David Wagner: Why are Huddersfield keeping the faith after eight straight defeats?


Highlights: Bristol City 1-0 Huddersfield

Bottom of the Premier League after eight successive defeats, facing relegation after two seasons in the top flight and beaten in the FA Cup by Championship side Bristol City, Huddersfield Town are not in a good place.

Of the 15 clubs relegated over the past five years, 11 sacked at least one manager mid-season and, of the remaining four, two had appointed their bosses in the months prior to the campaign.

Yet Terriers boss David Wagner retains the support of chairman and owner Dean Hoyle.

Wagner says he “feels” that backing. And, despite the awful run of results, that faith is not wavering.

So, as Huddersfield prepare for a trip to fourth-from-bottom Cardiff on Saturday, why are the Terriers sticking with the 47-year-old German. And will their patience be rewarded?

‘I didn’t see it coming’

Huddersfield failed to win any of their first 10 games this season but picked up in November when two wins and a draw lifted them to 14th in the table and earned Wagner a manager of the month nomination.

They were winning their next game – against Brighton – too, until striker Steve Mounie was sent off. The Terriers lost that game and have not picked up a point since.

“I didn’t see this coming,” Wagner told Football Focus.

“I knew the Premier League was anything but a joyride. I always have known that it is possible we can go on a negative run. We had five defeats in a row last season but we were able to turn it around. That is the challenge you face as the manager of Huddersfield Town.

“Now we have eight and it hurts even more.

“I am under pressure. I am not just responsible for the time before the last six weeks. I am responsible for the last six weeks, when we haven’t won a football match and we haven’t got a point.”

Promoted against the odds

How Huddersfield accomplished the impossible

Wagner was appointed Huddersfield manager in November 2015, succeeding Chris Powell, who had been sacked after 14 months in charge.

The club were 18th in the Championship. Within three games, they were in the relegation zone before rallying to finish the season in 19th.

Huddersfield’s turnover that season was £11.3m. It was lower at only two clubs, Brentford and Preston. Ten clubs had double Town’s turnover, six exceeded £30m, at three it was more than £40m.

The club’s wages were £12.5m, the fourth lowest in the 24-team league. Eleven rivals’ wage bills in the same season exceeded £25m.

For 2016-17, turnover rose to £15.8m and so did wages, to £21.7m. Still, Huddersfield’s wage bill was only the 15th highest in the second tier.

It is against that financial backdrop that Wagner took Huddersfield back into the top flight for the first time since 1972, when they beat Reading on penalties in the play-off final at Wembley.

Defying them to stay up

If getting promoted was a triumph against the odds – they achieved the feat with a negative goal difference – staying in the Premier League was arguably an even more astounding achievement.

Although the Terriers earned £102.3m in prize money and TV income from their top-flight return, their overall turnover is likely to be far less than that of West Brom, Stoke and Swansea, who all went down.

And, while they broke their transfer record three times in the summer of 2017, the highest fee they paid – £11.4m for Mounie – was below the record signings of all three relegated clubs.

In June, they broke their transfer record again, paying Monaco £17.5m for defender Terence Kongolo. However, 11 Premier League clubs spent more on individual players, including newly promoted Fulham. Only six clubs spent less than the overall £42.9m Huddersfield did on new players this summer.

‘I take responsibility for everything’

Defeat at Cardiff on Saturday would leave Huddersfield 11 points behind the Bluebirds, who currently sit one place above the relegation zone. That is a gap of more points than they have managed in their 21 games so far.

But Huddersfield are not resigned to their fate. Senior staff are determined to follow up on the words of Hoyle, who at the turn of the year said the club would not ‘sleepwalk to relegation’.

However, there is a realisation about the odds Huddersfield – and Wagner – are battling against.

No side has scored fewer than their 13 goals and Wagner has tried to address that failing in the transfer market.

The club were in the hunt for Liverpool striker Dominic Solanke, but in the end he joined Bournemouth for £19m. Had Huddersfield paid that, they would have broken their transfer record for a 21-year-old who has started just five Premier League games and will not be fit until the beginning of February.

Instead, they are having to do deals like the one that brought midfielder Jason Puncheon north from Crystal Palace on loan until the end of the season.

Unlike some other managers, Wagner does his job without complaint, thus limiting negative headlines and ensuring any external assessment of Huddersfield is done purely on the basis of what happens on the field.

“I take responsibility for everything,” Wagner told BBC Sport.

Huddersfield suffered a stoppage-time defeat to relegation rivals Fulham at Craven Cottage in December

‘Being the first one to beat the statistics is exciting’

No side has survived relegation after collecting 10 points from their opening 21 games.

Defeats by relegation rivals Fulham and Burnley in their past two matches have been hugely damaging. After Saturday’s trip to Cardiff, Huddersfield’s next four opponents are Manchester City, Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal.

In April, they have away games at Tottenham and Liverpool, while after that Manchester United visit the John Smith’s Stadium.

According to the bookmakers’ odds, Huddersfield are as likely to avoid Premier League relegation as Tottenham are to win it.

But Wagner remains optimistic.

“I have never had a period before when I lost so many games in a row,” he said. “I have negative moments but in general I am part of the solution. Do I sit at home and cry? No. I have to deliver ideas.

“Being the first one to beat the statistics is exciting.

“We were promoted with negative goal difference. We stayed up with the smallest budget ever in the Premier League.

“I believe we have a chance. That is the truth.”

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