England’s true football champion: Huddersfield

A-Team: Huddersfield players throw coach David Wagner in the air after securing safety. © Getty

Do you agree? Manchester City may have won the title, but at the other end of the table, financial featherweight Huddersfield Town pulled off the greatest survival in Premier League history.

As the final whistle blew on this year’s Premier League season yesterday, fans around the world reflected on a remarkable campaign. Manchester City won it with the highest points tally ever, while Liverpool secured the last vital Champions League spot.

But perhaps the greatest feat was achieved by the team that finished a lowly 16th. That team is Huddersfield Town A.F.C.

The small West Yorkshire club was billed as a no-hoper at the start of the season — having only just scraped promotion from the Championship, its team of relative unknowns were hot favourites to finish rock bottom.

Instead, with its Premier League survival confirmed, manager David Wagner is preparing for another year of brushing shoulders with football’s elite.

The feat was achieved with a game to spare following last week’s 1-1 draw with former champion Chelsea. After the match, Wagner described his team’s season as an “absolute over-achievement”, claiming that “it feels like another trophy”.

Wagner himself has received universal plaudits. The previously little-known coach was hailed a “leader of rare charisma and intelligence” by football writer Paul Doyle.

His success is made even more remarkable by Huddersfield’s distinct lack of riches. The club has the lowest wage bill in the whole league, and based on player worth, the squad is the least valuable (its £111 million valuation is barely 10% of Man City’s £1.05 billion rated team).

Last summer, Wagner spent around £40 million strengthening his squad with multiple signings — less than Man City spent on winger Bernardo Silva alone.

But as a team, the group equalled far more than the sum of its parts. Dogged and organised in defence, Huddersfield executed more tackles than any other team, and made the second-most interceptions.

Striker Steve Mounie is the team’s top scorer, but the team’s success came from determined teamwork; not reliance on one star player.

Should Huddersfield be considered the true champion of English football?

Underdogs

Definitely, some argue. Take into account its tiny budget, and Huddersfield is surely the best performing team in Britain. In an age when money so often buys success, this must be celebrated to the full — as must the team’s determination and teamwork. Man City may have won the league, but Huddersfield has won our hearts.

Not so fast, others respond. We must not get too sentimental. Professional sport is about winning trophies, and Man City deserve the highest praise for being the best team in Premier League history ― as its points tally proves. Huddersfield’s true test lies ahead, and only time will tell if the team can sustain its early success to become a stable premiership team.

You Decide

  1. Why do people find underdog stories so exciting?
  2. Is there too much money in football?

Activities

  1. Huddersfield succeeded because its players worked well as a team. What makes a good team? Write down the three skills that you think are crucial for good teamwork. Share them with your class. What is the most common skill that you came up with. Why is this?
  2. Surprising success stories are one of the great things about sport. Choose another sport that you are interested in, do some research, and find another example of a great underdog story. What qualities made the team/individual successful?

Some People Say...

“I am constantly being asked about individuals. The only way to win is as a team.”

Pelé

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
David Wagner joined Huddersfield in November 2015 when the club was perilously near the bottom of the Championship. The team’s subsequent promotion saw it in England’s top league for the first time since 1972. Brighton and Newcastle, promoted alongside Huddersfield, also secured Premier League survival this year.
What do we not know?
If Wagner will stay on as manager. His success has brought him much attention from other clubs around Europe. When asked about his future he preferred to focus on his immediate success: “first we celebrate some more,” he said.

Word Watch

Highest points
Man City finished its campaign with 100 points, beating the previous record of 95, which was set by Chelsea in the 2004-05 season.
Scraped
Huddersfield defeated Reading on penalties during last year’s goalless Championship play-off final, having finished fifth in the league.
Rock bottom
One of the many experts who predicted this was Mark Lawrenson, who has since apologised to the club. “At the start of the season, I had them absolutely, totally rock bottom. So they’ve done fantastic,” he said.
Little-known
His job at Huddersfield is only his second managerial role, having previously coached the Borussia Dortmund second team. He played for a number of German sides as a striker, and had a short spell in the United States national team.
Worth
Figures calculated by CIES Football Observatory.
More tackles
According to Premier League statistics, Huddersfield made 743 tackles — 57 more than the second-highest tackling team, Crystal Palace.
Top scorer
He has scored seven goals this year.