Opinion: What is going wrong at Huddersfield Town? | OneFootball
Opinion: What is going wrong at Huddersfield Town?
Football League World
This is a fan contribution from Terriers supporter Graeme Rayner. The views and opinion within this article are Graeme’s and are not representative of Football League World.
It all started going wrong just before quarter past 5 on Sunday 29 May 2022.
I was sat in excellent seats at Wembley, with my nearest and dearest around me, bang on the halfway line just a few rows from the Forest fans, cheering on my beloved Huddersfield Town in our quest to gain promotion to the Premier League for the second time in 5 years.
Carlos Corberan, who I had called for to be sacked about 7 months before, had turned things around and we had been superb for about 6 months, finishing 3rd in the league against all odds, many having tipped us for relegation.
The game was a poor, tetchy affair – often the case in what is billed as the richest game in football.
And then James Garner, Forest’s midfielder (on loan from Man Utd) put in a dangerous ball and young on loan Chelsea defender Levi Colwill turned the ball into his own net, 2 minutes from half-time. It was the game’s only goal and, if we’re honest, Town didn’t really turn up that day.
Let Forest have their year on the gravy train, we all thought. Let them enjoy their fireworks and getting battered by the big boys every week. Let them marvel at just how unforgiving the top flight is – how few chances they’ll get and how many they’ll gift their opponents.
Let them be baffled, as we were, by how Man City fans seem to be so bored of winning they only cheer when they’re 3 – nil up away to the whipping boys.
No, we all thought, this was still a great season. I must have heard that clichéd phrase (and one I detest) “We go again” a thousand times as we walked down Wembley way.
The general feeling was that we had given ourselves a superb foundation to build on, and that in the 2022/23 season we could have another go at trying to reach the Holy Grail once again.
Yes, many expected we may lose Lewis O’Brien to the Premier League, but we knew we’d get a decent enough fee (he signed a contract extension not too long back that included a rumoured £10m release clause) but with shrewd reinvestment we could use that to both replace him and strengthen elsewhere.
Optimism was, unusually, rife among many Terriers.
How wrong, it appears, we were.
We did lose O’Brien. We also lost his best pal Harry Toffolo, both heading to Forest (damn them and their roman candles!) We also sold Spanish under 21 right back Pipa to Olympiacos for a fee rumoured to be around £2m. This combined revenue of £10 – £12m represented a decent return when you consider O’Brien was a home-grown player and combined purchase price for Toffolo and Pipa was c£1m.
We also released a few players, most notably Naby Sarr, who had featured in the play-off run-in, and Daniel Sinani and Levi Colwill returned to their parent clubs. Sinani was not deemed to be good enough for us to take the option we had up, whereas Colwill is now on loan at Brighton and will play for England by 2025, I predict.
The biggest loss to Town, though, was Carlos Corberan.
The coach who had won over the doubters suddenly quit. Out of the blue. No one saw it coming. Rumours are that he had been told that there was no real money available to him to spend, that the players we’d sold or lost out on would be replaced with cheap young prospects from the lower league or free transfers, and that he was still expected to achieve the play offs again.
Another rumour has it that his top striking target had been Carlton Morris, and we were outbid for him by Luton Town, who paid less than £2m. This may well have been the final straw.
Corberan quit and within what seemed to be minutes Danny Schofield was announced as Head Coach, being promoted from the internal coaching set up.
This decision stunned most savvy Town fans, both the speed with which it was made and the nature of the appointment. Many felt that, despite him having been a popular player for the club, the decision was highly suspect.
My belief is that it was the cheap option, preferable to Dean Hoyle than seeking out and funding an experienced option.
The fact that the resignation of Coberan seemed to come from nowhere yet the decision to replace him with Schofield was instant raised many eyebrows. The message from the club was that this was a move being made out of a desire for continuity, and that Schofield was always going to be the next man for the job. However many questioned whether the timing was right, as Corberan was under contract until 2024 and so the timeline had been accelerated by 2 years – was Schofield ready?
Well, after the first three games of this season, my view is he was not ready, is not ready and won’t be ready any time soon.
We have lost all 3 games (2 at home) with an aggregate score of 7-2 against.
There appears to be no continuity in terms of style or attitude on the pitch. Fans have shown their unrest at each of the three games, uncharacteristically jeering players off the park at half and full time. Last night’s EFL Cup game at home to Preston North End saw us ship 4 goals (3 in the first half an hour) in front of just 5k supports, many of whom had crossed the Pennines as away supporters, despite reduced ticket prices.
In those three games, there have been few positives. Jack Rudoni, a summer signing from Wimbledon, looks a real prospect. Tino Anjorin, back on loan from Chelsea, looks much fitter and poses a real menace to opponents. And last night B Team player Etienne Camara was the best of the starting XI. Both strikers (Danny Ward and Jordan Rhodes) have found the net.
However, these positives almost feel like I’m clutching at straws.
The downsides are immense. Lee Nicholls, a rumoured target for Leicester, was the best keeper in the division last season.
He already looks broken this season. We have not replaced Pipa leaving us with one realistic option at right-back, as young Brodie Spencer showed last night that while he may be ready for Norther Ireland action, he’s not yet ready for Town. Tom Lees is struggling without injured Matty Pearson beside him. Will Boyle is nowhere near the level of Levi Colwill, and is actually nowhere near the level of Naby Sarr. Yuti Nakamura, Japanese international, has had just one start (last night) and spent so much time out of position (having been dragged there by Boyle) it’s hard to know how good he is, while Josh Ruffles (understudy to Toffolo last year) is struggling.
And that’s just the defence.
In midfield Jonny Hogg remains a stalwart but how long can he go on for putting his body on the line? Jonny Russell looks a shadow of the player who scored a sublime pay-off semi-final goal and played well in the final when he came on. David Kasumu, signed to replace O’Brien, looks a real talent but his hamstrings appear to be made of cheese and he’s managed just a few minutes before being injured. Duane Holmes looks increasingly lost.
In attack, old hands Ward and Rhodes plough on like Compo and Clegg in Last of the Summer Wine while Sorba Thomas has lost his best attribute, his dead ball ability and Connor Mahoney showed no real promise last night. On the left flank Josh Koroma is increasingly proving that his purple patch during the covid his 2020/21 season was a total one-off.
Times are tough at Town. All of the joy and optimism from just 3 months ago has vanished into thin air. 3 games in and Schofield must fear for his job. And meanwhile most Town fans actually lay the blame at the door of one man – Dean Hoyle. If you’re not aware of goings on at the club of late, this mist be amazing to hear. Why, when we were promoted to the big league and actually survived for a year, we all thought he was the greatest chairman in the league. But since then he has, it seems, focused more on recouping his investment at any cost, come what may. Last season we got very, very lucky – we spent not a bean but every free transfer seemed to have the season of their lives. And in just 10 short weeks all of that good will, team spirit, optimism and sense of direction is a thing of the past. In my view, as a supported and onlooker, this is down to 3 failings from Hoyle.
- On the pitch investment. We’ve sold 3 players for good money, two to the EPL and one to a Champions League side, and we’ve replaced them with cheap options. We have not addressed the striker position. We are a weaker side than 3 months ago, and significantly so. O’Brien was our midfield engine, our dynamic player and we have not replaced him with anything comparable. Toffolo chipped in with more assists and goals than any of our midfield. It’s a huge void to fill. Plus, they added to a hugely positive team spirit, which is hard to put a price on.
- Backing the manager. Carlos Corberan, within reason, should have been given what he needed and asked for to help us kick on. He wasn’t. He left. He walked away from a 2 year contract. That speaks volumes.
- Rushing into a cheap replacement. Schofield is not ready, as I’ve covered. Many feel he will lack the status to speak up to the powers that be, that he will be a “yes man”.
All of this combines to make most Town fans very fearful for the future. Make no mistake, we are already in a relegation battle. We can get out of it. Forest themselves did – they were so poor at the start if last season but showed that with decisive leadership and sensible, pragmatic decision making you can climb the league table rapidly.
I genuinely feel for Schofield – he has been put in an invidious position.
It is unfair to criticise him, and I bear him no ill will. But I am disappointed and even angry with his boss. He secured legend status 5 years ago, and I am not alone in believing he is tarnishing that reputation. Yes, he stepped in when the man he sold 75% of the club to lost his other businesses ad could no longer run the club. But let’s remember that he decided who to sell to, dictated the terms of the deal and retained an interest by choice. Yes, he invested money into the club, but that is football. He went on record saying he’d made loans he never expected to be repaid. I actually don’t begrudge him for taking it back, but at what cost? Surely the best way to recoup his investment is by achieving enough success on the pitch to secure a buyer?
It may sound dramatic, but we are in dire straits. It’s not too late though. Gently demote Schofield. Admit the mistake. It’s kinder to him, and necessary for the club. Appoint someone with the experience and knowledge to right the ship. And invest on the pitch. Nobody is talking blank cheque, Brewster’s Millions stuff. But a striker and a central midfielder are a must. And start communicating with the fans more openly and honestly. At times it feels like Hoyle resents having to do this – he can be combative and spiky.
Town fans are realists. We know our place. But we want to see entertaining, coherent football from a team with a plan and with some heart. And we want to not be taken for mugs by the powers that be. We’re not asking for the moon on a stick but at present we don’t have a moon, a stick or any sense of hope.
Still, there’s always Stoke at home on Saturday to look forward to. Said no-one. Ever.
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