Huddersfield ready to be known as Yorkshire's finest
The sign outside the Canalside Training Ground is loud and proud. “Welcome to Huddersfield Town,” it reads in sizeable embossed letters drilled into the brickwork. “The Yorkshire Club”. The county identifier has been in place for a couple of years, since Town took possession of the community sports club down the road from their stadium as their new training centre. But it has significant added meaning this season. The county of Leeds United, of Sheffield Wednesday and United, of Barnsley, Bradford City and Hull, the county that is the birthplace of the very first football club, the county that, had it been an independent country, would have finished 17th in the Rio Olympics, has but one representative in the Premier League. And a year ago no one was predicting that any such sole presence would be Huddersfield Town. Welcome indeed to the Yorkshire club. Just past the snooker room, past the urgent work going on to graft players’ lounges and media rooms on to a bowls and social club, this week could be found a hint of what their sudden, unexpected elevation means. Last year, as he addressed the gathered media ahead of their Championship opening match against Brentford, the manager spoke to no more than half a dozen local press people. This season, as he prepared to face Crystal Palace, David Wagner faced a forest of camera lenses and extended microphones. Behind him on a board were the logos of the club’s newly-signed sponsors, several of which are in Chinese lettering. For the first time in their history, homely Huddersfield finds themselves in the global marketing phenomenon that is the Premier League. And no one appeared more surprised than the manager. David Wagner isn't feeling the pressure after masterminding Huddersfield's leap into the Premier League “When I arrived, I never thought that Huddersfield Town or David Wagner will be in the Premier League,” he said. “Never. Even last season I never dreamt that this would be the case.” Not that the phlegmatic, organised, bespectacled German is allowing himself to get carried away. “I spoke to the chairman yesterday and he said the excitement in the town is at the highest level. But here, for me, it’s more or less business as usual. It was Brentford last season, this time it’s Crystal Palace. I was way more nervous when I first came to England than I am now.” Even as the Premier League hardwiring was being installed around him, Wagner suggested nothing had fundamentally changed. His methods – training at the same time as that week’s kick-off, insisting his players live within easy reach of the training ground so energy is not wasted in travel, the detailed analysis of opponents – will continue as before. And Wagner will remain committed to the all-action, relentless, exhausting 4-3-2-1 gegenpress formation that served him so well in winning promotion via the play-offs. “I’m aware of it, let’s say,” he said of the fashion among Premier League managers to employ three at the back. “We can use this formation if we need to but this will not be the formation which we will choose in the majority of the games. We will not change our football identity. I want people to recognise this is Huddersfield.” Nor was he allowing himself to be carried away by the prospect of pitching his tactical wits with the most elevated collection of coaches ever assembled in English football. He was not, he insisted, particularly energised by the prospect of standing alongside Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, or even his old friend and mentor Jurgen Klopp. “No, and I think it is disrespectful to all the other managers in the Championship. Last season we had [Rafa] Benitez, [Roberto] Di Matteo, [Carlos] Carvalhal, [Slavisa] Jokanovic, and all the experienced British managers like [Neil] Warnock, a lot of quality that we met. Yes, now, probably the quality of the individuals – players and managers – is at the highest level, this is why they’re in the Premier League. I’m looking forward to this task and challenge but it’s not more exciting than it was before.” Nor is he anxious to make comparison with some of the clubs who have retained a place in the division on similar budgets and resources. New kits 17/18 “We had such a big step last season, now we have to be focused on every single opponent to be successful rather than think about what happens in a year if we stay up or are we comparable with the Burnleys, Bournemouths, Swanseas. I don’t like to waste energy in these thoughts, I like to use our energy to be as good as possible, prepared for our opponents.” But that does not mean having unexpectedly grasped Premier League membership, Wagner is cavalier about retaining it. Over the summer he spent £40 million – much more than Newcastle or Tottenham – bringing in nine players. And while he has no practical experience of what the challenge is like (of his squad only Dean Whitehead has played in the Premier League), while his club are bookies’ favourites for a rapid return whence they came, he is determined to do all he can to stay in the division. The mantra last season is to be retained: “No limits.” “For me personally I think this will be absolutely comparable success for us as a football club to stay up as it was to get promoted, even if we will not have a trophy and a parade at the end,” he said. Premier League club-by-club verdict: Sam Wallace predicts who will finish where in 2017-18 Everything about Huddersfield used to be in the past. The three stars above the crest Wagner wears on his track suit represent the league titles won in the 1920s. Once they could count the Prime Minister himself as a loyal fan. But that was in the Seventies. Wagner, however, is now firmly fixated on the present. And if he is successful in the here and now, he said, then the future will take care of itself. “As we have shown last year, everything is possible. We know the task but we are ambitious enough to say we have a chance. As a sportsman, you always ask for a chance in your life. And we have a chance, a real chance and now it’s up to us what we are doing out of this chance.” In this part of Yorkshire there is no hint of surrender.