Some lessons from Huddersfield perspective in the art of coping with change at Norwich City
PUBLISHED: 07:05 09 September 2017
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With no City game to write about I took the opportunity to chat with Doug Thomson, a West Yorkshire-based journalist and Huddersfield fan, about the parallels between the difficult introductions to English football encountered by David Wagner and Daniel Farke.
Unsurprisingly, Doug described several problems encountered by Wagner that will be very familiar to City fans. In the early stages of his tenure a number of goals were conceded either as a result of players struggling to get to grips with zonal marking or from errors in trying to play out from the goalkeeper.
He also took time to find the right midfield balance and Town conceded several goals from distance due to too much space being offered to opponents around the edge of the box. That, in turn, meant that they regularly found themselves chasing games, which was difficult given their possession-based style of play based on probing patiently for openings.
So far, so familiar, and Doug’s description of “tantalising glimpses of how good the system could be when everything clicked” in the first few games certainly struck a chord, while he also pointed out that Huddersfield’s German players took some time to get used to the level of physical grappling that is allowed by English referees, something that Marcel Franke referred to in a recent press interview.
Doug stressed that it took some time for Wagner to find the right blend, but that he was determined to stick to his basic style of play even if it meant attracting criticism, and this is where a significant difference emerges, because Huddersfield hadn’t experienced significant success for many years, so expectations were relatively low.
As a result, although there was some fan discontent there was considerably less pressure on him than there is on Farke to produce immediate results and that helped him considerably.
When Huddersfield went for a foreign coach and a different approach to recruitment they did so largely because other avenues had been explored unsuccessfully and that is very much the case at City.
Big spending, at least in the context of City’s resources, failed to keep them in the Premier League, and the club then gambled on staying on a Premier League footing in the hope of bouncing straight back as they had in 2014/15 but failed to do so.
To try to continue in the same vein would have been a step back towards the dark days of 2009, and instead the board opted for root and branch reform which looked not only to achieve vital reductions in outgoings but also to freshen up the whole club.
Steve Stone came along to last month’s Trust board meeting and was, as ever, very open about where the club stands financially. It might not be particularly welcome news to many fans that City are facing the need for more cutbacks unless the club can bounce back to the Premier League quickly, but it is reality.
Unfortunately, sport offers no certainties and City have no more of a divine right to get back to the Premier League on a budget basis than they did when they pushed the boat out financially.
There will be those who will inevitably argue that City should gamble cash they don’t have, but it’s easy to take chances with someone else’s money, and while the potential reward is lucrative, a sensible gambler always considers the potential losses.
What the club is trying to do is balance a realistic shot at promotion this season with sustainability going forward and only time will tell how successful that strategy will be.
In Huddersfield’s case it worked, perhaps beyond their wildest dreams, although, of course, that guarantees nothing as far as City are concerned.
However, given that the recent groundworks behind the River End failed to expose a magic money tree, it is the best option available to a club with limited resources.