As the Championship season comes to its end with the play-offs, perhaps this year is different in that the ties are characterised by the managers more than the clubs.
Each of the teams play an entertaining style of football influenced by their coaches, and that makes each of the games quite interesting: because there will surely be interest from the wider footballing community in the managers who don’t go up.
David Wagner, the Huddersfield manager, for example, is a man with some pedigree. Having been Jurgen Klopp’s assistant at Borussia Dortmund when they were winning titles and qualifying for Champions League finals, the Terriers’ boss will surely be in high demand if his side don’t achieve promotion.
Indeed, it’s not just Wagner’s past which will put him in high demand: it’s his present, too. This season, the German coach has taken Huddersfield from relegation fodder to the brink of the Premier League in an extraordinary fashion. Most Premier League fans who won’t have seen much of the Championship this season might remember a second-string Huddersfield side holding its own against Manchester City in the FA Cup – but that was only a rotated team.
The high-intensity style of play is matched by the intensity off it, too. When Wagner took over as coach, he took his team to the woods where they survived without electricity for a few days, having to catch and cook their own food. It was a team bonding exercise which toughened the players up and made them closer together – and probably the sort of stunt most Premier League teams could be doing with, too.
All of that means there will be a jealous eye or two cast from Premier League clubs towards the John Smith’s Stadium if Huddersfield do manage to go up after the play-off final at the end of the month, but if they do fall at the semi-final hurdle tonight, it wouldn’t be surprising if Premier League clubs came knocking.
In fact, it might not even be the Premier League clubs who come calling. Not currently Premier League ones, anyway.
It would seem that, despite winning the title and promotion, Newcastle United’s future is still somewhat uncertain. Although it is expected that the club will blaze a trail next season, returning to the Premier League with money to spend and the ambition to challenge the division’s top seven clubs over the next number of years, there is still some baffling speculation about the future of their manager.
And yet, although it would be surprising if Rafael Benitez didn’t start next season as Newcastle United manager, it wouldn’t be shocking. Inside politics are nothing new to Rafael Benitez.
It seems as though the Spanish coach wasn’t best pleased with the club’s inactivity in the transfer window in January, and reports after the deadline at the start of February seemed to suggest that all wasn’t well: Benitez was reportedly considering his future at the club in the wake of the transfer budget situation.
It may be unlikely, then, but not inconceivable that Benitez won’t be the man at the helm of Newcastle United come August to launch the Premier League campaign.
So it could be Newcastle who are watching the progress of David Wagner’s Huddersfield with interest. If the Terriers manage promotion, he might not be available, but if they are to fail and end up with another season in the Championship, Newcastle and their owners will know first-hand of the stellar job the German has done in Yorkshire.
Indeed, a vibrant, young attacking coach would be exactly the kind of figure that the Newcastle fans could warm to, and although it would be a controversial appointment to plump for a man with no top level managerial experience to replace a man as well-respected as the Spaniard Benitez, Wagner does have extensive experience as a number two, and his time at Huddersfield has suggested he can take a team and make it more than the sum of its parts.
And that’s something any newly-promoted team needs, whether it’s a big club like Newcastle or not. It is unclear whether or not the Premier League is not ready for the sort of intensity that having both Klopp and Wagner managing teams in the same division would bring.
If Benitez does walk away, Newcastle would do well to have that sort of replacement in mind.