The Premier League dream turned into somewhat of a nightmare for Huddersfield Town as the Terriers were relegated last season with a dismal record of 16 points from 38 matches while going down as one of the worst teams to grace the competition since it began in 1992.
After the miracles of the 2017/18 season where Huddersfield fought tooth and nail to avoid the drop and finished in a credible 16th-place, some will say it was an opportunity lost while others may say the only way was down after two seasons of largely overachieving under former head coach David Wagner.
It was against the odds that Town achieved the promotion in the first place. Tipped by some to be relegated, Wagner turned a team that was just about keeping their heads above the water in the Championship to a side that was competitive and full of energy with a never-say-die attitude.
Under the German, Huddersfield was upsetting the applecart. Fans of other clubs expressed their outrage on social media at losing “to a team like Huddersfield” and it got even worse when the Terriers gained promotion through the play-offs despite failing to score a single goal through the two-legged semi-final and the final itself.
The team were at their best when they were underestimated and Wagner’s mantra of ‘no limits’ really cottoned on with both players and fans.
By now he could walk on water after delivering top-flight football to the West Yorkshire town for the first time in 45 years and while he rightly deserves massive credit, supporters must also tip their flat caps to Stuart Webber – despite him leaving the club under a cloud.
It is believed that Webber had a hand in bringing the former Borussia Dortmund coach to the club as well as recruiting talent such as Aaron Mooy and tapping into the German market just like he has at Norwich City, but his sudden departure for Carrow Road with the Terriers fighting for promotion left a sour taste in the mouth.
David Moss replaced Webber during the summer of 2017 and came to Huddersfield with an impressive record as head of recruitment at Celtic but he only lasted five months and the manner of his departure has never really been fully explained. While Moss himself had publicly said that strikers Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre were brought in on his watch other media reports suggested that the recruitment during that period was largely down to Wagner.
Sources have told me that Moss’s exit was down to a breakdown in relationships with the hierarchy at the club and that the closure of the academy by chairman Dean Hoyle was a factor in him leaving.
Sources have also told me that Wagner had a say on all football aspects and what he said went – which could be a help or a hindrance depending which way you want to look at it – and the next sporting director appointment, Olaf Rebbe, acted as a go-between when it came to recruitment.
The incoming transfer activity during the summer of 2018 was one of the factors in Huddersfield’s demise. While turning the loan move for Terence Kongolo into a permanent one was a fantastic acquisition, the signing of Ramadan Sobhi from Stoke City was a strange one considering he had hardly pulled up any trees in Staffordshire and ended up playing just four times before being loaned out Al Ahly, the club he began his career with in his homeland.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the sale of Tom Ince to Stoke proved to be a poor piece of business as neither of his replacements, Adama Diakhaby and Isaac Mbenza, never really cut the mustard but some might argue that we never really saw much of the two new recruits.
Huddersfield had lost some of their identity during their time in the Premier League – with many pointing to the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in September 2017 as a turning point – but Wagner’s game management during the season proved successful but he changed to a more methodical approach the following campaign with a 3-5-2 formation (or 5-3-2 formation depending which way you want to look at it) being preferred.
In fact, Town played some decent football during the first few months of the season but was not getting the rub of the green. Chances were being missed, stonewall penalties turned down but soft ones were given to the opposition but the Town defence – which had been strong the previous season – was becoming leaky and error-prone.
A mini-revival in November with two wins and a draw that lifted Huddersfield out of the drop zone was just a false dawn and December proved a crucial month with home defeats to Brighton, Newcastle and Southampton proving key before Wagner decided he had taken the club as far as he can and departed after a goalless draw with Cardiff City.
Fans were hoping that the club might pull out of stops in the January transfer window following the chairman’s rallying cry of not letting the club “sleepwalk into relegation” but after the dismal December, the Terriers were hurtling head first down the trap door. Bringing in Jason Puncheon on loan from Crystal Palace was a strange move but the signing of Karlan Grant from Charlton Athletic looks a snip at £2million.
Town turned to another Dortmund B coach in Jan Siewert but he couldn’t halt the slide and won just one of first 15 matches in charge although it was encouraging that the 36-year-old is prepared to give youth a chance with the likes of Matty Daly, Aaron Rowe and Demeaco Duhaney featuring for the Terriers.
I think it would be unfair to criticise Siewert considering he entered at a time where the ship was sinking fast and some of the crew on board couldn’t care less. Too many experienced players were hiding and accepted losing which led to the young head coach throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck. The togetherness that once was there had gone and only a handful of players remained on the pitch after games to applaud the fans.
Before the last home match of the campaign, news broke that it would be the last under the stewardship of chairman Dean Hoyle. He had decided to sell the majority of his shares to another lifelong Town fan Phil Hodgkinson, owner of PURE Legal who had been involved with non-league Southport and is understood to have put £2m of his own money into the Sandgrounders.
Hoyle had health issues during the season and decided the time was right to take a backseat but he will be a tough act to follow considering the 52-year-old took Huddersfield from a mediocre League One team to the Premier League inside 10 years.
Hodgkinson has promised to build on Hoyle’s work both on and off the pitch and the club have already been active in the transfer market with three players signed and a hint of more to come at the time of writing.
Tommy Elphick has joined on a free transfer from Aston Villa. The defender is just the type of player Huddersfield need at the moment as there appears to be a lack of leadership in the dressing room at the John Smith’s Stadium and the 31-year-old has captained Brighton and Bournemouth to success in recent times.
The Terriers have also stayed to their philosophy in recruiting and developing young players. Reece Brown has joined for a small fee after a productive season at Forest Green Rovers where he scored 11 goals and registered 13 assists while Leyton Orient striker Josh Koroma rejected other clubs to join Town for £500,000.
The rumours of re-signing Martin Cranie left the fanbase split over his possible return but I think it highlights just how fragmented the dressing room is at Huddersfield. Cranie, a former England U21 international, was hardly a first-team starter during his first spell but he was a reliable player and one of good character to have around the rest of the squad.
Players such as Mathias Jorgensen and Philip Billing went public at the back end of last season over their desire to leave the club in the summer but Hodgkinson has hinted that no players will be allowed to leave on the cheap. Others such as Florent Hadergjonaj also seem intent on heading for pastures new.
The likes of Kongolo and Aaron Mooy have proved they have the quality to play at Premier League level and would be no surprise if both players are snapped up during this close season.
Let’s hope it is a case of one step back to take two forward for Huddersfield but it is going to be an interesting summer for the West Yorkshire side under the new ownership and whether Siewert can build a squad that can push for an immediate return.
What do you make of these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!