David Wagner left Huddersfield at the right time
Football stats and philosophy from Kevin Pullein
So David Wagner is no longer manager of Huddersfield. He left last Monday. He should have gone with his chin held high.
How much did Huddersfield achieve while he was with them and what has gone wrong for them this season? The answers to those questions are an awful lot and not much.
Huddersfield are doing well to be bottom of the Premier League. By any rational analysis they should not be in the Premier League. They have punched above their weight and Wagner helped them learn how to land blows.
Huddersfield played in the Sky Bet Championship for five seasons from 2012-13 to 2016-17. For the first four seasons their wage bill was £13 million, give or take a few hundred thousand. Their average rank for wages was 19th out of 24. Their average position in the league table was 18th out of 24.
Wagner became manager halfway through 2015-16. The club accounts for that season said: “The board has planned several changes for the 16-17 season in terms of squad improvements, staff structures, training facility improvements and numerous operational changes to support a revised plan for the club. That plan aims to establish a club that thrives in the Championship, rather than just survives.”
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Instead of thriving in the Championship, Huddersfield won promotion to the Premier League. They went up through the playoffs.
Their wage bill that season would have been about £13m again but for promotion bonuses, which inflated it to £22m. The three clubs relegated from the Premier League were Hull, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, whose wage bills were £61m, £65m and £83m. Hull and Middlesbrough had just come up from the Championship.
Huddersfield are paying more in the Premier League but still a lot less than most. Wagner said of last season, their first after promotion: “We stayed up with the smallest budget ever in the Premier League.”
The wage bill is likely to have been one of the smallest, perhaps the smallest – not in absolute terms but relative to others in the same season. The accounts have not been published yet.
Sporting Intelligence produce an annual Global Sports Salaries Survey. They estimated the average basic wage of a first team player at Huddersfield as £1m last season and £1.2m this season. They ranked Huddersfield in the Premier League as 20th out of 20 last season and 19th out of 20 this season.
So it is remarkable that Huddersfield got into the Premier League and have stayed there for a second season. They are delighted for themselves. We should feel pleased for them.
How did Huddersfield manage to stay up last season and what has been different about this season? Today they are bottom of the table, eight points below the relegation line.
Last season Huddersfield scored a third of the goals in their games. This season they have scored a quarter of the goals in their games. Not much has changed. Goals for have been slightly less frequent and goals against slightly more frequent.
Arguably they have deserved better. Expected goals stats from FiveThirtyEight, Opta and Understat suggest that this season Huddersfield have deserved a third of the goals in their games, which is what they did score last season.
Expected goals stats are an estimate of how many goals a typical team would score and concede with the same number of shots from the same positions for and against. So Huddersfield may have played as well this season as they played last season.
The deeper problem for them is that even teams who score a third of the goals in their games nearly always get relegated.
Premier League teams who score a quarter of the goals in their games typically have 11 points after 22 games. This season Huddersfield have 11.
Premier League teams who score a third of the goals in their games typically have 30 points at the end of a season. Last season Huddersfield scored a third of the goals in their games and finished with 37 points – seven more.
Goals went in at convenient times for them. They tended to score when it mattered and concede when it did not matter. That could be a sign of well-directed effort. More often than not, though, such things hint at good fortune.
Eventually a Premier League team who score a third of the goals in their games will start to average 30 points. And 30 points would have meant relegation in each of the last 23 seasons – all those since a season was reduced to 38 games.
Huddersfield owner Dean Hoyle said he would not have sacked Wagner, who was the first to suggest changing manager. “I know the term mutual consent is often a byword for the manager being sacked in professional football, but this is truly a joint-decision.” Hoyle always comes across as a good person and this sounded genuine.
Hoyle praised Wagner warmly: “Under his stewardship, we have achieved things on the football pitch that surpass anything in modern memory, and that have gone well beyond my wildest expectations as chairman and as a fan. Under David’s management, we took this club to the highest position it has held in almost 50 years and created memories that will last forever.”
Probably Wagner felt that he had done all he could at Huddersfield and now was the right time to leave. What an adventure they shared.
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