Pressure cooking Bilic at West Ham. 

In the pressure cooker that has become the London Stadium, Slaven Bilic cuts a distressed figure. Try as he may, it is proving difficult for the former Croatia defender to get anything from his West Ham United players anymore.

The 3-0 reverse at home to Brighton on Friday night could prove to be the final nail in the Bilic coffin. It also the 22nd time The Hammers have conceded three of more times in a game under Slaven Bilic. This is a damning indictment of his time there.

The Brighton result was seen by many, if not all, of the West Ham faithfully as unacceptable, the final straw in what has been a lamentable beginning to the season for the Irons. The club find themselves sitting in 17th position in the Premier League, two points adrift of safety, and with the bottom three sides all still to play this weekend could see themselves drop into the relegation zone come tea time on Saturday afternoon. This situation could potentially prove to be the end of Bilic at West Ham.

Even after looking at the sorry state of the league position, the, at times, egregious defensive displays, the lack of fire power up front – West Ham have scored just 8 goals in their 9 league fixtures this season – it is easy to possess a degree of sympathy with Bilic. He has been hung out to dry on occasion by his bosses at the club. None more so than this season, when after a poor start to the campaign owner David Sullivan publicly apportioned the blame on a failure to sign players on Bilic. In a statement released on the club’s website Sullivan spoke of how The Hammers had been close to signing William Carvalho, the Sporting midfielder and a player Bilic said he wanted, only for a deal to collapse. This led Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho to label Sullivan, and his co-owner David Gold, as the “dildo brothers” and deny claims they almost signed Carvalho.

Further cracks were beginning to appear in the relationship between owners and manager when Bilic, encouraged to react to the dildo brothers comment, instead of coming to the defence of his bosses, said “it made me laugh” and that he found it funny.

It was not the first occasion of which Sullivan and Gold had criticised Bilic over summer recruitment. Sullivan in particular had blamed Bilic over the failure to sign players such as Grzegorz Krychowiak and Renato Sanches, who signed for West Bromwich Albion and Swansea respectively. Bilic, unhappy with the decision of his bosses to go public instead of speaking to him privately, came out defending his corner, stating that “this is not exactly what happened with those two you mentioned” after being asked about Sullivan’s comments.

It is true that most of the sympathy afforded to Bilic will more than likely come from fans of a neutral persuasion. If you are a West Ham fan then it is what you see week in week out on the pitch that you form your judgements on. Whether you are in support of Bilic or not, ultimate football comes down to one thing. Results. The common cliché dragged out for occasions such as these is that the sport we so admire is a results based business. Unfortunately for Bilic this is a fact.

Across last season and this West Ham have played a total of 57 games under Slaven Bilic. They have been victorious in only 19 of these. This is yet another statistic that further serves to condemn Bilic to what most expect to be his dismissal.

So who replaces the 49-year-old should his services be dispensed of? Could it be Carlo Ancelotti? Recently a free agent after being sacked by Bayern Munich, Ancelotti is thought to be taking time out before a return to management but could he be tempted to return to the English capital? What of Thomas Tuchel? He has previously been linked with the West Ham post and the former Borussia Dortmund head coach is currently out of a job after leaving the club in May of this year.

There also appears to be a race for the services of Burnley manager Sean Dyche. His achievements in Lancashire only strengthen his case of making another step on the managerial ladder. The former Watford manager would certainly get West Ham’s shaky defence restored to some degree of stability, and with players like Marco Arnautovic, Lazini, and Antonio at West Ham, added to Javier Hernandez up front, counter attacking football, which Dyche has almost perfected at Burnley, would be conceivable at West Ham.

Or maybe even a return for Sam Allardyce? For much of the reasons Sean Dyche would be a good fit for The Hammers, Allardyce could also become a strong candidate for the position. He was often criticised for his style of play in his previous spell at the club but there’s no denying his ability to bring relative stability to a struggling club.

Whatever happens over the coming days at West Ham United, something needs to change. If Bilic is afforded more time then the players and board have to accept their share of the responsibility which comes with the territory of carrying a football club up, or down, a division. Should he be sacked then it is of the utmost importance that the owners get the next appointment absolutely right.

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Marco Silva. The foreigner proving the pundits wrong. 

When Marco Silva was appointed Hull City manager on January 5th 2017, the appointment left many scratching their heads, none more so than former Arsenal player turned pundit Paul Merson.

Merson was not hesitant in unleashing a derogatory rant in front of the Sky television cameras shortly after Silva came to England. His insistence that he himself could win the league with Olympiacos, and that it was easy to win 17 games in a row in Greece, made the quips even more bizarre. Phil Thompson, a colleague of Merson’s at Sky, stated it was a “slap in the face” of British managers. The former Liverpool player and coach also asked the question of Silva “what does he know about Hull?”

As it turns out Marco Silva could have known very little about Hull City but the one thing he does know a lot about is football. And how to manage football teams.

On his arrival at the helm of Hull City, the Tigers were in trouble. The club was bottom of the Premier League and Silva would be tasked with ensuring survival over the remaining 18 league fixtures. Despite this feat not being achieved, he had given Hull City a fighting chance, he had given them hope. His impressive home record of being unbeaten in 7 consecutive games in the league before suffering defeat in his last two was not enough to ensure the Tigers survival.

Following Hull City’s relegation to the second tier Marco Silva decided against taking up the option of an extra year. Instead becoming somewhat of a free agent, and there would be no shortage of clubs vying for the signature of the Portuguese coach.

There was talks with Porto. A move back home and also a chance to manage in the Champions League. It was rumoured strongly that Crystal Palace would be the club to appoint Silva before opting for Frank De Boer. In the end it was Watford who secured his services.

Marco Silva was officially appointed head coach of Watford on 27 May 2017, replacing Italian coach Walter Mazzarri. Watford suffered under Mazzarri. The Hornets had slumped to a 17th place finish after a dismal run of six consecutive defeats to end the season. Once Marco Silva arrived at Vicarage Road he immediately got to work. Explaining to the squad the rewards for being disciplined both on the field of play and off it. The Portuguese wasted no time in implementing his philosophy, the way he thinks the game of football ought to be played, onto his new squad. There was summer signings following Silva into Vicarage Road. It is unfortunate that due to injuries Silva has been robbed of some of the talents at his disposal. Highly rated midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah was picked up from Chelsea for a fee thought to be around £5.6m but after featuring in the opening five game of the season, he succumbed to a knee injury picked up in training and is expected to be out until the middle of November at least.

Still this has not stopped Marco Silva from guiding Watford to their best ever start to a top flight season. The club currently sat aloft in 4th position in the Premier League, it has been an impressive start. They have lost only once in the league, albeit a 0-6 annihilation at home to Manchester City, and are currently unbeaten away from home. Victories on the road at Bournemouth, Southampton, and Swansea, plus a draw at Tony Pulis’ West Brom have ensured Watford have gone four games unbeaten away from Vicarage Road for the first time since the 2014/15 season, when the club won promotion from the Championship into the Premier League.

Players have spoken of Silva’s preparation of opponents already this season and it was the fixture at the Liberty Stadium in September where we caught a glimpse of the true capabilities of Marco Silva. A true look into his reading of a game, and of the opposition. Watford were a goal to the good at half time and looking comfortable, good value for their lead. Silva had seen that Swansea had been pushing forward towards the end of the first half, trying to adopt a three-man attack. The Portuguese could have been forgiven for keeping things as they were, but he had anticipated the changes Paul Clement was about to make. Indeed the Swans did come out with two strikers and Ayew playing just off them. Silva had also sent his Watford side out with a change of plan. He switched from a back four – used throughout the campaign until this moment – to a back three to combat Swansea’s changes. I took time for his side to adjust and before long Swansea had equalised, but instead of seeing this as an opportune moment to revert to what was successful in the opening 45 minutes, he stuck with the plan and got his reward. With Watford pressing into the last minutes, the found a way through and Richarlison, the 20-year-old summer recruit from Fluminense, and one of the buys of the summer so far, crashed home the winner.

Sterner tests had come at home for Marco Silva and Watford with an opening day draw with Liverpool displaying the character we have seen throughout the season thus far. The defeat to City, they were not the first, and they certainly are not the last team to be put the sword by Pep Guardiola’s array of attackers. Arsenal were the third big test to arrive at Vicarage Road. A fixture in season’s past, perhaps even the present season, would be classed as a so-called “bonus game”. A game in which Watford were not expected to be victorious therefore any points gained would therefore be the bonus. Arsenal had read the script. With six minutes of the first half remaining Per Mertesacker put them ahead on this, his first outing of the league season. Ironically it was Mertesacker who was singled out by Watford captain Troy Deeney when he questioned the Gunners lack of “cojones” in his post match interview. “Whenever I play against Arsenal, I’ll go up and think ‘let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’ Deeney goes on “I came on today and jumped with Mertesacker, I didn’t have to jump, actually. I nodded it down and the crowd got up – ‘yeah! we have got somebody who can win it.’ And they all just backed off.”

Deeney had arrived off the bench as a substitute for Andre Gray and in less than 10 minutes had equalised from the spot. With the home crowd growing ever more vociferous in the final stages, up popped Tom Cleverly to fire the ball into the roof of the net for the Hornets third 90th minute winner in a row.

Next up for Watford and Silva is a huge test for their impressive away from. A trip to Stamford Bridge, a visit to Antonio Conte’s Premier League champions Chelsea. With defeats in their last two games, Conte’s constant bemoaning of a lack of depth to his squad, and the never-ending saga of a return to Italy for the former Azzurri boss, who would write Marco Silva’s side off here?

It will not quite be dizzying heights that the late Graham Taylor’s Watford side reached, finishing 2nd in the top flight in the 1982/83 season, but Silva may just be on for guaranteeing Watford’s best ever finish to a Premier League season. If he achieves this, will the big boys come calling? Merson’s old side Arsenal could do worse than look towards Marco Silva as a replacement for Arsene Wenger.

Unknown Quantity Proving Quality at Leeds United.

When Thomas Christiansen was announced as the new manager of Leeds United, he was an unknown quantity to say the least. The former Bundesliga top scorer and Apoel manager could not have sat atop many Leeds supporters list of choices for new manager. Almost a month into the new season, though, he and many of his relatively unknown signings are providing plenty of quality at the Elland Road club.

After new owner Andrea Radrizzani acquired 100% control of Leeds from controversial former owner Massimo Cellino, it was thought the top priority would be to tie down boss Garry Monk to a long-term contract. For reasons not made entirely clear by either party, talks with the former Swansea boss never reached the conclusion many fans had hoped it would. Monk left the club in May. With the departure of Monk, under whom Leeds had enjoyed their best season since the 2010/11 campaign, it was difficult to envisage which direction the club would be heading in. Radrizzani, seemingly, knew all along.

Following the practically unknown Thomas Christiansen into Elland Road would be a host of summer signings. Many of these signings were also strangers to much of the Leeds United support. With a manager and much of his playing staff having no experience of the division, United fans expecting consolidation, perhaps a mid table finish, could be forgiven.

After a mixed pre season (arguably the best result being a 1-1 draw with Borussia Monchengladbach) it was time to see what Leeds were really about this season. The fixture list pitted United against newly promoted Bolton Wanderers in their opening Championship clash. It was the first opportunity for many of the Leeds United fans to cast their eyes over the summer signings. Any doubts over the new regime were swiftly cast aside when Kalvin Phillips opened the scoring after just 7 minutes. Leeds cruised into a 3-1 lead by half time and, despite Bolton scoring a second half spot kick, were comfortable in victory. The game had showcased some of the quick, attacking play that would become systematic under Thomas Christiansen.

Port Vale, under former Leeds United midfielder Michael Brown, were the first side to visit Elland Road in competitive action this season. Despite Vale taking the lead through another of United’s old boys, Michael Tonge, the free-flowing attacking play seen at Bolton three days earlier was back in full effect. United swept aside the League Two side with ease. A 4-1 victory helped along by the electric Samu Saiz scoring a hat trick. The summer addition already looks to be a superb piece of business, brought in from Spanish side Huesca for a fee believed to be around £3.1m.

Following the impressive Carabao Cup game at home to Port Vale came two goalless draws at Elland Road. Blanks drawn despite having opportunities to win both matches. The fact the draws came against two of last seasons better performers gave reason enough for not dwelling on the results too much.

The next fixture however saw Leeds travel to recently relegated Sunderland, managed by former Leeds boss Simon Grayson. This was seen as arguably the toughest test of the season to date. Recently a Premier League side, the Black Cats had started well. Notching a win and two draws in the league when many thought they would be in big trouble once more. Ahead of the trip the speculation surrounding the future of Leeds’ 30-goal-striker last season, Chris Wood, was rife. There was word a bid from Premier League club Burnley had been accepted, casting doubt over whether Wood could feature for Leeds at the Stadium of Light. Hours before kick off the news broke that Chris Wood had informed Leeds United of his desire to sit the game out. From the outside looking in this appeared a disaster for Leeds. From the inside, particularly Thomas Christiansen, there was no such feeling. Leeds went on to beat Sunderland 0-2. Samu Saiz, we will hear this name a lot throughout this season, was involved in everything that was positive for the visitors, including getting on the score sheet once again. In his interview following the full-time whistle, Thomas Christiansen was inevitably asked about the future of last seasons top scorer, Chris Wood. His response was telling. “There is no one above Leeds”, Christiansen says, “today was proof again that we are not winning games because of the individual player, but as the team.” The departure of Wood would be confirmed two days later.

An impressive start in the league and cup was set to continue as Leeds were drawn against opposition once more from League Two, South Wales outfit Newport County in the second round of the Carabao Cup. The tie was originally drawn as a home fixture for Newport but the resurfacing of the pitch at Rodney Parade meant they were granted permission to switch the tie to Elland Road. A touch of class from Andrea Radrizzani preceded the fixture when he revealed Leeds would be allowing Newport to keep their percentage of the gate. The second cup game of the season brought the second cup hat trick of the season. This time Kemar Roofe, given the nod up front, would be heading home with the match ball, turning the tie after a poor start from United. Samu Saiz, him again, would not be letting Roofe take all the plaudits, mind. Once again he made sure he got his goal and Ronaldo Vieira wrapped up a 5-1 victory and progress to the 3rd round.

Given the likelihood of Chris Wood not featuring in the cup tie against Newport should he have still been a Leeds player, there was still a question mark as to how his departure would affect Leeds in the league. After sweeping aside Sunderland on their own patch without him, another stern test awaited at the home of Nottingham Forest. The Reds had begun the campaign rather impressively under Mark Warburton with 5 victories from a possible 6 in all competitions. There were no match for Thomas Christiansen’s men as another comprehensive away performance was delivered. Leeds running out 0-2 winners after goals from Roofe, enjoying his role as the front man, and the ever impressive Ezgjan Alioski.

After all the talk of how impressive last season had been under Garry Monk, the start to that season and this could hardly be more dissimilar. After five league games of the 2016/17 season, Leeds had found themselves sitting rather worryingly in 21st position with only the solitary victory their name. By contrast, this season, after what would more than likely be defined as a tougher start, Leeds United find themselves perched as high as 3rd place, unbeaten in all competitions.

After making 17 summer signings in the window, the majority of them relatively unknown and rookies to the division, this seems a remarkable beginning. The club finally looks to be in good hands, being run the correct way, the fans are enjoying what they are witnessing, and there is truly no doubt that Thomas Christiansen, the unknown quantity, is proving quality at Leeds United.

Mourinho should be careful. He is giving his players excuses to fail.

Jose Mourinho should be wary of the way he goes about his press conferences in the run up to the Europa League final. The constant rolling out of excuses potentially gives his players one should they fail to win on 24th May in Stockholm.

Manchester United face Ajax in the Europa League final but Mourinho’s continued griping over schedules, fatigue and almost anything you can think of, could surely have a detrimental effect on his squad. The negativity surrounding the build up to Manchester United fixtures recently is usually followed by an uninspiring performance from the team on the field.

Take for instance the game at Old Trafford in which Jose Mourinho’s side hosted newly promoted Burnley. Prior to that fixture Mourinho made sure to avert the public to the fact his side had just played five games in quick succession allowing for only two days rest in between. That performance against the Clarets wasn’t all bad, and but for some woeful finishing from United’s attacking threats, and a superb performance from Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, Manchester United would have run out comfortable winners. They did not, of course. Drawing the game 0-0 with yet another under performance from the team in which Jose Mourinho had already made excuses for his players to do so.

There have been other instances of course. Prior to the game at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal in May, Jose Mourinho called it “impossible” to go there and play for the win after having to play in the Europa League away at Celta Vigo the previous Thursday. United would go on to lose the game at Arsenal 2-0. Again a poor performance excused beforehand by their manager.

Bemoaning the draw at Old Trafford with Swansea before this, Mourinho claiming he had now given up and lost all interest in the Premier League and would rest his players for games in the competition, again was reason enough to expect dismal performances from his side. United have only won one of their five fixtures since the Swansea game, none in the Premier League. The performances of Mourinho’s side have left an awful lot to be desired, even for the most staunchest of Manchester United supporters.

There is no denying that the scheduling for clubs also participating in European competitions could be, and should be, handled more appropriately, but if you wish to be the manager of a top club challenging for honours both domestically and on the European front, this is simply something you must do. The schedule is always going to be packed. It is the same for clubs across Europe who aim to deliver European success.

One of Jose Mourinho’s more favoured justifications for failure is the fact his players have played so many matches this season. This is indeed true, but in the 2008-9 season Sir Alex Ferguson still managed to win the Premier League, win the League Cup, and reach the final of the Champions League, albeit losing to Barcelona, despite playing two more games than this current Manchester United squad will do this season.

There is also the case of the Chelsea squad of 2006-7 who, under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, played more fixtures than any other team in the entire history of the Premier League, managing to win the FA Cup, the League Cup, and finish second in the Premier League, whilst also reaching the Champions League semi-final stage.

The excuse of too many games and fatigue just does not stand up. The Manchester United squad has under performed. Allowed to do so by their manager, forgiven for it, even. This is a squad that is the most expensively assembled squad in history, costing over £600m. A squad that includes over 30 players that should have the resources to cover a schedule such as this without question. Mourinho’s persistent moaning over just about anything has given this squad an almost free pass to fail. Any points dropped against the likes of Swansea, Burnley, Southampton, sides that Manchester United should be seeing off with ultimate ease, are lost in the reasoning that this squad and their manager are hard done to.

There is no debate here that this Manchester United squad should have enough to over come Peter Bosz’s young Ajax side in the wonderfully named Friends Arena on May 24th. Should the Red Devils fail to deliver a performance and silverware in Stockholm, their manager, Jose Mourinho, would have already given them the excuses to do so.

Leeds miss out on Play-offs but time is now to build for next season.

After occupying the top six positions in the Championship for a large part of the season the month of April put paid to Leeds United’s play-off hopes. There is no time like the present to begin working towards the new season though and guaranteeing Garry Monk is still in charge for it must be the number one priority at Leeds.

When Garry Monk was appointed the new head coach of Leeds United he was only given a 12 month contract. In fairness, given owner Massimo Cellino’s penchant for sacking managers, you would be forgiven for thinking he would not be around long enough to even see that out. He has, and though it is understood there is an option to extend that by a further year, it should be in Leeds United’s best interest to give Monk a longer contract.

The appointment of Monk at Leeds was met by sincere optimism from Leeds fans and by an element of surprise by fans of other clubs. After the employment of some lesser known names as managers in recent times under Cellino, Darko Milanic and David Hockaday to name a couple, it felt Leeds finally had a real manager. The task at hand was nonetheless a huge one for Monk.

Monk would realise as early as the opener to the campaign, a 3-0 loss away at QPR, just how big the job was. There was the same errors in defence, the same lack of fight in the middle, and a lack of firepower up front.

After a poor start to the season, losing twice and drawing once in his first three league games, a breakthrough arrived at the home of rivals Sheffield Wednesday. There were signs of what Monk was hoping to achieve at Leeds. By the end of the first month of the season, Monk had been able to bolster his squad slightly, particularly at the back. Club captain Sol Bamba was encouraged to leave and in came Pontus Jansson on loan, who will sign permanently in the summer, and Luke Ayling who was signed from Bristol City. With Kyle Bartley in from Swansea on a season loan and Gaetano Berardi soon to take over from Charlie Taylor at full back, it was a back four that would become one of the reasons Leeds would push for the play-offs.

Another reason for this, and one of the main factors, was the improvement of Chris Wood in attack. Last season the New Zealand international managed just 13 goals in all competitions and had come in for some criticism from parts of the Elland Road stadium. Since the arrival of Garry Monk, and without question James Beattie, Chris Wood has been transformed into one of the hottest strikers in England. His tally of 30 goals in all competitions is currently only bettered by Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero throughout the four divisions in England. His goals propelled Leeds United up the Championship table.

After the season rather fizzled out in the final month for Leeds, it seemed obvious that a lack of investment from the board in January had contributed to the team running out of steam and falling short of the play-offs. The lack of another centre forward to take the pressure of the shoulders of Chris Wood perhaps. A lack of goals coming from midfield also becoming a factor.

As Garry Monk confirmed he is to sit down and talk in-depth with co-owner Andrea Radrizzani, currently in talks to complete a 100% takeover of the club, about his future, investment will be one of the key components of the plan to move forward. Monk has stated he is happy to stay at Leeds United only if the board share his vision of how the club can progress.

The board have been made well aware, as the season came into its final stages and Monk’s contract wound down, just what the fans feel is of the utmost importance in the off-season. That is securing Garry Monk long-term. Every week whether at a sold out Elland Road, or a packed away end on the road, Garry Monk’s name has been sung so loudly and so passionately it would be difficult for anybody not to take note.

After years of feeling let down, taken for granted, and disgruntled with everything from happenings off the field to performances on it, Garry Monk has seemingly bonded the club and the fans once again. He has turned Elland Road into somewhat of a fortress again, Leeds lost only 5 of the 23 home games in the Championship this season conceding just 16 times in the process. Out of the top ten sides in the division only 2nd placed Brighton conceded less at home.

So despite missing out on the play-offs this time around, now is not the time to dwell on what might have been. It is time to do what is right and allow Garry Monk to improve on what he has begun to build at Leeds United this season. To let Monk walk away this summer after not agreeing to allow him to stay on as manager would be criminal. United have not finished as high in the division since the 2010/11 season. A series of mid table finishes before Monk’s arrival are enough proof of the job he has done already here and also serve as a warning to where the club could be again if his services were not retained.

Ultimately the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs this year could be forgiven if the right moves are made this summer. Starting with securing Garry Monk to a proper contract.

David Wagner leading Huddersfield to the Promised Land?

David Wagner is transforming Huddersfield Town into arguably the most attractive side to watch in the Championship. His high intensity, high pressing, all action style of play, more recently labelled as “gegenpressing”, has The Terriers currently occupying 3rd place in the division.

When Wagner arrived in Huddersfield on 5th November 2015, following the dismissal of Chris Powell, Town were sat in 18th place in the Championship, having only been the victors in 3 of their 15 league fixtures up to that date. The three victories they had amassed came against the three sides, Charlton, Bolton, and MK Dons, who would eventually be relegated come the end of the season. In appointing David Wagner there is no denying that Huddersfield Town chairman Dean Hoyle had taken a risk. Unknown to many in England, David Wagner became the first manager from outside the UK and Ireland to be appointed by Huddersfield.

He was dealt the thankless task of keeping Huddersfield Town in the division. There was work to be done and Wagner was straight to it, immediately doubling training sessions after his confirmation as manager. A work in progress, the former Schalke player lost his first two games as manager, a 3-1 defeat at the home of Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday, and a 2-0 defeat to Middlesborough in his first home game in charge. Huddersfield ended the 2015/16 campaign in 19th place, a further 10 victories and 6 draws ensuring survival, but without a win in their last four league outings, including a 4-0 defeat at Ashton Gate, and a 5-1 home defeat to Brentford, fans would be forgiven for still being sceptical ahead of the following season.

Wagner knew his first pre season at the club would be crucial to his teams league campaign. He needed a togetherness, an unbreakable spirit. The squad departed for Sweden on a pre season tour without the item that would otherwise be first on, or of high priority, on the list of things take, a football. On the islands off Sweden, and without a football in sight, David Wagner had his players canoe from island to island. Two players to a canoe, and two players to a tent once they reached the island. The pairs were often rotated also. Wagner’s logic behind this was to encourage the players to have conversations with one another about anything and everything, not specifically football. He wanted to the players to learn about each other, about their backgrounds, families and the like. Wagner is a firm believer of the closer the players are bonded off the pitch, the greater the results will be for the team on the pitch.

Among other items left behind were mobile phones, another way of encouraging conversation. There were no toilets, no electricity, no food, no water. If the players were hungry they would have to pick up their fishing rods and catch their own dinner. Likewise if thirsty, get your bottle and head down to the lake, fill it up. If players were cold in the camp, make a fire. Rather than a pre season tour, it was shaping up to be a survival camp expedition. Wagner and his colleagues specifically made it an uncomfortable experience for the players simply because, as Wagner himself puts it, “in the Championship there is no comfort zone.” They were so out of their comfort zone, they did not even know the result of the Euro 2016 quarter finals.

Despite people outside the club expecting a backlash to this type of pre season, Wagner found his decision vindicated. The squad was knitted tightly together as one, even the 13 new players he had brought to the club either permanently or on loan bought into it.

Despite a loss in the EFL Cup to lower league opposition in Shrewsbury Town, The Terriers soared to the top of the Championship. Winning away at St James’ Park, and a 1-1 draw away at Aston Villa, two of the sides considered among the strongest in the division, Huddersfield were exceeding even their own expectations. With 8 victories and a draw from their opening 11 league fixtures, Wagner had overseen Huddersfield Town embark on their most successful start to a league campaign in the entire history of the club. With a victory over rivals Leeds United at Elland Road, Wagner’s second in two games against them, along the way, victory over Ipswich Town ensured Huddersfield would head into the international break sitting atop the Championship.

With many presuming, correctly, that Huddersfield Town were punching well above their weight in the Championship, the slump after the international break was met with an air of inevitability from outside of the club. The feeling was that Huddersfield Town would now fall away and descend down the league. With a solitary victory in eight matches following the break there was not a lot of evidence to suggest the thoughts of the majority of fans outside of Huddersfield were false. Huddersfield had fallen outside of the top six for the first time this season.

What followed this slump was a remarkable run of eighteen matches in all competitions in which The Terriers have lost only two. One of those losses coming away at the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City after making nine changes.

In the midst of Huddersfield’s latest remarkable run of form, take the cup games away and Town have lost only 1 of their last 15 league games, came the Yorkshire derby against Leeds United. With both sides occupying the top six, it could be argued that this was the biggest derby in which the two clubs had faced off in a very long time, in all probability forever. After taking the lead through the ever impressive Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown, Huddersfield were pegged back by Leeds United talisman Chris Wood. It was not until an 89th minute winner scored by Michael Hefele, a free transfer from Dynamo Dresden, that wild jubilation and celebration was sparked. Wagner bolted out of his technical area and off down the pitch to join the wild celebrations of his players, and his now adoring fans. It was an act David Wagner would pay for, a fine of £6,000 and a two-match suspension, but one which proved the meaning of such a big result. If you did not know David Wagner, you would be forgiven for thinking the German was born and bred in Huddersfield, such was his participation in the celebrations after victory over Leeds.

Ultimately David Wagner continues to work wonders for Huddersfield Town. He has turned the John Smith’s Stadium into a fortress. Nobody looks forward to a trip to West Yorkshire anymore, and that includes the so-called big boys of the division. Huddersfield have won 12 and drawn 2 of their 16 games played at home this season. Only Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan Athletic have managed to take maximum points away from their trips to the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield have amassed 65 points in the Championship this season, and with 13 games remaining, already have 14 more points on the board than they ended up with last season.

With only Newcastle United out of the Championship’s current top six left to play, The Terriers look a certainty to make the Play-offs and if results go their way, look the team best placed to launch an assault on the top two. A lot of the way Huddersfield’s season has gone, and the way they have performed, has to go down to the manager. The togetherness and spirit that David Wagner knew was crucial to his side before they embarked on the survival expedition of Sweden in the summer is firmly in place. The risk that chairman Dean Hoyle took in appointing the relatively unknown manager has paid off. The rewards could be great. David Wagner looks to be leading Huddersfield all the way to the Promised Land.

Ranieri Sacked but Players Should Harbour Blame.

Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City this week. Sacked less than a year after guiding the club to the Premier League title, and a month after being crowned the best manager in the world by FIFA.

When Ranieri walked into the King Power Stadium to sit in the Leicester City hot seat, he took over a side who the previous season had survived thanks to a late surge of victories, who otherwise were rooted to the foot of the table for the majority of the season. A team with a playing staff who, prior to last season, was not exactly eye catching. Ranieri took the reigns after controversial manager Nigel Pearson was sacked at the end of the previous season. His appointment was met with uncertainty, with many predicting The Foxes may even be relegated under the stewardship of the Italian. We all know how that story played out.

Leicester City were crowned champions at the conclusion of Ranieri’s first season at the helm. A remarkable achievement that nobody saw coming. He took a squad with distinctly average professionals and turned them into a winning machine. He found a formula that worked to the benefit of his players. The pace at which his Leicester City team would move the ball through the team was frenetic, catching out high defensive lines of opposition time and again. It was an achievement that rarely comes around, it may never happen again that such a club will win the elite league in English football. A magnificent feat.

Following the title victory, Leicester also qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history. Ranieri could do no wrong. Fast forward nine months, and Ranieri is gone. Sacked after a poor run in the league, winning the title never even bought him enough time to see the following season out. After receiving “unwavering” support from the board and despite claiming a creditable result away at Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek, if a defeat can be claimed as creditable, which keeps them firmly in the competition thanks to Jamie Vardy’s consolation away goal, Claudio Ranieri was sacked by the Leicester board after it was revealed players had told them they had lost confidence in Ranieri’s abilities. Losing confidence in a manager who took these players on a journey beyond even their wildest dreams. Nobody is telling me Wes Morgan, among others, seriously thought he would ever be a Premier League winner and competing in the Champions League.

Ranieri deserved more. He deserved more from his board, at least a season, and at least to see out his Champions League run. He undoubtedly deserved more from his players. It is impossible and unfair to single out any one player alone for criticism, it is after all a team game, but his match winners, his influential winners, from the previous campaign vanished. They vanished after a poor start to the season, only three victories in their opening ten league games, and never really reappeared, barring a demolition of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in December. The spine of the team which was so strong the season before, from Kasper Schmeichel, to Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, through Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater, to Jamie Vardy, who let us not forget broke Ruud Van Nistlerooy’s Premier League record by netting in 11 consecutive games, had completely downed tools. To see Claudio Ranieri yelling from the touchline at Riyad Mahrez to press his opposite number against Swansea City earlier this month, and Mahrez, who was well within ear shot of his manager, literally not move an inch further than where he was summed the situation up. The players had given up.

Jamie Vardy, who scored 28 goals last year for club and country, has managed only 8 goals in all competitions this season, and that includes the Community Shield. We can point to a few aspects that influence this statistic, but another statistic, that Vardy failed to have a shot on target since the middle of December up until his goal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in midweek suggest the desire, attitude, and application is not there. That can not be laid solely at Claudio Ranieri’s doorstep. In the same fixture that Vardy scored his latest goal, a largely non-existent Riyad Mahrez had the look of a man who simply could not care less. This also can not be laid firmly on Ranieri. This is the attitude and reaction of a man being told he was not allowed to leave the club in the summer. Despite being rewarded with a bumper contract on money we could only dream about, Mahrez had downed tools before the season even began. He never even opened his tool box in the first place. The attitude of the players in nothing short of a disgrace, and to think these players have passed a vote of no confidence in their manager is ridiculous. Perhaps if they had listened to Ranieri’s ideas and tactics instead of just seemingly dismissing them and not trying a jot out on the field, we would not have this scenario.

And what of the board? What did the Leicester board really expect? Another title challenge? An assault on the top four? We all knew there would be a slump after the achievement of last season. The fact that Leicester City are still in the Champions League is an achievement itself.

I am aware that football is all about the here and now. There is no time for sentiment, no time to be romantic in the swirling money pool that is the Premier League, clubs are that desperate to stay in the division and recoup as much money as they possibly can, they forget that being relegated to the Championship is not actually the end of the world. Leicester City are financially very stable, the 24th wealthiest club in Europe even before the league win and the Champions League. Add that to the parachute payments the club would have received should they be relegated and their is no doubt this club would not be one to fall by the wayside. Why shouldn’t Claudio Ranieri be granted time to bring them back to the Premier League if they did go down under his management? It is not as though this is Jose Mourinho at Chelsea the season after winning the title. This is Leicester City. A club, and players that has started to believe its own hype and press, big money contracts have led poor to average players to believe they are in the same bracket, and hold the same power as some of the games global superstars. One league title win, a staggering triumph it may have been, should not grant you this power. Unfortunately it does, and as a result of it doing so, Leicester City fired their Premier League winning manager, Claudio Ranieri.

A man who took a team of average and unfancied players, united them, galvanised a spirit rarely seen elsewhere, and won England’s top division with them, deserved more loyalty and more respect. It is a sad ending to one of footballs greatest stories. Thanks for the memories, Claudio. You deserved better.