Huddersfield Town: Premier League Survival via the Swedish Wilderness
There is nothing quite like an underdog story for English football fans. We love a good cup run from a lower league outfit, a player rising from the obscurity to international stardom and clubs like Huddersfield Town surviving in the Premiership against all odds.
A battling draw at Stamford Bridge is always a good result for any side. However, the circumstances couldn’t have been more pressured. Facing a final three games of Manchester City and Chelsea away and Arsenal at home, they’ve somehow scrapped two points and got the job done with a game to spare. They’ve beaten the drop and turned their final home game of the season into a celebration of their achievements.
Nothing like a bit luxury is there?
Likeable and durable
David Wagner has joined a growing list of admirable Premier League managers, who by sheer force of personality, have made the season more entertaining. He’s done something simple, but which is often neglected by nomadic football managers; built and maintained a special bond with his fans and players.
Too often, Pardew or Allardyce will simply emerge from the tunnel in their first home game for their latest club and give a mandatory round of applause to the supporters whilst wearing the club’s colours on their tie or lapel. Both sides know the appointment is likely to be short-term and avoid real commitment.
Wagner has gone above and beyond this blandness and stitched himself into the fabric of the club. As a result, the fans are on-board big time and the players are very quick to celebrate as one with their supporters. Recent wins at West Brom and at home to Watford saw their vociferous supporters joined by their charismatic manager, arm in arm with his staff and players, as they orchestrated the celebrations as though a cup had been won.
This bond has also dragged them through the rigours of a Premier League survival race. They have persevered through five straight defeats, low goal scoring returns and losing key players to injury. Other clubs and players may have wilted, but this team has a strong endurance built by their manager.
Wagner’s team bonding methods are very well documented, but perhaps his most eye-catching technique was to drag his entire staff into the wilderness in 2016. Depriving his players of their mobile phones and therefore any connection to the outside world, Wagner deposited the team into the Swedish wilderness. They had to survive there with their own resources and wits for a few days in the frozen lands of Northern Europe.
The German has cited this as a key component for his side’s togetherness and charge up the Championship table last season. No doubt this will have been crucial this term as his side’s fantastic start faded as the season progressed. The fact that they have only been in the bottom three once all season, is in itself a huge achievement and testament to their grit.
The player’s time in the wilderness in 2016 is perhaps symbolic of this proud town club. For over four decades the club has yo-yoed through the divisions, playing in the fourth tier as recently as 2005, after administration and falling attendances. The fans could be forgiven for not caring about next season at this present moment. Their rise to and survival in the top flight though, must not be allowed to be easily undone in the next term.
Wolves, Cardiff and whomever the third team is to join them in the top flight will no doubt have to readjust to the demands of the league. However three strong sides look set to join the elite making teams like Huddersfield vulnerable again, but in their manager, they have an undying belief that the odds can be overcome as long as the fight and spirit is there. Their recruitment will have to reflect this in the summer; absolutely no passengers can be permitted.
Whatever happens, this is an achievement is up there with the very best survival stories in the history of the Premier League. With a budget bordering on microscopic in comparison to their league rivals, Wagner has brought in some talented players like Aaron Mooy, Tom Ince and Laurent Depoitre.
However, the challenge must be to increase their goal scoring regularity. It is perhaps even more of an achievement that The Terriers have stayed up despite scoring twenty-eight goals all season, only Swansea City have less. If they are to stay up again, this will have to be addressed with real investment in a fifteen to twenty goal a season man.
For now, it is time for the football world to rightfully congratulate the Yorkshire side on their wonderful achievement. Hopefully, Wagner will stay and continue his good work with this proud football club. Perhaps he summed their season better than anyone last night:
“We expected to work our socks off and to show the spirit, the desire, the passion and the hunger and we got our reward.”