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Huddersfield Town: Wagner Appointment Perfect Tonic to Reinvigorate Terriers

When Dean Hoyle first joined Huddersfield Town in 2008, he breathed new life into a club that was on its knees.

Drifting around in League One with virtually nothing in the way of saleable assets, stripped of their shares in the stadium, and consistently serving up some of the worst football in living memory. The club reeked of stagnation, apathy and decay, and I dread to think what would have happened to Town were it not for Hoyle’s intervention.

Hoyle’s tenure as Chairman has seen the club regain its shares in the stadium, promotion to the Championship, the construction of a new state-of-the-art training facility at Canalside, and in excess of £20 million generated in player sales.

And yet – despite all this – there was a real danger that much of this good work would be undone by the increasing sense of apathy and ambivalence felt among Town supporters over the past 12 months or so.

Despite consolidating their position in the Championship, Town’s results have been indifferent and their performances even more so. Even more alarmingly attendances are in decline and the much talked about ‘pathways’ scheme – seemingly crucial to the club’s future – has appeared to be struggling.

Although it would be harsh to say that outgoing manager, Chris Powell, is solely responsible for this, it is fair to say that  his reign as manager has undoubtedly been a contributory factor.

Don’t get me wrong, Powell is by no means the worst manager in Town’s history – in fact he’s not even close – however, the style of football his side has served up has been without doubt some of the most dour and frankly boring I have seen in my lifetime.

Sure, the performances of the team are incomparable to those of the Wadsworth or Ritchie eras, but never has the football been so frequently unentertaining as it was during Powell’s reign as manager.

You would often get the impression that Powell was setting his teams up for a draw, and this resulted in his teams adopting a negative style of football and a lack of genuine attacking intent. Simply put, Powell’s preferred style-of-play was centred around not losing, rather than going for the win. Understandably, this was a policy that allowed Town to be competitive in the majority of his games, but it was ultimately not one that was likely to attract supporters to the John Smith’s Stadium.

A string of turgid home performances against mediocre opposition last season really stick in the mind. Home defeats against Rotherham, Fulham, Leeds and Birmingham, as well as draws against Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan and Brighton, were all examples of Town failing to go for the jugular against winnable opposition, and this was in large part due to Powell’s poor tactics and inability to change games when things were not going Town’s way.

A prime example of this was Powell’s sheer reluctance to effect games through positive substitutions. It became something of a running joke that Powell wouldn’t make an attacking substitution until it was far, far too late. The most obvious example of this being Powell’s reticence to utilise Joe Lolley until the final 10 minutes of a match.

Indeed, the example of Lolley also spoke volumes about Powell’s attitude towards youth players at the club in general.

Dean Hoyle has repeatedly reiterated that the development of ‘young players with potential’ is vitally important if Huddersfield Town are to be successful at this level. Despite this, Powell failed to fully integrate any of Town’s up and coming prospects into the first-team fold – Kyle Dempsey, Philip Billing and Joe Lolley for example – and instead preferred to play it safe with older, more established players.

What is more, not only is the development of youth players important  to Town in a financial sense, it is also important as it gives fans something to get excited about and a real sense of optimism for the future.

This lack of youth development, coupled with Powell’s overwhelmingly negative tactics, were a direct factor in Town’s dwindling attendances, and ultimately the board’s decision to part company with Powell after 14 months in the job.

With attendances in decline and levels of apathy among supporters on the increase, it was vital that Town’s next managerial appointment was one which would reignite interest levels among supporters and give them a reason to be excited about the club’s future.

With this in mind, I think the appointment of David Wagner, Jurgen Klopp’s former assistant at Borussia Dortmund, is something of a masterstroke from Dean Hoyle and the board.

Not only is Wagner a disciple of Jurgen Klopp’s exhilarating, pressing-orientated Dortmund side, he also has vast experience working with youth players. Following his retirement as a player, Wagner worked with Hoffenheim’s U17 and U19 sides, before notably taking over at Borussia Dortmund U23’s.

This experience in working with, and developing young players, should hold Wagner in good stead for delivering on Hoyle’s mandate of developing young and exciting players.

Of course, it is not an appointment that is entirely risk free. Wagner is likely to have limited knowledge of the Championship, and there is no cast-iron guarantee that he will be able to deliver much more than Powell was able to in terms of results.

Nevertheless, it is a calculated risk on the board’s behalf, and it does genuinely feel like Wagner is a good fit for the Yorkshire Club.

Even if the results are not vastly different to those under Powell, I fully expect Town to be an altogether different proposition under Wagner.

I think that this is ultimately the crux of the issue. People can accept that Town are – generally speaking – a lower mid-table Championship side. What fans cannot accept, however, is the negative manner in which Town would approach games under Powell. Whereas it seemed Powell often sent his teams out to merely exist on the football field, I feel confident that Wagner will send his teams out to ‘have a go.’ In reality – regardless of results – as long as Town play in the right manner and ‘have a go’ Town fans will be happy.

Whether Wagner is a success or not remains to be seen. What is not in doubt, is that Wagner’s appointment has already sparked renewed interest and optimism among Town fans. For this, the board – much maligned for their track record with regards to managerial appointments in the past – deserves some praise for their ambition.

Whatever happens, I’m sure it won’t be dull.


5 Clean Sheets: Why Liverpool Should Buy This £12m Stopper

Liverpool have recently been linked with a move for Genoa stopper Mattia Perin in the January transfer window.

The goalkeeper has been in exceptional form for the Italian side this season, contributing heavily to the fact that his side have risen to sixth in the league, conceding less than a goal per game.

Perin’s form is notable, with the keeper keeping five clean sheets for the Italian side in their 16 games.

Liverpool require a new goalkeeper, having thrown in reserve stopper Brad Jones for the last few games due to the terrible drop in form suffered by Simon Mignolet.

The Belgian keeper looks like he has a mistake in him in every game, and this is not a tolerable situation for a first choice goalkeeper, undoubtedly the player on the pitch that a manager has to have the most trust in whenever a game kicks off.

Jones will not remain first choice, with the Australian simply not possessing enough quality.

Perin therefore seems like he could be an ideal solution to a conundrum that is facing Brendan Rodgers.

At £12 million, his price tag is not particularly prohibitive, allowing the Reds to manoeuvre elsewhere in the transfer market, given what they need.

He also has a clear pedigree and plenty of talent, given that he has been capped by the Italian national side, despite being only 22 years old.

He is also frequently compared to Gianluca Buffon, Italy’s incumbent stopper and one of the world’s best goalkeepers over the last 20 years.

If Liverpool could secure a player who could match up to Buffon, it would be an exceptional signing.

Aside from his clean sheets, Perin outperforms Mignolet whenever he is faced with a shot.

He makes 3.67 saves per goal conceded, doubling Mignolet’s efforts, with the Belgian only stopping 1.59 shots per goal that he concedes.

The only thing that might be a worry for Rodgers is Perin’s distribution.

Liverpool are famed for their passing style, as evidenced in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal at the weekend when they dominated the play against Wenger’s usually pass-happy Gunners.

The Italian keeper’s distribution is poor, however, with him only completing 54% of his balls to other players.

Despite this, he seems like he could be an excellent addition, and at £12 million it is difficult to see Liverpool doing better in the January transfer window when looking at solutions to the goalkeeping problem.

Is Cellino Doing More Harm Than Good At Leeds United?

Amitai Winehouse (@awinehouse1)

In the summer, someone on Twitter told me that my parents should have killed me shortly after I was born.

This was, to clarify, in response to me suggesting that it might be good if we went a goal behind in our first pre-season friendly against Guiseley, a game I ultimately attended.

Looking at the squad before that game, it was clear that the situation wasn’t good. We had sold Ross McCormack, comfortably our best player the year before, and not really replaced him. The arrival of Souleymane Doukara meant that we had a strikeforce in which Steve Morison and Noel Hunt were expected to play key roles.

In going behind against Guiseley, I was hoping that it would deal a shock to Massimo Cellino, who stood by the side of the pitch smoking, shaking hands with fan after fan.

By this point, he’d appointed Dave Hockaday as manager, and the situation was looking increasingly dire. I spent most of the first half, which was goalless and offered little hope, discussing with Moscowhite of The Square Ball and The City Talking that we were probably going to end up in a relegation battle.

Moscow wrote a great article about control at Leeds United today for The City Talking, and that is what inspired me to think more about Cellino.

It was not Guiseley (2-0 win) that dealt Cellino the shock I was hoping for, but Millwall away, a 2-0 loss. Between that game and the transfer deadline, we sacked Hockaday and we signed player after player, with first team regulars like Mirco Antenucci and Guiseppe Bellusci joining Leeds.

Why did he require that shock? As you stood at the side of the pitch at Guiseley, you could see that it wasn’t working – that Hockaday was out of his depth, that we had no dynamism, that no one could craft, create, imagine, build, basically do anything.

Yet Cellino stuck with his man and his squad going into the start of the season, and even then you knew trouble was afoot. We won against Middlesbrough against the best efforts of our first team. We got destroyed away at Watford, a game in which we looked less likely to have a genuine chance than a stable football club.

Since then, results have been up and down, mostly down. We’ve had a succession of managers with only Neil Redfearn’s side approaching impressive displays. We’ve had young players come to the fore but show their inexperience at crucial points. We’ve had undroppables get game after game.

We’ve also had our owner banned, pending appeal. It’s Cellino that comes into question here, and his control.

Cellino is clearly the captain of the ship, but it’s almost as if he chooses to remove the wheel for extended periods of time. It would be unfair to say he has no plan, but the plan seems to be scribbled down on the back of a serviette that was cleared away by a waiter at the end of the meal.

We’re buying Elland Road, we’re not buying Elland Road. Our squad, including ‘beautiful man’ Noel Hunt, is good, our squad isn’t good. We’ve planned for January, we haven’t, here are the six players we’re buying, we have an embargo, let’s buy them anyway. Where’s the consistency, the direction? It’s taken us weeks to hire an assistant manager for Redfearn, even though his preferred number two was given away for free by Huddersfield.

At this point, is Cellino just doing more damage than good? He’s a man who claims to have the best interests of Leeds United at heart, but is this inability to have a plan before he needs to (a week before the transfer deadline, for example) hindering our progress. I like Guiseppe Bellusci, accusations of racism aside, but you’d struggle to find a Leeds fan who believes he is worth the reported £1.6 million fee we paid Catania for him, a deal pushed through to ensure that we could bring more players in on loan ahead of the impending transfer embargo. Did we really get value for money?

The one true positive of Cellino’s reign has been Nicola Salerno’s eye for a player, with our signings generally working out this summer. By the same token, however, it would be impossible to justify Ken Bates’ time at Leeds by the fact that Gwyn Williams brought in Max Gradel and Luciano Becchio.

Heading into January, our squad clearly needs improvement. What would a player see ahead of them if they chose to sign for Leeds? A team in 19th, one who could find themselves without an owner until March. The relegation battle I feared is coming true, and if we want to avoid it, Massimo Cellino might have to look at himself and hand over more control to recently appointed COO Matt Child than he ever thought possible.

At this point, it might be time for the football men to run the football club. Salerno clearly gets the game in the same way that Redfearn does, and in tandem they could probably get the right players in in January to push Redfearn’s youthful side up the table, if the line of communication is between them without Cellino occasionally popping in and shouting: “hey, what about another midfielder?”

A captain-less ship with Redfearn exerting more influence might work better than one with a captain with no plan who is banned from steering it until March of next year.

What are your thoughts? Send them to us on Twitter @spoughtsblog or comment below.