As the season has come to a close, we can only conclude that Mark has performed miracles with this humble Huddersfield squad. While the celebrations are still underway after a magnificent debut season, we have to ready the squad for a fight on multiple fronts next season. Besides the domestic campaign, the squad has to be both good and large enough to compete in Europe as well. This is where I step up, as the acting Director of Football for Huddersfield. Manipulating the transfer market is what I do. Basically, you can consider this article a case study of my Monchi series.
Assessing the squad
The first order of business was to assess the squad we had at hand. The team had obviously just won the title but that does not necessarily imply that all of them are going to remain with the club. Some may not be good enough, others might want to leave, there are players out there who may have peaked, in which case it makes sense from a business perspective to sell them on.
Since the reputation of the team and its squad members was at an all-time high, so too were the interest from others clubs and the respective market values for the key members of the squad. Had I wanted to do so, I could have sold the entire starting line-up and most of the rotational options.
Common sense dictates that selling your entire first team is not the best course of action, however. Looking at the team, I divided them into several categories:
- Must-stay players because of their talent;
- Must-stay players because of home-grown quota;
- Squad rotation players, allowed to leave if a decent bid comes in;
- Players who have peaked and should be sold at this peak;
- Players who are getting too old to represent residual value;
- Players who are simpl not good enough to compete in the top of the Premiership and in Europe.
After looking at the squad we were working with, these were my conclusions.
My main concern was preparing the squad for the European campaign to come. The players I deemed the worst in the squad, were more often than not also our Home-Grown players. Selling all of them would leave us in trouble with our European registrations, which was not a desirable scenario at all.
Secondly, we were facing a stiff fight to keep some of the players I had deemed key assets. Schindler, Almirón, Uduokhai and Fernandes were all coveted by some of Europe’s finest. Granted, most of the team’s players were coveted by some European top or subtop club but in some cases, I had already decided to cash in and find similar but cheaper replacements.
I could have started a fight to keep the squad intact but that would ultimately have led to a dressing room mutiny or players demanding ludicrous wages, which we were not prepared to pay. While we were going to compete in Europe, our financial situation was by no means rosy enough to pay the salaries most of these European contenders paid.
The challenges set
The challenges on the pitch were clear; we were to repeat our accomplishments of last season as well as gear up for a strong European campaign. I had to create a squad capable of doing so, setting up in Mark’s favourite 4-4-1-1-
Ideally, I had to strengthen our wingback positions, central midfield and create more depth up front, without losing too many current first-teamers and disrupting the dressing room harmony. I had to achieve these complex missions with a hefty-yet-not-overly-spectacular war-chest of around 65 million.
The idea was to look for players on the transfer list elsewhere, the odd young talent from abroad and perhaps one or two marquee signings to significantly strengthen the squad.
Transfers out; the exodus
Ultimately, I sold more players than I would have liked. Some players became unhappy because I was reluctant to upgrade their contracts, others saw offers coming in from their dream clubs and some were sold because the offer was simply too good to refuse.
Chris Löwe for instance, had been a solid player down our left flank, yet without being spectacularly good. Kongolo could do a job on that flank as well and when Crystal Palace offered a decent sum for an already ageing player, he was out the door rather sharpishly.
Similarly, Fulham wanted to sign Erik Durm. While his tireless runs down the right flank had helped us tremendously in our title run, he was becoming unhappy because he wanted to triple his wages. That is fair enough, but when I am obliged to pay a right wing-back more than 70k a week, I want someone significantly better in that role. Another easy choice to make, when you consider I had Durm pegged as someone who had sort of peaked. fasffsf
Our first-choice goalkeeper Jonas Lösll had been elected the Premier League’s keeper of the season. While it is definitely true that he had kept the most clean sheets, I feel a fair bit of the credit deserved to the central pairing of Schindler and Uduokhai. Since Lösll was another player I had written down as someone who had peaked, the Manchester City offer was just too good to turn down. A decent goalkeeper is easily found in this market.
Jon Stankovic barely played for us last season. No club was willing to pay me a significant sum of money for him so I decided to loan him out to get his wages off the wage bill and maybe help him increase his stature in English football, so we can sell him in the next transfer window. hahdad
Similarly, Danny Williams had just come back from a severe injury and just wasn’t in any shape to contend for a spot in our squad. He was not good enough to be a bench-warmer, let alone come close to a place in the starting line-up. With his contract running out, I chose not to renew it.
While I was indeed not unhappy with Aaron Mooy’s performances last season, it was clear that Fernandes was a better player for the style we had in mind. Mooy was not getting any younger, and Olympique Lyon offered serious money for a player I deemed a rotational option. Selling him brought in much-needed additional funds for our transfer strategy.
Jack Payne had spent the entire last season on loan with Bradford City in League One. During this loan spell, he had proven himself as a versatile and hard-working player but it was quite clear he was never going to make it at Huddersfield. Bristol City gave him a chance to ply his trade in the Championship, we got a few million for our coffers. A good deal for all parties involved, if you ask me. fafa
During the first half of the previous season, Abdelhamid Sabiri racked up five appearances for us, all of them as a substitute. It was safe to say he had not impressed during these brief appearances. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Swansea, where he showed potential. Still, I had decided he was just not good enough for the level we were aspiring to. Leganes picked him up, and gave him a chance to play in La Liga.
Laurent Depoitre had played a stellar pre-season campaign for us last season, at which point he looked destined to start the season as our first-choice forward. Enter Borja, who had played immensely for us. Depoitre never moaned or complained, so when Galatasaray made a decent offer him, I considered it fair to let him go and pick up a cheap replacement elsewhere, either from the transfer list or the loan list.
Mathias “Zanka” Jørgensen had been sidelined due to a serious injury for much of last season. When he came back, Mark’s rotational approach saw him rack up 16 appearances, in which he held his own opposite either Schindler or Uduokhai. At 29 however, his residual value was slowly dropping. His current market value had peaked because he was part of a title-winning squad, so when Everton offered us nearly 20 million for him, I decided to sell him.
The Alex Pritchard saga is a painful one and probably my only proper defeat of the summer window. I did not want to sell him. I honestly did not. Pritchard was a versatile and ever-present servant during our league campaign, he counted towards our Home-Grown quota and he was popular with the other players. And then he demanded a 300% wage raise and started bitching when I was reluctant to give this raise. When it looked like he might start a mutiny, I sold him to Newcastle for nearly 30 million. I still feel like I have to admit defeat here.
Philip Billing was another player who had performed admirably during our league campaign and then demanded more money. Unlike Pritchard, I was fairly certain I could replace Billing with better players. Ajax decided to splash the cash to see him replace his country-man Lasse Schøne. Fair play.
Demeaco Duhaney and Juninho Bacuna were loaned to Crewe and Swansea respectively. I do not believe that either one of them will be good enough to play for us, at least this gets their wages of our wage bill and with some luck, they will perform admirably while on loan, raise their reputation and make it easier for me to sell them.
Transfers in; hits, misses and gambles
With so many players leaving, I had to look good and hard at replacing these departees. Overall, I like to think I did a decent enough job. I still missed out on a few of my intended targets but I feel I strengthened the squad as a whole.
The first player coming in had spent the last season on loan with us. I had the foresight to include an optional transfer fee in this loan deal so I when Chris Willock had a brilliant season on the left flank, it was a no-brainer to make him our first signing for the new season.
Erik Durm had been branded as a player who was allowed to leave, especially when I could bring in Nathaniel Clyne at a slightly lower fee. Clyne is an upgrade over Durm in all departments and he counts towards our Home-Grown quota, which is a win-win for us. Like
Olympique Lyon was so happy to take Aaron Mooy from us because I had taken Lucas Toussart from them. A versatile and intelligent defensive midfielder, who can add some more depth to the squad in this department. He won’t rack up the goals or the assists but provide some much-needed defensive stability.
Coming in from Dinamo Zagreb, Antonio Marin is a confident and skilful player with good technique, aggressive dribble, good reading of the game and decision-making. He is also just 18 years old and he possessed a limited transfer clause. He is another wonderkid joining our ranks, where he can serve as an understudy to both our left and right wingers.
With Jørgensen departing, I needed an additional player in the heart of our defence. Calum Chambers had been transfer listed at Arsenal, so he was willing to join us relatively cheap. He is not an exceptional defender but he will be a great rotational option for when either Schindler or Uduokhai is unavailable.
The transfer of Lewis Baker might seem an odd one at first glance. He had no prior Premier League experience and while his Chelsea-pedigree hinted at serious potential, he struggled in the Championship with Leeds United last season. On the other hand, Baker is a versatile player, capable of playing just about any role in central midfield and on the flanks, as well as counting towards our Home-Grown quota. He is not expected to start many games, he is just a versatile handyman to have around in the squad.
Our intended new wingback on the left flank was Jordan Lukaku, Romelu’s younger brother. He had honed his skills in the Serie A for three seasons and came in transfer free. Even if it didn’t quite work out, he came in on a free transfer and relatively low wages. It was probably one of the best deals I had made.
Álex Remiro was brought in to serve as the new first-choice goalkeeper. Hamer and Coleman were kept around to keep the Home-Grown quota up so a new first-choice keeper was definitely needed. Remiro had played 22 games for Athletic Bilbao last season and came in as a free agent. Another safe bet.
Andreas Pereira came in for the same reasons as Lewis Baker. While Pereira does not hold an English passport, he has been under contract with Man Utd long enough to count as a Home-Grown player. Similarly to Baker, Pereira is a versatile player, who can play just about anywhere in midfield, both centrally or wide.
Joining from Celta de Vigo, Fran Beltrán is another wonderkid to join Huddersfield. A limited transfer fee made him an interesting option, especially when some of the other clubs after him were the traditional Spanish top clubs. If Barcelona and Real Madrid are after him, signing him for under 4 million is somewhat of a bargain? Beltran is a player in the same mould as Fernandes and Toussart, so there are plenty of rotational options there.
Another player to join us to strengthen our midfield is Real Madrid’s Marcos Llorente. He found it difficult to break into Real’s first team, so I offered him a chance to play for Huddersfield in Europe. Another intelligent passer, who could become the metronome to our entire team.
Trevoh Chalobah came in on loan from Chelsea, because I wanted some depth on the right-hand side and centrally and I was not going to pay excessive fees. Chalobah can be an understudy to Clyne or any of the central defenders and because he is U20, he requires no registration to play in the league.
My final signing also highlights one of the misses from this window. The player I really wanted to sign was Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey. The Jamaican winger could play either left or right and he would have suited our counter-attacking style brilliantly. I had even saved up the nearly 70 million Leverkusen demanded for him. In fact, we even offered them 70 million. Bailey turned us down, instead opting to play for FC Bayern, like so many Leverkusen players before him.
Our marquee signing for the summer window became my second-choice winger; Christian Pulisic. The American offers the same speed but less of the physical strength Bailey possesses. He also seems more injury-prone, which makes him somewhat of a gamble at 57 million.
The second miss of the transfer season involves the position upfront, as a backup to Borja. We secured a loan for Arsenal’s Eddy Nketiah last season but we needed a strong player up front to relieve Borja, when needed. I really wanted HSV’s Fiete Arp but I was unable to reach an agreement with the Germans, especially not after the Pulisic deal left our coffers depleted.
Ultimately, I think we did well enough bringing in new players. Mark should be able to kick ass with this team.