When future legions of Huddersfield fans look back on the tenure of former manager David Wagner they will undoubtedly focus on one thing - promotion to the Premier League. Whilst the German’s achievements on the grass will be rightly heralded, perhaps his most important work came off it.
David Wagner did not just galvanize an ailing club through tactics and recruitment, he did it through the abstract concept of identity. During the prior decade Town had flip-flopped between defensive pragmatists, footballing purists and hands-on motivators.
Results on the pitch justified this approach as Town rose from League One nobodies to Championship nobodies. It wasn’t spectacular, but it had worked in as far as status and league positions were concerned.
However that scatter-gun approach of managerial appointments took its toll on the fan base, as the club failed time and time again to forge their own identity. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking fans stayed away under Chris Powell’s reign because of performances on the pitch.
There were plenty of entertaining games under the former Charlton manager, lest we forget the 4-4 draw with Steve Mclaren’s Derby County.
The underlying issue that put fans off from attending games was the lack of direction that surrounded the club. There appeared to be no grand plan, no joint goals that bound fans and players together, and then David Wagner arrived.
Introducing the post-match wave, connecting with fans on a personal level and restoring passion and pride to the club. Together with the commercial department, Wagner built upon the idea of a ‘Terrier Identity’.
His squad soon became a living, breathing embodiment of this mantra on the pitch, and soon fans began to flood back into the stadium. Personally, my pride in the team was fully restored and I began to relate with every member of the squad and the manager.
The new found identity seemed to tap into the local consciousness, galvanizing everyone within its radius.
Huddersfield’s togetherness and collective identity seemed unbreakable until the Premier League stormed in and smashed it to smithereens. Perhaps the biggest mistake of Wagner’s era was his decision to shrug of the club’s identity in response to a series of chastening defeats in the big time.
When the former Dortmund man decided to take his leave and resign from his post as manager of Huddersfield Town, the club appeared to be at a crossroads. At that point it would have been easy for the club to perform an about turn and appoint someone who directly contravened their new-found identity.
Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew and a host of other footballing dinosaurs were all linked with the vacant manager’s position at Huddersfield. However the club held firm and decided to stay true to their identity, appointing a younger, fresher version of David Wagner.
Without ever publicly admitting it, the club seemed resigned to relegation from the Premier League. However, the appointment of a manager in Jan Siewert that seemed in-keeping with our identity lifted the hopes of fans ahead of the club’s return to the Championship.
For a myriad of reasons that we have neither the time nor the resolve to go over again, Jan Siewert’s reign ended sourly. Yet that shouldn’t put the club off following the same route with their next managerial appointment.
Whilst the end result was not satisfactory, the thinking behind Siewert’s appointment was fundamentally correct for the long-term future of the club. Identity and future success are much more important to the club than immediate results.
If the club is to retain its connection with the fans for decades to come and put itself in a strong position for long-term success, they must not abandon their identity on a whim.
With the least possible offence intended, managers like Gary Rowett should not be offered the opportunity to take the reigns at Huddersfield Town. Rowett or any other of his contemporaries may motivate players and secure a short-term boost in results, but they will not benefit the club in the long-run.
The Town hierarchy must take a long, hard look at themselves over the coming weeks and identify what they did wrong during Siewert’s spell at the club. After that, they must resolve not to make the same mistakes with the club’s next manager.
If this is done by the powers that be and we resist the urge to abandon our identity, the future can indeed still be bright for Huddersfield Town.
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