It’s been over 750 days since Huddersfield Town appointed David Wagner.
750 days characterised by turbulence, progression and eventual jubilation, culminating in that calm Christoph Schindler penalty at Wembley to send Wagner’s side – and the 40,000 crammed behind that same goal that Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond penetrated two years earlier – into delirium. Stuart Webber’s shrewdness had been vindicated.
As if following the most efficient of contemporary Sat Navs, Wagner had successfully transformed the underperforming team he inherited into a hungry and viable Championship force.
And the journey continues. Despite a recent blip and defeat at Everton following the long-winded yet somewhat grimly inevitable arrival of Big Sam at the weekend, Wagner’s warriors appear palpably unfazed by all they have been so far confronted with in their inaugural season in the Premier League. Mathias Jorgensen tackles. Aaron Moye orchestrates. Tom Ince dribbles. Wagner commands.
One of the most noteworthy observations I drew from my first trip to the John Smith’s Stadium earlier this year was the cult Wagner and his team have engendered around the club; a sense of collective unity that manifested itself so conspicuously both on the pitch and in the terraces.
While Huddersfield battled, their vocal following sung, an atmosphere facilitated by the presence of a drum, one that extinguished any attempts to respond from the loyal 800 or so members of the yellow who made the trip. A Ryan Bennett horror-show and a miserable 3-0 defeat rendered it one of the more forgettable away trips of last season.
A month and a half later and Webber’s change in allegiance had seen another German arrive in the second tier. Daniel Farke’s appointment was almost universally greeted with a zealous sense of optimism and expectation, a yellow and green fervour that only served to be intensified by the subsequent arrival of fifteen new faces at Carrow Road.
Like Webber’s old club 190 miles north-west and as the popular – although increasingly unbefitting – chant alludes to, a German influx had been experienced in Nelson’s county.
But the similarities end there. Four months down the line, this long-term project that Webber sought so ardently to replicate is stalling. People call for patience. People call for perseverance in a blind sense of irrational hope that ‘something special’ may eventually emerge.
Apologists for our recent run of misery advocate the significance of injuries. Nonsense. No wins in seven is unacceptable. Such alleged long term prosperity cannot be championed at the expense of such acute short term loss.
Wagner had a slow start too, people argue. True. But let’s examine the context. Wagner was appointed in November 2015, inheriting a squad he did not construct and one that – like Farke – he sought to radically restructure. With a team un-conducive to the style of football he wanted to implement and one he intended to completely reshape before launching a real challenge for promotion, he achieved a 19th place finish.
That summer brought profound change. Eighteen players departed, indicative of Wagner’s ambition and desire to eradicate any remnants of mediocrity in a youthful and energised new squad. Seventeen arrived, including the influential likes of Danny Ward, Aaron Moye, Elias Kachunga and Izzy Brown on loan and Michael Hefele, Rajiv van la Parra and the aforementioned Schindler.
All were assimilated into Wagner’s cult, indoctrinated with his footballing ideology and each went on to play influential roles in the club’s remarkable rise that was inaugurated so rapidly at the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
And then there’s us. Little old Norwich. The contrasts are manifold: Farke had a summer to build his team, a period of time to recruit the faces he believed were capable of facilitating promotion in such a vital season both on and off the field.
While Wagner’s slow start represented a more formative period before his summer of transformation took place at the end of the season, Farke’s has come just as the vital period has begun, with his failing and seemingly ineffective side that him and Webber constructed struggling to adapt to the demands of this division. Context is important.
I respect those who continue to endorse patience. I envy those who truly believe that Farke really can be the man to pioneer something special at the club we all adore. However, with the persistence of defensive frailties, the sheer lack of conviction in possession and the fundamental lack of penetration in the final third that I have witnessed on so many occasions this season, I struggle to conjure such optimism.
Realism exacerbates the concern further. With last week’s AGM revealing the scale of the club’s financial limitations and the futures of James Maddison, Alex Pritchard and the growingly divisive Nelson Oliviera appearing ominous, fans who predict a prolonged period in the Championship wilderness may possess a valid point.
This season was meant to be the season. We are all so aware of the economic challenges that will confront us when May elapses. It is so regrettable to even ponder the notion that we may have blown our chance.
Granted, the return of Tom Trybull and Alex Tettey will help. However, even during that magical September when both were so important for City, the style of football on display at Bramall Lane, the Riverside and the Madejski was the antithesis of what Farke had promised us during the summer.
His players were not the ‘protagonists’. We did not dominate ‘possession’. Instead, all those results were a case of taking a lead and defending tenaciously, a task we did accomplish with considerable success.
In terms of the future, who knows what to predict. The current situation is so alarming for City, not least owing to the acute lack of goals but also as a result of our increasing ineptitude at the back. As recent ticket purchases to visit Elland Road, St Andrews and the Pirelli show, I really do hope Farke can turn it around.
Regardless of how this season develops however, we must accept that the Huddersfield comparison has become clichéd, futile and inaccurate, and represents a flawed sense of false hope rather than a useful and convenient source of optimism.