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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.

(JThorn26)

The International Makeup of the Premier and Non League

The Premier League has been famed for the international stars it attracts as a league for a long time. Since the dawn of the Premier League era, players have flocked from all over the world to come in play what the English media certainly believe to be ‘the best league in the world.’

The introduction of so many foreign players into the domestic English game (223 with an average of 11 per club) has often been blamed for poor performances by the Three Lions at major tournaments.

But where do these so called international stars come from? And how come other countries are able to flourish with almost as many foreign players in their leagues and with many of their players playing overseas anyway, frequently, in the Premier League?

We took a look at the makeup of the Premier League’s different nationalities by seeing which countries are most frequently attracted to often a much colder and wetter climate in the search of football stardom.

Most Common Nationalities in EPL
Most of the chart above probably wouldn’t surprise most readers. The combined effect of both Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew’s (at Newcastle) liking for French and francophone players has significantly boosted the contingent of players from across the channel playing in the EPL; the same can be said for the reasonably high number of Ivorian and Senegalese players. But the number of Dutch, Spanish and Argentine players may come as surprise, especially when everyone is always saying how many Belgians there seem to be in England’s top tier. The breakdown of foreign player by club makes more interesting reading:
Foreign Players by Club

  It would seem that Chelsea’s success in winning the league at a canter this year has come at the expense of blooding young English talent, or English players of any age for that matter with Gary Cahill and John Terry the only regulars and senior domestic names of note in the whole squad. The same approach hasn’t worked quite the same wonders for John Carver’s Newcastle who are flirting dangerously with relegation. Likewise already relegated Burnley look to have paid for backing homegrown players. West Ham and Spurs also are no longer the bastions of young Englishmen that they have been in years gone by with Sam Allardyce and Mauricio Pochettino seemingly favouring the foreign approach to the game. Perhaps the best way to paint the picture of an arguable surplus of foreign players in the top flight, is to look at the situation at the other end of the scale, in the Conference Premier.

Conference Nationalities

Again France leads the way, with Australia in a close second – but even from the evidence of internationals simply playing in the basement before the promised land of League 2 and the Football League, shows that there are significantly less foreign players plying their trade at the lower level.

Conference Foreign Players
Again, by casting one’s eye over the breakdown of foreign players by club, it is again clear that local and domestic players are the favoured choice of lower league managers. Even if Lincoln look like the Chelsea of the Conference way out in front on the chart, they still only have four players from outside of the UK.

 

Compared to other domestic leagues in Europe, the level of domestic players playing in the Premier League and even in the Championship is much lower, and the results of the national teams at the Euros and World Cups really bears out the point that while plucking talent from across the globe ensures an exciting and vibrant league each season, it can only damage the growth of homegrown talent.

The state of women’s football is improving but it still has a long way to go

Women’s football has always lived in the shadow of men’s football.  Although the women’s game in England has existed in a professional capacity since 1997, women were banned from playing at club level until the 1960s. Since the creation of elite competitions such as the Women’s Premier League and Women’s Super League, the sport has improved vastly.

However, disparities still exist in some considerable measure, as women’s football struggles to reach the relative parity seen in other sports such as tennis or athletics. Spoughts’ Joe Gleave sat down with a professional player in the women’s game to discuss some of the issues and get an insight into how the game differs, through her own career.

Chloe Baker, is a goalkeeper who has played for Crystal Palace and Ebbsfleet. When she joined Palace in 2012, Baker was signed after playing in a trial day, which she found out about by searching on the internet. Her route to the club highlights one major difference from men’s football, where boys are scouted very early in their development rather than signed at open trials.

“I found it on Google with the dates, emailed them a kind of CV with the clubs I’d played for before and they replied and told me the times for the trial,” said the 19-year-old from Charlton, South London.

Baker in action for Gillingham
Baker in action for Gillingham

Speaking in an interview about her footballing experiences so far, she gave her opinion on some of the disparities that are present in the women’s game today.

“I don’t think it’s appreciated that much, people don’t care. You can just tell that from popularity and salaries.

“Most women have to get second jobs. In England only four players per team can be paid over £20,000,” she said, speaking about the top tier of women’s football in the UK, the Women’s Super League.

Several women in the current England squad have part-time jobs, such as Eniola Aluko who has trained as a lawyer and Rachel Williams who is a plasterer. Payment structures have changed slightly in recent times however, and regular England internationals can also receive up to £20,000 a year from central contracts similar to those used for the England Cricket Team.

Aluko (right) playing for England
Aluko (right) playing for England

Baker said that if possible, women are better to play in the USA, something which Aluko did between 2009 and 2011.

“Really it’s better to go abroad to somewhere like the USA if you want to make a proper living out of playing football. You can get scholarships to play there because playing women’s football in the States is a big deal.”

One of Baker’s heroes in the game is an American soccer personality who is as much a celebrity as a footballer in the United States, due to the increased popularity of the feminine side of the sport across the pond. Hope Solo, the USA women’s national team goalkeeper, is someone Baker has looked up to for many years. But the controversy surrounding Solo this summer after she allegedly beat her boyfriend and her sister has tarnished her reputation, so much so that she was last week suspended from the national team for a month.

USA goalkeeper Hope Solo
USA goalkeeper Hope Solo

“When I look at her all I can say is just ‘wow.’ She’s still a great goalkeeper, but she’s also a role model in that respect. Sportsmen and women should realise that there are kids out there who want to emulate them and they need to set a better example. I think it’s important to separate private life from professional though.

Women’s football in the USA attracts much higher crowds at larger stadiums than in the UK, with the England women’s team only having made their first appearance at Wembley on 23 November against Germany, seven years after the stadium opened. This was a big step for women’s football in the UK, where funding and facilities have not always been readily available, and the crowd of 45,000 that the Three Lionesses attracted shows that interest is growing significantly, even if it is still some way off equalling the popularity in the United States where the 1999 Women’s World Cup final sold out a 90,000 capacity stadium.

“When I was younger girls would get dodgy kick off times though and we wouldn’t be given as much money for kits and equipment. The adult game isn’t really like that but there are still issues. The Super League doesn’t really get any television coverage because of the popularity of the men’s game and matches are usually played at much smaller grounds.”

The World Cup will be played on artificial pitches
The World Cup will be played on artificial pitches

One idea that has been mooted to give women’s football more media coverage, is to move the season to take place in the summer, when most men’s leagues are on holiday. However even when women’s football is given a suitable platform, inequalities still seem apparent. Baker drew my attention to the debate around the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

“A big controversy at the moment is that the World Cup isn’t going be played on real grass pitches and that might be down to money. Even if it’s down to the temperature it’s still unfair because there would be outcry if that happened in the men’s game.”

Although clear disparities exist between the men’s and women’s forms of the game, Baker does not see the women’s game as lacking in quality.

“I don’t think it’s any worse than men’s football but it’s a different style. It’s slightly different, but not so much that it’s a different game. I feel like it’s the difference between a so-called man’s press-up and a woman’s press-up. I think once people appreciate the game for what it is and stop comparing women to Wayne Rooney then it will be better.”

Other sports such as tennis do not suffer from such a gulf in popularity between the genders, but Baker doubts if women’s football could ever reach the heights of women’s tennis.

“It is getting better and I think it will continue to improve but I just think there will always be the idea that football is a man’s game. I’d look forward to a time when the two are equal but I think football will always be dominated by men, not just in the players but also way more men watch football than women and they tend to only watch men’s football. I watch both versions of the game and I don’t see why men couldn’t enjoy women’s football too.”