In May 2017, Huddersfield Town achieved the unthinkable – promotion to the ‘promise land’ of football. This was despite the Yorkshire team being odds-on favourites for relegation before the Championship campaign started.
Almost inevitably, most pundits and football fans are anticipating a swift return to the second tier for the Huddersfield Town outfit. Yet, there is no reason why Town, in their first ever campaign in the Premier League, cannot become a stable top-flight team and upset the applecart once more.
Expectation amongst Town fans is low for the upcoming season as is the general mood of the public. Indeed, former manager, Malcolm Macdonald – nicknamed “Supermac” – stated that his former team will “almost certainly” be relegated.
“Huddersfield simply won’t be able to compete wages wise with their PL rivals to give them a good chance of survival.
“They are the first ever club to be promoted to the top flight with a minus goal difference and that tells you everything. They don’t score often enough and goalscorers are the dearest people in the transfer market.”
Huddersfield Town manager 1987-1988, Malcolm Macdonald
However, this was the consensus prior to the 2016-2017 season when David Wagner, in his first full season with the Terriers after taking the reins in November 2015, steered Town to a miracle promotion after finishing 19th in the previous campaign.
Wagner, the former United States’ international born to a German mother and American father, was a nobody when he arrived, having only previously managed the reserve side of German giants, Borussia Dortmund (Borussia Dortmund II). This, coupled with the fact that Wagner signed no less than 13 players in the summer of 2016, seemed a recipe for disaster.
But, Wagner and the new signings, many of whom who would become pivotal to Town’s march up the Championship table such as Elias Kachunga and Aaron Mooy, ripped up the formbook. With a pre-season camp in Sweden – where they had to survive with only basic equipment for a few days – uniting the team off the field, the mood on the field was similarly close; by the end of September Town were top of the table after an unbeaten start to the season.
Still, no one gave them a chance. And yet they kept coming with an enviable team spirit, finishing the season in 5th position. A tie against fierce rivals Sheffield Wednesday beckoned. Shocking the Owls and football fans alike, Town marched on to Wembley, beating Wednesday on penalties after the two teams were deadlocked 1-1 following two fierce encounters.
Reading (Town’s opponents in the Final) were, however, favourites for promotion. Yet, as they had done all season, Town once again rocked the boat. Winning on penalties, a distant dream that only an ardent few Terriers’ supporters believed could happen in August, had turned into reality by May.
Wagner and the new signings
The input of Wagner and the new signings all played their part. The bond created between the coaching staff and players went unbroken throughout the season. And, for what it’s worth, if this bond remains intact there seems that nothing could hold Huddersfield back. It is all well and good trying to ‘splash the cash’ as other promoted teams have done in the past – QPR in 2012-2013 comes to mind – but team unity is priceless.
Wagner has to hang on to this at all costs. A lack of individual talent is worrying in the top-flight from which there is no hiding, but a team full of superstars is useless if the team spirit is not there. Wagner has succeeded in generating a genuine bond amongst the players, coaching staff, the boardroom and the fans that often takes years to create.
“Without David being the coach of this football club last year, Huddersfield Town would not be in the Premier League. He defied all odds.
“The contract is a reward for the loyalty he has given the club.”
Huddersfield Town Chairman, Dean Hoyle http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/40418395
Nothing holding Huddersfield back
With Wagner signing a new two-year deal in June 2017 despite interest from ‘bigger clubs’, and with the permanent signings of Kachunga and Mooy, Town seemingly have the stability crucial to survive the Premier League. Furthermore, outside the top-six, the top-flight teams were far from convincing last season.
Town can certainly compete with the likes of Burnley, Watford and Crystal Palace and, with nothing to lose, what’s to say they can’t mix it with the so-called ‘big boys’? Looking back at one of sport’s greatest ever achievements – Leicester City winning the Premier League – surprises in football are common. Why can’t Huddersfield defy the odds once more?