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Huddersfield Town: Should David Wagner leave the West Yorkshire club?

Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner
Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner

With Huddersfield Town bottom of the Premier League we debate whether the club should stick or twist with boss David Wagner.

Twenty-one Premier League games into the season, past the halfway point of the campaign, a defining January transfer window now open, and Huddersfield are bottom of the Premier League for the first time.

History tells us that sinking to such depths at this time typically signals the departure of said struggling club's boss, if it hasn't already happened.

However, Huddersfield are different, loyally sticking with head coach David Wagner so far. But should they?

In three years in West Yorkshire, the German has become a Terriers legend for what he's achieved at a club that still has a smaller budget than many in the Championship. But how long can legendary status keep you safe from the sharp fact that your team is going backwards?

On the one hand this is a worthy debate simply because it's one that has already crept onto the Huddersfield fans' message boards and into their chats in the pubs and the John Smith's Stadium terraces pre- and post-match. That explains why Wagner is the second-favourite to become the next Premier League manager to leave at 2/1 with Sky Bet.

On the other, it could be seen as a pointless issue to discuss at all, as many experts remain confident Wagner will see out the season at a club that takes a pragmatic, stable, long-term view, rewarding hard work and success and ignoring demands for immediate answers.

Here, Tom Carnduff explains why Town need to change to have a chance of staying up, whereas Gareth Jones argues that Wagner is the only man get the club moving forwards again.


Why Wagner should stay

David Wagner with the Sky Bet Championship play-off trophy
David Wagner with the Sky Bet Championship play-off trophy

This really isn't a debate to be had.

One - Wagner will stay until at least the end of the season, whatever happens. Only if Town are relegated will the German possibly go, but you sense that will be his decision, not chairman Dean Hoyle's.

Two - regardless of club loyalty, Wagner is the right man to guide the club forward, whether that's keeping them up this season, or getting them to bounce straight back up next.

In a sport where we all bemoan the lack of loyalty displayed by players, managers and chairmen, surely we should salute Huddersfield's different approach. An approach that looks at the long-term, not the short, and rewards hard work, success and generally just being a good person.

Stability isn't sexy, but it isn't boring either and history shows us that it is the best way for success over a long period of time.

The greatest example is, of course, Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson was at Old Trafford for 33 years, making them the most successful ever English club and one of the biggest in the world. But remember, it took him three years to win his first trophy and he was almost sacked before delivering it.

Since his retirement in 2013, United have gone through four managers and fallen downhill on and off the pitch.

Unlike Ferguson in those early years, Wagner has already had unimaginable success at Huddersfield in his first three seasons. Firstly winning promotion out of the Sky Bet Championship, then shocking the football establishment by keeping the Terriers in the Premier League. There was bound to be a plateau at some point.

Huddersfield celebrate after scoring against West Brom
Huddersfield celebrate after scoring against West Brom

Let me throw this at you - last season, who changed their manager? West Brom, Swansea and Stoke. Who were relegated? West Brom, Swansea and, you guessed it, Stoke! Who didn't change their manager and stayed up? Huddersfield.

Southampton changed to Mark Hughes. Yes they stayed up - just - but a year later they are again rebuilding after yet another managerial change and find themselves in another relegation fight.

Sunderland have had nine managers since 2015, a period that's seen them sink from the Premier League to Sky Bet League One. Leeds have had 21 managers since their Champions League glory year in 2000/01, and only now look close to being right on and off the field and finally ready to return to the top flight.

Look at Burnley, promoted under Sean Dyche and then relegated immediately. They stuck with their man, and he didn't just reward that faith by getting them straight back to the promised landed as Championship winners, but delivered the cherry on top with their greatest ever season in 2017/18.

Wagner's already gone one better than the frank Englishman, by keeping his side in the top flight at the very first attempt.

Yes, stability can become stale - look at the sad decline of Arsene Wenger's era at Arsenal, who was in London for 22 years. Wagner has only been in Yorkshire since 2015. He deserves more time.

David Wagner celebrates with Jonathan Hogg
David Wagner celebrates with Jonathan Hogg

However, this would be my one warning to David Wagner. The German, like the aforementioned Frenchman, is stubborn. The more he's told what to do, the more he does his best not to do it. The more he's told about his team's weaknesses and how to fix them, the more firmly he persists with the same strategy in those areas.

After their magnificent feat of staying up, the Terriers had a solid Premier League squad that was crying out for extra creative sparkle. Two quality wingers, a match-winning number 10 and another top-class defender would see the team evolve and become a force. None where signed and Town are paying the price.

Wagner needs to learn from Sir Alex: don't be afraid to change and to evolve. Understand when it's time to refresh your squad, don't let it turn mouldy like Wenger's Gunners.

If the club can get the necessary star protagonists to perform on their humble Yorkshire stage in January, even on loan, then they have a decent chance of staying up.

But then again, maybe we are all approaching it wrong and Wagner continues to be right. Under the former Dortmund youth coach Huddersfield haven't built their success on stars, egos and massive wages. They've done it with solid, down to earth players, who understand their improvement and success will only come from hard work and team cohesion.

It is those factors that firstly provided them with their shock promotion and then, even more surprising to most, kept them up thanks to wins over the likes of United and famous draws at Manchester City and Chelsea. This all comes at a time when other clubs and players possessing bigger reputations, skills and bank balances are sitting in the Championship.

Say Town sack Wagner and appoint an Allardyce or a Hughes. They will want to bring in overpaid, big names, that have ultimately under-performed elsewhere, and where will that get the club? That's what almost got Town relegated out of the Championship before Wagner's arrival. There is no way the board will see that as the strategy to knee-jerk back to.

Whatever happens to the club this season, their two years in the Premier League have set them up for life on and off the field, and Wagner takes a lot of the credit for that. That credit in the bank and his emotional successes to this point don't entitle him to blind loyalty, but should guarantee him time and patience.


Why Wagner should go

David Wagner after defeat to Arsenal
David Wagner after defeat to Arsenal

It's been a brutal second season in the Premier League for Huddersfield.

If you're a season ticket holder at the John Smith's Stadium, you would have witnessed a total of three Premier League victories in 2018.

If you follow Town wherever they go, the picture doesn't look much prettier. They managed just seven wins in all competitions across the calendar year.

Don't get me wrong, I like David Wagner. I had the pleasure of covering Town's promotion from the Sky Bet Championship and witnessed heroic efforts in their debut Premier League campaign.

They were fearless. You fancied them to beat just about anyone in front of their own supporters and that they almost did, picking up all three points against Manchester United and holding Manchester City until the dying moments.

The facts are there to see though. His side posted a 16% win ratio across all competitions last year and make no mistake about it, that is far from good enough for a side in the top-flight.

The 'Terrier spirit' - championed by Huddersfield during their rise to the top - often revealed itself as a roaring lion in their first Premier League season. The John Smith's Stadium was a venue that saw away teams leave with little joy.

Now, the lion is nothing more than a yapping chihuahua.

Isaac Success scores against Huddersfield
Isaac Success scores against Huddersfield

With 17 games to go, Town are eight points adrift of safety and almost certain to drop down a division. All their hard work undone by poor performances and transfers that do little to inspire. Defeat to Cardiff in their next fixture would also make it ten consecutive losses.

It should be said that this isn't to dismiss Wagner's achievements with the club to date. Not many backed Huddersfield for promotion, but they upset the odds with one of the smallest transfer budgets in the division as they beat Reading on penalties at Wembley.

They were an entertaining team that you wanted to watch. The attacking philosophy implemented by Wagner took teams by surprise and they were winning games the right way.

For his achievement in getting them to the top-flight, Wagner deserved the full Premier League season regardless of the outcome.

Whether they finished at the top or at the bottom of the standings, he would be the man in the dugout the following campaign.

The big question here is, how long do those successes get you? Loyalty is an important factor in football, but blind loyalty can be dangerous.

What's the cut-off point? If Town suffer consecutive relegations, does Wagner lead the team in League One? He's taken them a step forward, but ultimately they've gone two steps back.

I don't believe that will be the case, but given the morale of both the playing squad and the supporters, there's no guarantee that they'd be battling for promotion back to the top-flight at the first time of asking.

Huddersfield players react after conceding against Fulham
Huddersfield players react after conceding against Fulham

The fact is that Town have been far from good enough this season. We've looked at the long-term, but they do still stand a chance of staying up, however that is dependent on a change in the dugout.

A club like Huddersfield have already significantly reaped the rewards of the Premier League. It has the feel of a 'rags to riches' story - and it'll continue the longer they remain among England's elite.

We're talking significant money too. Hundreds of millions are on offer for continuing to compete in this division. The longer that continues, the better calibre player you can attract and you then have the opportunity to progress up the ladder.

As much as sentiment is important in football, the money involved doesn't allow for it here. This doesn't mean giving Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew a ring to see what they're up to, but a change does often bring a new bounce with it and change is needed.

It does feel like a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' - in all honesty that play-off final did reflect that slightly, as Reading's subsequent struggles show.

Ask Derby, Nottingham Forest, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday - once you're out of the Premier League it's incredibly difficult to find your way back into it.

Chris Wood finds the net at the John Smith's Stadium
Chris Wood finds the net at the John Smith's Stadium

I think the frustrating thing for me is that Huddersfield are a club with all the ingredients to be a Premier League outfit for many years to come.

They have an owner in Dean Hoyle who understands the club, understands the supporters and understands what the success of this team means to the community.

The club also employ a lot of good people. Whether it be the directors, the media department or the catering staff - everyone celebrates the club's success the same. They were a club together as one.

It's a refreshing change from the greed that has given the average football fan the feeling that the Premier League is no longer the fairy tale it is made out to be.

To see it all disappear would be a great shame.

Wagner has made his name as a manager at Huddersfield. Should this spell continue, it may be damaged beyond repair. It's vital Huddersfield don't suffer a similar fate.


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