With or without Huddersfield, David Wagner is destined for the Premier League

David Wagner owes his career in coaching to Jurgen Klopp, but not in the way you might think. Wagner, a former teammate and long-time friend of Klopp’s, was, at one stage in his life, training to be a teacher. 

“I spoke to David,” Klopp explained. “I said, ‘You played as a professional. Now you studied two subjects at university. If you get your pro-license, who else will be as uniquely qualified as you? Give me one name’. He couldn’t think of one.”

The pair’s relationship is tightly woven, and began at Mainz but continued into management. Wagner was Klopp’s best man at his wedding, and at Dortmund he was a trusted lieutenant that oversaw the reserve team for four years. 

Understandably, such a closeness led to shared ideas. Wagner is playing the same sort of, ‘heavy metal football’ Klopp discussed, but with a slightly smaller band in West Yorkshire. From the press to the eagerness to win the ball high up the field, numerous principles from Dortmund are on show at Huddersfield, with Wagner’s self-professed ‘favourite’ goal from this season embodying those ideas.

Perhaps understandably though, Wagner has been eager to forge his own identity. “I am not Klopp, he is just my friend,” he said in March. 

To define Wagner simply as a, ‘Klopp Clone’ is dismissive of not only his work, but also the nuances of his approach. “We now call it the Terriers’ identity,” Wagner told the Guardian. “Exactly the style of football I love is like a terrier.”

Comparative to most Championship clubs, let alone Liverpool, money is tight at Huddersfield. Wagner has used the fewest number of players in the Championship this season, with two of his star turns — Aaron Mooy and Izzy Brown — loan signings from Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Elias Kachunga, signed for £1.1million from Ingolstadt recently, represents a rare expenditure. 

Such strict constraints have made Wagner’s achievements that much more impressive, taking the club from 19th last season to 5th this term. 

It could also be argued that Wagner is slightly more flexible than his good friend. In the second game of the season — a daunting trip to Newcastle United — Wagner chose a more compact style of play and invited the hosts to push forward. Huddersfield attempted to isolate Newcastle’s central defenders in wide positions, and eventually orchestrated a shock 2-1 win at St James’ Park. 

“The way he prepares you for a game, you feel you cannot know any more about the opponent,” said Chris Lowe, Huddersfield’s left-back. “He finds tiny details that make a big difference.”

Lowe, along with right-back Tommy Smith, have been key figures for Huddersfield this season. Wagner views the pair as important pieces in his side, with both men actively encouraged to attack and bomb forward. 

Underlying that fluid approach to positions is a bullet-proof confidence. 

“When he arrived, I was very hit and miss,” striker Nahki Wells said. “We all were. But he believes in us and tells us, ‘You make mistakes, you keep going’. We are not afraid to try stuff, and suddenly we’re all more confident and consistent.”

When it comes to the hiring of Wagner, credit though must go to Stuart Webber. The former Huddersfield football director (now at Norwich City) identified Wagner’s potential and coaxed him from Dortmund to the John Smith's Stadium. 

“The first phone call I received was from Stuart and at the end of our conversation he said the club had to find a new way, that everybody wanted to go in a new direction,” Wagner said. “He asked me: ‘Is it possible to do this [Dortmund] in England?’ I said: ‘Why not?’ It is possible to play this way everywhere in the world if you have open-minded players and an open-minded club.”

Hired in November 2015, the club narrowly avoided relegation in Wagner’s first season. Last summer he began fully integrating his detail heavy approach, signing 13 players and organising a unique pre-season.

“We went to Sweden for four days and three nights and we didn’t bring a ball,” Wagner said. “We were really in the wild, no electricity, no toilet, no bed, no mobile phone or internet. If you are hungry, take your rod and get a fish. If you are thirsty, go to the lake and put your bottle in. If you are cold, make a fire.”

Those moments, combined, built a platform for Huddersfield to succeed. Monday against Reading will represent a huge opportunity for the club — a whiff of English football’s top table. 

As for Wagner, the future is somewhat uncertain. His stock has risen dramatically this season, even if the club struggled towards the end of the 46 game league campaign. 

His methods, along with his ability to work on no money has likely alerted other clubs, and suggests he is destined for the Premier League, with or without his band of plucky Terriers.