Despite perennial links to Chris Wilder, West Bromwich Albion look set to appoint former Huddersfield Town and Schalke manager David Wagner.
As per respected journalists Joseph Masi and John Percy, it is understood the Albion board unanimously favoured the appointment of former Sheffield United and Northampton Town man, Chris Wilder.
The strangely mysterious owner, Guochuan Lai, is thought to have vetoed such a move, however, following Wilder’s several public disagreements with the Blades’ ownership.
Albion subsequently interviewed several other candidates, with the German impressing Albion’s board the most.
Wagner started his managerial career with Borussia Dortmund’s B team, after initially serving as Jurgen Klopp’s number two; however, he is undoubtedly most revered for his time at Huddersfield Town.
Joining in November 2015, Wagner kept Huddersfield in the championship, despite the Terriers serving as favourites for relegation. In doing so, Wagner implemented the now-famous ‘Gegenpressing’ style of play, carried over from his time with Klopp in Germany.
Gegenpressing, German for ‘counter pressing’ had become synonymous with Borussia Dortmund and now with Liverpool, and has since spread throughout the world.
The essence of this philosophy is not only that teams press their opponents, but that they do so with an intense and particular intent when the ball is in opposition territory; in effect, they counter the counter-attack.
As is standard with most types of pressing, it demands the forward line to commit to a lot of running as they are expected to rapidly close down opposition defenders in order to force errors across the pitch.
Huddersfield embodied this style of play most impressively in Wagner’s second season in charge, where, once again, Wagner defied the odds to achieve promotion through the play-offs.Embed from Getty Images
There is no doubt Wagner overachieved in doing so, though brought in impressive talent from across the globe in Danny Ward and Aaron Mooy, on what can only be described as a shoe-string budget.
According to the bookmakers, Huddersfield Town surviving in the Premier League was near-impossible; The Guardian described it as one of the Premier League’s ‘greatest ever survival stories’.
And yet, Wagner led Huddersfield to a somewhat-comfortable 16th-placed finish, defying the odds for a third season in a row. While the Terriers had to tone down the intensity of their style of play, focusing more on defensive and rapid counter-attacking football.
The following season, Wagner and Huddersfield Town were relegated, finishing in 20th place. Interestingly, it was during the January window of that disappointing season which saw Albion forward Karlan Grant join Huddersfield Town. He went on to score four goals in 13 league appearances, which bodes will for the forward’s chances of excelling in the championship next season.
There is no doubt that by the time Huddersfield Town had been relegated, they had been overachieving for several years on the bounce; they also failed to strengthen well following survival, and so relegation should not be over-emphasised as a straight Wagner failure.
Wagner was not actually relegated with Huddersfield; he left in January when their fate was all but sealed.
As for his time with Schalke, starting just six months after leaving England, it got off to a good start. He won quite a few of his first games in charge.
The following season, however, Wagner’s side went sixteen games without a win, setting a new record in the process. This form was continued into the 2020-21 season, and Wagner was eventually sacked after just two games.
In terms of win percentage, Wagner’s time at Schalke was not too dissimilar from his time at Huddersfield; in Germany, his win percentage sits at 30%, winning and drawing 12.Embed from Getty Images
And so, Wagner’s managerial career so far can be put down as a mixed bag; against all odds, season on season, he achieved remarkable success with Huddersfield Town; yet, with slightly better odds with German heavyweight Schalke, Wagner failed to make his mark.
Given the almost-guaranteed success expected with preferred candidate Chris Wilder, this makes the appointment of Wagner somewhat of a gamble. He could replicate his success from previous seasons in the Championship and earn his second promotion out of that league. Or, he could take a rocky Albion side, in desperate need of an overhaul, and continue them on the downward trajectory they are currently on.
If Wagner’s appointment does go through as is expected, I guess we will know soon enough.