added the right-back when asked about Wagner revealing in the final few days of his reign how difficult switching off from the demands of leading Huddersfield was proving to be.
“I have known him since first arriving here and I gathered straight away that was his character.
“He lives and breathes football. I know that because I am the same. I want to do well for myself, the club and the team.
“It will have been eating him up because it has been doing the same to me. I have not even been playing and yet it has been doing that to me. It seemed like every bit of luck we had was bad luck. Moments went against us.
“I know he takes it all home and lives and breathes it. When we are not doing so well it affects him.”
As for Town being written off in many quarters, Smith replied: “It was mission impossible for us to get promoted, but we did it.
“It was mission impossible for us to stay up the first time, but we did it. And it is mission impossible again now.”