Soccer Minnows is beginning a new feature this week. Every week we will publish a short profile of a smaller club manager. The goal is to provide a background of an up-and-coming manager who one day you may see in the Champions League. This week we start with “low-hanging fruit”. If you want to nominate a manager to profile, email us, Tweet at us, or post to Facebook.
When Bob Bradley was hired and quickly fired from Swansea City, many bemoaned the lack of opportunity for American managers in Europe. However, unbeknownst to many soccer fans, an American is positioning his club to join the Premier League in the near future. Or, as David Wagner would probably say, a German who was capped for the U.S.
David Wagner is the young hotshot manager of Huddersfield Town. In his mid-40s, he is most often associated with his mentor and friend Jurgen Klopp. He looks the part too. His rough beard and hipster glasses exude a sense of cool. The look also covers up what may be one of the brightest soccer minds in England.
Wagner is the son of an American father and German mother. He was raised in Germany and played exclusive there in his club career. He featured at Mainz for four seasons before moving to Schalke. At Mainz, he was the young player who came in to replace a legend – Klopp. At Schalke, he won a UEFA Cup with the club.
The American part of his career came into play in 1996. Thomas Dooley, also a dual national, recommended Steve Sampson give him a call-up. Wagner featured in the German youth system but had not been capped. Sampson had never seen Wagner play but called up anyway. Wagner finished with 8 caps for the U.S.
At the end of his playing career, Wagner made the radical decision to go back to school and study biology. As he told the Daily Mail, “I wanted to understand why a manager did something with me in training.” He spent five years in Darmstadt studying biology and other sciences to better understand player physiology. Then a familiar name called again. Wagner joined Klopp at Borussia Dortmund as an assistant and Dortmund reserve team coach.
Huddersfield and Wagner
When Klopp left Germany for Liverpool, Wagner had a decision to make. He and Klopp both felt it was time for him to try his hand at managing. Rather than stay in Germany, Wagner also went to England and Huddersfield Town. The Terriers are a historic club in England. They are the only English team to win three consecutive league titles but prior to Wagner’s hiring were in the process of a rejuvenation. The club had fallen to the fourth division in 2003 but had climbed back to the Championship in 2012. Previous manager Chris Powell had been let go after a poor record in his year plus managing the club.
Wagner’s managerial style has been positively compared to Klopp. The Terriers play an aggressive, up-tempo press that leads to some exciting soccer to watch. He also has imported a number of German players into the club. Team chemistry has also been a focus. The players and coaches took a few day sabbatical prior to the season to a remote island in Scandinavia. There the players and staff bonded in a place with no cell reception, plumbing, or modern conveniences. The result so far this season has been positive. The club started the season on a run that left the, leading the Championship. Now the Terriers are in fifth but are within points of second.
Wagner has been in demand, even as a manager for a short time. Media reports this winter had Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt reaching out to his representative to gauge his interest in their vacant managerial positions. To this point, however, Wagner has been nothing but publicly loyal to the Terriers. If he continues to win, however, it may become hard to keep him on the sidelines at John Smith’s Stadium.