Richard Sutcliffe: David Wagner’s legacy to a town that had stopped believing

Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner celebrates with the trophy after winning the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley.
Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner celebrates with the trophy after winning the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley.
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IF such a thing as a Job Centre for football managers existed then the advert for Huddersfield Town’s prospective new boss would make for very different reading to the one that enticed David Wagner to England.

For a start the Terriers are a Premier League club. This may only be the case for another four months or so, but even a brief spell dining at English football’s top table means Town boast an outlook – and level of income – that could not be more contrasting to the one that accompanied the search for Chris Powell’s successor in November, 2015.

Back then anyone wanting to become Huddersfield’s fourth permanent manager in three-and-a-half years simply had to be able to balance the books.

Powell’s only summer in charge at the John Smith’s Stadium had seen £8m worth of talent sold in the form of Jacob Butterfield, Alex Smithies and Conor Coady.

Despite that influx of cash Town still made a loss of £1.6m for the 2015-16 financial year on an £11.3m turnover. The previous 12 months had brought a deficit of almost £7m.

The accounts for last season are yet to be published, but the club’s income from TV and prize money alone in the Premier League stood at £102.8m.

Even allowing for Huddersfield’s transfer record being broken four times since promotion, and the wage bill rising in line with the club’s elevated status, this gives the next head coach very different work parameters to those Wagner faced on his arrival in England.

The taste of the high life that the Terriers have enjoyed for these past 18 months also means supporters will demand more of the same in the future.

Maybe not the immediate future with even Harry Houdini surely finding the hole Town find themselves in at the foot of the table beyond his powers of escapology.

But certainly the 2019-20 campaign will be expected to yield a serious promotion challenge in the Championship.

Sam Allardyce, inevitably the early favourite with the bookmakers when a Premier League job becomes available, said as much yesterday when distancing himself from a return to the club where he played in the mid-Eighties.

“It has got to be planning – and I know Huddersfield fans won’t want to hear this – for what looks like relegation,” he said when asked about the job facing Wagner’s successor.

“Almost certainly because no one has ever got out of that position, and then re-planning to try and get back into the Premier League.”

Allardyce was never under consideration by his old club. Such a ‘Red Adair’-style appointment is miles away from the ethos that Hoyle has espoused since first turning to an unknown German who had been in charge of Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team.

But the one-time Bolton Wanderers manager is surely right about the brief that will be handed to an appointment that club insiders hope can be made during the nine-day gap between this month’s home games against Manchester City and Everton.

Part of this rebuilding will be an overhaul of a squad that seems certain to lose Aaron Mooy, Philip Billing and Terence Kongolo in the event of relegation.

All three will command hefty fees, which together with the parachute payments that saw, for instance, Stoke City pocket £55m this season will provide the new man with a very strong hand when it comes to recruitment.

Again very different from Wagner’s early days, but that is testament to the terrific work he did in transforming Town from a club that had seemed the very epitome of being content to bob around the lower echelons of the Championship.

Every facet of Huddersfield Town improved on his watch. The past few months have not been great viewing for the Town faithful as a goals tally of just 13 from 22 league outings vividly illustrates.

But even allowing for those struggles the John Smith’s Stadium has been a very different beast on a match-day to the one Wagner first walked into.

Crowds were down by almost 3,000 in the three months that preceded Powell’s sacking as supporters voted with their feet over the uninspiring fare on offer.

The atmosphere, as a result, was flat and the shouts of players could be regularly heard by those who still made the fortnightly pilgrimage.

A culture shift that began with Wagner’s arrival now means the John Smith’s is regularly credited by opposition managers, such as Spurs’ Mauricio Pochettino, as having one of the best atmospheres in the Premier League.

It will be the same on Sunday as the visit of the champions gives grateful supporters an opportunity to say ‘thanks’ to the man who took not just a club but an entire town on a ride that proved to be the stuff of dreams.

From promotion at Wembley via Christopher Schindler’s penalty through to beating Manchester United for the first time in 65 years and then clinching survival in heart-stopping fashion at Stamford Bridge, all are memories that will last a lifetime.

Wagner’s legacy also extends to the new £20m training ground that will soon be built at Canalside. Like the good people of Huddersfield, whoever gets to fill Wagner’s considerable sized boots has a lot for which to thank him.