Jan Siewert - PE Teacher or Victim of Circumstance?

Somewhere in Doncaster a 75-year-old John Haselden will be indulging in a wry smile as he prepares to hand over a burden he has carried for 42 years on to Jan Siewert. In April 1977 Haselden was elevated to the role of manager at Huddersfield Town after previously working as a physio for the club.

Six months later Haselden was shown the door and relieved of his duties as Huddersfield Town manager after winning just one of his 18 games in charge of the club. The 75-year-old’s win ratio of 5.56% remains the lowest of any Town manager to have taken charge of a minimum of 10 games.

In just 2 games time Haselden could be sharing that indignity with Jan Siewert, the current Huddersfield manager who has a win ratio of 6.25%. The Huddersfield Town board in 1977 only had the patience to endure Haselden’s tenure for six months, whereas the modern day hierarchy seem content to indulge Siewert for some time.

Are Phil Hodgkinson and his advisors correct to place their trust in Town’s second-worst manager of all-time? Or would it be foolish to jettison a promising young manager who has been dealt the very worst set of cards?

Victims of Circumstance

John Haselden and Jan Siewert could both be justified in cursing the gods and bemoaning their bad fortune in regards to their managerial stints at Huddersfield. The former was thrust into the hot seat by a warring board with little to no preparation time – on top of that, the squad he inherited was dreadfully poor.

Similarly Jan Siewert was appointed head coach of Huddersfield Town at an impossible time, when negative results were piling up and players were queuing outside his door to hand in transfer requests.

Town’s second season in the Premier League was an abomination from start to finish, and the mess left by David Wagner proved impossible to clean up for Siewert. How could we have expected a 36-year-old to kick start the attacking ambitions of a side weaned on defensive football for 18 months?

How on earth could Siewert have kept a squad happy that was flooded with wingers who had spent the season watching on as the team played with full-backs down the flanks? How could he imprint his philosophy on a squad with no signings of his own?

Unquestionably, Siewert was dealt a horrible hand by the footballing gods when he walked in the door at Canalside. On reflection a scrappy 1-0 victory over Wolves and a turgid draw with Manchester United were phenomenal achievements given the restrictions he was working under.

Yet still there are question marks over Jan Siewert. There were murmurings of discontent on the streets surrounding the ground after last night’s game. Social media was awash with disparaging remarks about ‘this PE teacher’ in charge of the team.

In the debate there seems to be an unwillingness to discuss something else that is holding back the current team. There is no greater treason in Huddersfield than criticising David Wagner, but at risk of spending the evening in the Tower of Kirklees we are going to...

Wagner’s Legacy

The biggest mitigating factor of all for Jan Siewert is David Wagner’s legacy at the club. The German-American coach was responsible for so many positive things at Huddersfield, but Siewert is left to contend with the negative aspects of Wagner’s legacy.

Like so many managers before him in Kirkless, Wagner reneged on attacking football halfway through his tenure, instead opting for a safety-first focus. Just as Lee Clark’s unbeaten run was the catalyst for boring football, so was Harry Kane’s stunning display at the John Smith’s Stadium in 2017.

Since that afternoon Huddersfield Town have played drab, dull, defensive football, so much so that it has become second nature for most of the players. David Wagner discouraged individuality amongst his players – Rajiv Van La Parra’s fall from grace confirmed this – instead, he drilled into his troops the importance of ‘sticking to the plan’.

That plan involved making neat passing triangles in the middle of the pitch and working out crossing opportunities for Erik Durm and Florent Hadergjonaj. In essence it was nothing more than attritional football, however unlike Graham Taylor and Sam Allardyce’s attritional football, Wagner’s bore little fruit on the pitch.

After 25 minutes against Derby County last night, the players quickly reverted to their old tricks. Runs in behind from Adama Diakhaby and Karlan Grant suddenly ceased to happen, with the ball more often than not being sent out wide to an overlapping Florent Hadergjonaj.

In-keeping with his performances in the Premier League, Hadergjonaj failed to find a Town player with any of his numerous crossing opportunities. Make no mistakes, this is David Wagner’s team we are still watching.

It will take months of training and competitive action to knock these old habits out of the players, regardless of who the head coach is.

Financial Limitations

When David Wagner took charge at Huddersfield Town it was obvious to see that performances improved on the pitch. Results however took a long time to follow suit, in fact it wasn’t until Wagner’s first full season in charge that results improved.

As Town signed off their 2015-2016 Championship campaign with a 4-0 loss away to Bristol City and 5-1 reverse at home to Brentford there was a tacit acceptance amongst fans that things would be better next season.

Wagner needed a transfer window to bring in his own players, ones who would be capable of implementing his style of play and influencing players already at the club. Over the next few months in came;

Joel Coleman, Michael Hefele, Chris Lowe, Ivan Paurevic, Jack Payne, Christopher Schindler, Rajiv Van La Parra, Jon Gorenc Stankovic, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Danny Ward, Elias Kachunga, Aaron Mooy and Kasey Palmer…

That’s 13 players that David Wagner was allowed to bring into Huddersfield Town to get his message across and imprint his style and identity on the team. Most of those players were identified by Wagner in conjunction with Stuart Webber, they were rigorously researched to ensure that they fit perfectly into the coach’s ethos.

Conversely Jan Siewert has been unable to do the same thing, despite the club having significantly more spending power now than they did in 2016. The players brought in under Jan Siewert all seem to have been identified by the club, with minimal input from the head coach himself.

Youngsters from League Two and the National League have arrived along with an ageing centre-back and a back-up full-back. For some reason Jan Siewert has had nowhere near the same backing as David Wagner in his two transfer windows thus far at Huddersfield.

The current coach is left with a squad largely assembled by David Wagner and a host of different sporting directors who have all since left the club. Under those circumstances, implementing your own style and changing the way the team plays is close to impossible.

Cut Siewert Some Slack

When managers are under fire in the press one phrase seems to be uttered more than any other by irate fans - “who could do a better job?” In the current circumstances that argument carries plenty of weight.

Siewert still has the impossible job, the obstacles standing in his way are monumental and there is perhaps no other coach available that could do better than him the the present time.

The club hierarchy could help Siewert by allowing him to bring two or three faces in before the transfer window shuts. Yet why would they? Other than words of support, Hodgkinson and his advisors have offered Siewert nothing in the way of assistance thus far.

The young coach has been left to his own devices, thrown to the wolves so to speak with the hope that he can return unscathed. Instead of losing faith in Siewert and letting him go, Hodgkinson and Town should back their man just like Hoyle did in 2016 with David Wagner.

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