From Championship to Premier League, Part 3
In the final of our three-part series on the new Premier League contenders, Sally Freedman looks at Huddersfield Town30 May 2017 | Sally Freedman
Huddersfield Town are in the Premier League!
The 45-year wait is over for the Terriers after they defeated Reading at Wembley in the play-off final after a penalty shootout (4-3). The match finished 0-0 after extra time with very few clear-cut chances created by either team. Australia’s Aaron Mooy was named man of the match.
It is a match often described as the biggest match in world football, with the winner becoming an estimated $350 million richer.
The Terriers will now host the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool next season. Quite a remarkable achievement considering this time last season they were fighting off relegation.
Understated, real and humble
Huddersfield’s unusual preparations for the play-off final would maybe shock some.
At Huddersfield’s training facility, Canalside, David Wagner’s players queue alongside the public as they wait to be served by cafeteria staff. Unlike many other premier league clubs who are often obsessed with privacy for their stars, Huddersfield Town operate in a much more open environment; a deliberate strategy to make them different from most of their rivals.
Before being a training facility, it was a members’ club for the old ICI plant across the road and a commitment to keep it open to all for food, football and fitness remains. Players seem to like it – it keeps them connected with reality and with their fans.
Prior to their play-off final, Huddersfield Town players had five days in Portugal and unlike other clubs who often keep families and partners away, David Wagner did the opposite and invited players partners and kids to come along too. He wanted the players to relax and have fun in the afternoons and evenings with their families after training in the morning.
This sense of togetherness and being grounded in reality will undoubtedly prove key as they approach life in the Premier League. So often, new player signings on huge money rapidly generate hate and resentment amongst existing squad members. However, with Wagner at the helm and an existing harmonious community club culture, the usual inter-squad conflicts might not be so prominent.
Incredibly, Wagner has made the transition from managing Borussia Dortmund reserves to taking a team with one of the smallest budgets in the Championship to the English Premier League, look easy.
Similar to his former colleague, Jurgen Klopp, Wagner has a charismatic nature and is often described as slightly left-field.
Last July he left his squad on a remote uninhabited Swedish island, without running water, electricity, toilets and conventional food for three nights. Players had to collect drinking water from the lake, take rotating turns in two-man canoes and light fires to keep warm. There were no phones, no internet and players were equipped with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a tent.
Wagner has also been described as a tactical genius. He never leaves a stone unturned and can always be found in his office analysing videos and preparing presentations.
Pundits and analysts often report that the more you spend, the higher up the league table you finish. Wagner has certainly turned that theory on its head. Astonishingly, Huddersfield’s wage bill is around £13 million with their top player earning a mere £10,000 a week. In contrast, Jonjo Shelvey earns a healthy £80,000 pounds per week playing for Newcastle United.
David Wagner said he was "in a fairy tale" after seeing his side clinch promotion to the Premier League at Wembley.
"I'm so happy and so proud of my players, the whole town and every employee of the club," Wagner said.
"The players have gone from heroes to legends during these play-offs."
"We wanted to find new ways to be competitive. I'm so happy we've proved that experience isn't everything in England.
"Since I arrived, I was always in confrontation of having no experience in English football, no experience in this league, no experience of not having a winter break, no experience of play-offs.
"Experience is important, but if you have passion, desire and ideas, you can match it.”
Aaron Mooy – magical midfield maestro
In 2016, after an impressive season in the A-League, Aaron Mooy moved from Melbourne City to sister club, Manchester City.
Before long, Mooy was loaned out to Huddersfield Town prompting many experts to question the move especially as Huddersfield were tipped for relegation rather than promotion!
I’m sure those pundits will be swallowing their words now and instead congratulating Aaron on a truly remarkable season. He played 44 games, scored 4, claimed 7 assists and was named Huddersfield Town’s player of the year.
"The whole season has been crazy and I couldn't have imagined getting this far when I arrived," Mooy said.
Mooy has had a season to remember being named in both the English Football League and Professional Footballer Association's teams of the year.
Mooy has formed a strong bond with the Terriers manager.
"He's a very passionate guy and everyone has bought into what he wants us to do and his philosophy," Mooy said.
"It's enjoyable playing under such a great coach and he's been massive for me.
"I'd not heard of him before but I did my research on him.
"I know some Australian players who were at Dortmund when he was there and found out about him.
"Wagner is a leader and makes all the decisions, but of course the players have to perform and deliver what he wants."
Mooy left western Sydney as a teenager to move to England in 2006 and signed for Bolton Wanderers. After four years with the Trotters he moved north to St Mirren in Scotland. In 2012, his Premier League ambitions seemed over when he returned to Australia and signed for Western Sydney Wanderers in 2012.
Mooy resurrected his career in the A-League with Tony Popovic's side, and then with John van’t Schip at Melbourne City, before he was snapped up by Manchester City and loaned to Huddersfield Town.
Are new players required?
No club in the Championship used fewer players than Huddersfield this season - just 25.
As well as Mooy, other players including goalkeeper Danny Ward, will return to their parent clubs in the English summer leaving Wagner with a huge task.
Furthermore, the other two new teams, Newcastle and Brighton, have had a head start with both clubs already scouting and signing players as they strive to strengthen their squads in an effort to be ‘Premier League ready’. Reports suggest Newcastle has also tabled an offer for Mooy.
Interestingly, only two Huddersfield players scored more than four league goals this season which suggests a big-name striker might be on the top of the shopping list. Prolific goal scorer Elias Kachunga has made his loan move from Ingolstadt permanent, which is a start. But a proven Premier League striker might well be the first item on Wagner’s radar.
Will they stay up?
On the upside, a lot of Huddersfield Town players will be largely unknown by Premier League Football Directors and coaches. Alongside this, many teams will be unfamiliar with the trip to the John Smith’s Stadium.
Additionally, it may come as an unpleasant surprise to some Premier League mega-stars that they will play on a pitch that hosted a rugby league game the night before. This unknown factor may create a unique competitive advantage for the Terriers.
However, if you asked me to pick one team from Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield that would go straight back down to the Championship, sadly my money would be on Huddersfield. The unknown factor, their genius manager and a few shrewd signings might see them sneak a few wins - but in time, I think the gap between the Championship and the Premier League will prove too vast. Their shorter preparation time combined with the other teams slowly deciphering how they play may make it very hard for Huddersfield to remain in the top flight.
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