Mystery man Jan Siewert can help restore Huddersfield's identity
Few are familiar with the former Borussia Dortmund II coach, but Premier League's bottom club have done their homework in scouting the German
“Of course there are similarities, but my name is Jan Siewert,” said Huddersfield Town’s new manager. He was trying to deflect comparisons with David Wagner, another German hired from Borussia Dortmund II, but the introduction felt all the more pertinent and necessary.
A television reporter approached a man in the crowd during Sunday’s defeat to Manchester City to ask if he was about to take over. “No, I’m Martin from Wakefield,” came the reply from a fan who bore a passing resemblance to the German. It says something about one of the lowest profile choices in Premier League history that he was not immediately identifiable.
It is also revealing of Huddersfield’s blueprint that there are common denominators with his beloved predecessor. Siewert may be his own man, but there will be a continuity of sorts: of background and ideas.
“There has been three years of success at this football club and we don’t want to rip that up and start again,” said chief executive Julian Winter. The revelation that Huddersfield had been tracking Siewert for two years illustrated how nonsensical the suggestions they would turn to a manager like Sam Allardyce were. A well-run club have had a strategy. They always realised Wagner, a man whose exploits had attracted attention in both England and Germany, could leave, even if the eventual circumstances made his departure sadder.
A third former manager of Borussia’s B team, Daniel Farke, now spearheading Norwich City’s promotion push, had been on Huddersfield’s radar last year. It all indicates a policy entailing a commitment to pressing football, which it may be easier to play in the Championship, where there is a lesser gap in ability, and a willingness to recruit from Germany.
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Because the sight of the league table, with Huddersfield distanced at the foot after taking a solitary point from 10 games, is deceptive. They overachieved to get up and stay up. The gulf in resources is such that they did not sign anyone close to being a first-choice player at a Premier League club or anyone their top-flight peers wanted. They were shopping in cheaper markets, which offered fewer guarantees. They sought overlooked and undervalued players and to forge a team greater than the sum of its parts. Which, despite this season’s struggles, they did.
The challenge for Siewert is not merely to continue the identity Wagner helped create, but to restore morale and, eventually, a winning habit. The timing of his appointment is inauspicious. He had to proclaim himself “confident” of their chances now, but the reality is they are going down. Huddersfield could be forgiven for hoping this season ends now. They have 15 games of purgatory remaining. It now feels about planning for the future while trying to procure enough results to foster optimism for next season.
Siewert’s in-tray may be overflowing. He could face a sizeable rebuilding job. Huddersfield have been outclassed this season, but the core of their defence and midfield – Terence Kongolo, Mathias Jorgensen, Christopher Schindler, Aaron Mooy and Philip Billing – could bring summer offers from top-flight clubs. His strikers have a solitary goal between them this season. The summer investment in wingers backfired, with Isaac Mbenza, Adama Diakhaby and Ramadan Sobhi, who has already been loaned out, contributing no goals and one assist. Their failure helps explain why sporting director Olaf Rebbe left.
And yet the sense Huddersfield have a style and a plan should help. They had what Winter termed “a running list of replacements” for Wagner. Siewert was not a knee-jerk reaction or a panic appointment. A club who need to box clever did their research. They knew who they were hiring. Even if most others did not.
Updated: January 22, 2019 04:47 PM