Huddersfield Town AFC have an illustrious history (if you’re willing to look back far enough to find it). The West Yorkshire club, in 1926, became the first English club to win three consecutive league titles—a feat unsurpassed to this day, and matched by only three other clubs (Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United). In 1922, under the tutelage of the legendary, revolutionary manager Herbert Chapman, they even lifted the FA Cup. Huddersfield remained a force in English football, even without silverware, for yet longer—finishing third in the English first division as late as the 1953-54 season.
After those heady, trophy laden, pre-WWII days, however, the club slipped down the pyramid of English football to the extent that by the time they became league champions again in 1979-80, it was as title holders of the fourth division.
It was a slow process, but finally, after finishing fifth in the Championship and a victorious play-off final Wembley run-out, Huddersfield Town are once again plying their trade in the top flight after a 45-year absence.
Huddersfield, who since 1994 have played their home fixtures at the 24,500 capacity John Smith’s (now named Kirklees) Stadium, are hardly the most fashionable outfit in English football. However, since the appointment of David Wagner on November 1, 2015, the Terriers have undergone a footballing revolution and now find themselves under the constant scrutiny of the millions who follow the most watched football league competition in the world.
Wagner guided his side to promotion via the playoffs in his first full season in West Yorkshire, and indeed in England. His only previous managerial position was a four year spell in charge of Borussia Dortmund II, the reserve team of Borussia Dortmund, who under Wagner enjoyed promotion to—and suffered relegation from—3. Liga, the third tier of German club football. When he departed, many assumed he was leaving to join his friend and former team-mate, Jurgen Klopp, as part of the backroom staff at Liverpool, rather than to take the reigns at the then Championship side.
Credit at this point must go to the Huddersfield Town chairman, Dean Hoyle, who had the vision to employ the unlikely candidate that was Wagner in the first place. Wagner has since gone from being the unlikely man to the beloved figure at the club, with his humour, intelligence and passion having shined through since his arrival. In many ways, with his quick-to-laugh demeanour, trademark eyewear and relative youth, there is quite a lot of the ‘Jurgen Klopp’ about Wagner, so perhaps it is not surprising he has become such a popular figure at the John Smith’s Stadium, as Klopp has at Anfield.
In another parallel with his mentor, Wagner’s methods have often been considered unconventional. During his first summer in England, Wagner bought 13 new players to West Yorkshire, from all over Europe. In order to create unity and a sense of team spirit amongst his new charges, the German coach took his squad on a short survivalist trip to Sweden where they had to live with only basic equipment and find/make their own shelters. It was the bonding effects of this venture to which Wagner accredited Huddersfield’s subsequent early season good form.
Alongside his unusual team bonding methods, Wagner also imposed a brutal fitness, diet and recovery regime. It seems likely that it was the combination of his squad’s strength and stamina, alongside their spirit and character, that saw them so often victorious in close-run encounters—20 of their 25 wins during their promotion campaign were won by only a single goal margin. That statistic is perhaps misleading, however, as it should not be assumed Huddersfield played dull, defensive football as, besides the promotion, it was Wagner’s team’s swashbuckling, passing-based attacking football that excited the Huddersfield faithful the most. It was apparent though, that with their maiden Premier League campaign approaching, Huddersfield really needed a goalscorer.
The 22-year old Benin international striker Steve Mounié arrived in the summer from Montpellier for a club record fee of £11.5 million. His combination of pace, power and presence—he stands at an impressive 6′ 3″—suggests that he has all the attributes to flourish in the notoriously combative and fast paced Premier League. His brace on his debut, in Huddersfield’s magnificent opening day 3-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, did little to dissuade fans and pundits alike of this notion.
It will not come as a surprise to Huddersfield fans that David Wagner seems to have bought well ahead of their top flight campaign. Of the 13 acquisitions he made in the previous summer, most of them went on to have a significant impact during the promotion season. This included the likes of Christopher Schindler, the dominant German centre-back who took the playoff final winning penalty; top scorer at the club during that triumphant season, Elias Kachunga; the exciting Chelsea loanee, Izzy Brown; and, of course, the talismanic Australian playmaker Aaron Mooy.
Mooy initially arrived on loan from Manchester City, but the deal was made permanent this summer for a fee in the region of £8 million, then a club record figure, prior to the arrival of Mounié. This summer also saw the signings of the promising Tom Ince (son of former England captain Paul Ince), and the loan signing of Danish goalkeeper Jonas Lössl from Wagner’s former club in his playing days, Mainz 05. Lössl began life between the sticks in England with consecutive clean sheets in his first 3 Premier League fixtures.
Wagner can clearly be relied upon to get his team to gel together well. He also seems to have bought well in the summer, and Huddersfield Town have certainly started the season well, sitting prettily in sixth after 5 matches.
Whatever the result of the Burnley game, anticipate the Huddersfield faithful to travel in force. Anticipate also that a fantastic atmosphere will be generated at the John Smith’s Stadium throughout this season. Considering that chairman Dean Hoyle kept his promise of providing £100 Premier League season tickets this season, Huddersfield fans certainly do have a lot to celebrate.
Upon the appointment of Wagner, very few would have anticipated a return to the top flight 18 months later. Their highest league finish in their four Championship campaigns prior to promotion, after all, was only 16th. Many fans may not even expect the Terriers to stay up this year. Under Wagner though, they expect to fight and compete and play fast, exciting football in the biggest league in the world. In West Yorkshire, the future looks bright.