Let’s make one thing clear from the off: David Wagner has done a fantastic job at Huddersfield Town in both the Premier League and Championship, so the fella’s success should go without questioning.
Keeping a fairly standard Championship squad afloat in the top division is no mean feat and Wagner evidently has a skill for management.
But, as is typical in football, there have been recent whispers of an absurd suggestion gathering worrying momentum. The sort of people who sip cans of craft ale through thickly bearded lips have been talking again.
They reckon David Wagner deserves Manager of the Year.
Well, they don’t. But, they tell everyone they do. They’re thinking outside the box, Grandad.
In reality, it’s a daft suggestion and seems to be founded purely on the fact that it’s wrong. No one else agrees with it and so that bandwagon is one that screams cool like a lumberjack’s flannel shirt.
It’s not just your mate Maximilian saying it down the local micro-brewery, however, genuine footballing experts and people who should know better have also taken up this gnarly viewpoint.
Jürgen Klopp volunteered his countryman’s name when listing the gaffers he felt should be in contention for the award.
He excluded Crystal Palace’s Roy Hodgson, mind; a man actually nominated and deserving.
It’s all hypothetical, because Wagner hasn’t been nominated himself (perhaps unfairly, with Huddersfield’s safety having been secured after the nominations were finalised) but let’s take a look at just why the hipsters have got it wrong this time.
To start, it was a close run thing. The bottom half of the Premier League has, at times, been tighter than Daniel Levy’s purse strings and relegation was a very real threat to at least ten teams at one point.
We’ve never seen a season so volatile in its changes and still – at the time of writing – only eight points separate going down from finishing 10th. Staying up became a balancing act: a mixture of tactical nous and sheer bloody luck. Huddersfield enjoyed large chunks of both.
But the tactical prowess exhibited by Wagner wasn’t the sort of structured overhaul one might expect from a potential Manager of the Year. Wagner was pragmatic in style and got Huddersfield doing what they needed to do, regardless of what that meant.
There’s nothing wrong there, naturally. It’s the basic instinct of the game. But at times this season, Wagner had Huddersfield playing some truly dirty football.
The whole team seemed on occasion as if they’d been primed to lump, bully and endanger the opposition to get the necessary and desired result. Admittedly, that’s part of football. But it doesn’t scream great management, does it?
Huddersfield have so far completed the most tackles of any team in the league – 726 – and, whilst they haven’t received too many yellow cards – 61, with West Ham receiving 73, the most – many of those tackles were crunching, old school, Championship-style challenges that have left opponents for dead or, worse, in the physio room for weeks at a time.
The Terriers’ dogged determination to survive has been admirable, but it hasn’t been pretty or clean.
They’ve scored the second fewest goals and had the second fewest shots of anyone this year, as embodied by their recent draw with Chelsea.
As against Manchester City the week before, the Town players made things difficult for their opposition and made attacking an impossible mission. Bodies stood firmly on the line and frustration became the order du jour for both sides in different shades of blue.
It’s in the rugged willpower shown by the players – though instilled by the gaffer – where we should find most respect.
So, obviously, David Wagner has excelled himself at Huddersfield.
But this has been a season of excellent management and it’s been one battled with resolution and pragmatism. Wagner had got his side doing what they needed to do and he’s been rewarded handsomely for doing so.
Don’t cheapen the MOTY accolade by throwing out any remotely successful name and don’t think it’s cool to be wrong.
Congratulations, Huddersfield and Mr Wagner, but it’s time for a dose of reality.