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Charismatic David Wagner leads Huddersfield’s charge

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LONDON — Before David Wagner turned up Huddersfield Town were drifting in the lower reaches of the Championship, struggling for survival in England’s second tier.

[ MORE: JPW on”miracle” for Terriers ] 

Now, just over 18 months after the German-American’s arrival, Wagner has led Huddersfield to the promised land of the Premier League for the first time in club history and it’s the first time the Terriers have been in the top-flight of English soccer since 1972.

Wagner, 45, took a big risk when he left Borussia Dortmund II in November 2015 to head to Yorkshire but it has paid off. Big time. As a student of the famous Gegenpressing, he took a risk but along with enticing players from Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool to join on loan, Wagner has galvanized an entire club with his passion and desire on the sidelines.

Reports have suggested the likes of Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga, plus many Premier League clubs have been trying to entice Wagner away from the John Smith’s Stadium.

[ MORE: Wagner reacts to fairytale

Yet, after Huddersfield beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium to win the Championship Playoff Final on Monday, it appears highly-likely Wagner will be their manager next season.

As he strode in to his post-game press conference, Wagner shrieked “Helloooo” to the media and then tripped over the stage of the press auditorium at Wembley before apologizing for smelling like Champagne as he had changed out of his all black suit and shirt.

It’s tough not to like this guy.

Especially because he had so many doubters when he turned up in England with a plan to play a high-pressing style in the Championship, a nutritiously demanding league both physically and mentally.

“I’m so happy we’ve proven that experience is not everything,” Wagner said. “I’ve always been confronted with questions of my experience in English football, the league, no winter break and the play-offs. Experience is important, but if you have passion, desires and ideas you can match it. We’ve shown it’s possible and brought this fairy tale to a happy ending.”

Wagner has been the architect of creating a wonderful team spirit between the players and the club as fans marvel at his ability to say the right thing at the right time but still being able to smile as well as snarl when necessary. He is no longer seen as Jurgen Klopp‘s buddy who got a job in England off the back of Klopp’s recommendation.

He has carved his own path, created his own identity and is leading Huddersfield on their own wonderful journey as 40,000 Terriers fans descended on Wembley and made a dreadful din all afternoon long to try and roar their team to the Premier League. Their team were the better side on the day and now they have brought Huddersfield an estimated $218 million through promotion.

The style of the team is tough, physical and direct. Wagner’s men only scored 56 goals in 46 league games (the second fewest in the top half of the table) and actually finished with a goal differential of -2. They found ways to get wins time and again, grinding out victories late on and feeding off their togetherness.

ProSoccerTalk asked Wagner if he will follow the model of any previous clubs who have been promoted to the Premier League, with other minnows such as Watford, Bournemouth and Burnley solidifying themselves in the top-flight after recent promotions.

“I’m not experienced enough,” Wagner laughed. “I have no experience about Bournemouth, Burnley. I know a little bit about the clubs, but I haven’t followed their story and how they came to this stage. We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves. This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

Huddersfield are on their way, but what does it mean for the town in Yorkshire which has a population just over 160,000?

Wagner showcased just what it meant to him as he climbed on the railing of the second tier at Wembley as hoisted the playoff trophy into the air, looking like he was almost going to fall over the edge. Huddersfield’s fans let out a huge roar, and, just like they’ve done all season, they embraced the German tradition of gathering together with players after the game to celebrate a victory by throwing their arms in the ear.

“Everybody knows that last time this club was in the [top division] was 45 years ago,” Wagner said. “It’s a big, big achievement and I’m so proud of my players, and I’m happy for the whole town and everyone who helped Huddersfield take these steps forward – including the chairman, who backed nearly all of my ideas!”

Huddersfield were meant to finish in midtable, at best, as fans bought in to Wagner’s charisma after he rebuilt the squad in the second half of the 2015-16 season on the way to a 19th place finish in the 24-team league, before setting things up perfectly for his first full season in England with a team-bonding trip to Sweden during preseason.

“He has made a massive difference, he has changed the whole culture of the club around,” Steven Sunderland, a lifelong Huddersfield fan said outside Wembley. “He has brought a new mentality to the game. That German mentality. A winning mentality. He has got everybody on board and that’s the main thing.”

Wagner also didn’t take much of the praise, instead lavishing it on his players who have been brought together with loan deals, free transfers and their record transfer who scored the winning penalty kick at Wembley, Christopher Schindler, cost just $2.3 million from 1860 Munich last summer.

The former U.S. national team striker scoffed when asked about the $15 million budget for this season, saying it was “much lower than that” and revealed what he told his players ahead of the playoffs.

“I said to the players before the [play-off] semi-finals: ‘You are heroes, you finished fifth in the league, but from hero to zero in football is sometimes only a week and now you have the opportunity to become legends.’ Now they are legends for sure,” Wagner said. “Everybody will remember what this group of players have done with a small budget. And they deserve it. This football club has written an unbelievable story.”

The Premier League will have another charismatic German screaming and gesticulating on the sidelines next season, with Wagner laughing about the prospect of facing his good friend Klopp on the sidelines when the Terriers play Liverpool.

“I will probably meet him on the sidelines in the Premier League… it will be funny, for sure,” Wagner smiled. “When we had the friendly he was the first manager who came in my managers office before the game and we drank a cola. So I am unsure if this will happen in a Premier League match, but from my point of view it could happen. When the game starts he and I are out of control, even if he is my pal I don’t have to agree with everything that he is doing.”

But Wagner is caught up in the moment and isn’t thinking too much about next season or even next week. He admitted he will have to make plenty of calls to try and secure the services of loan stars Kasey Palmer, Izzy Brown, Aaron Mooy and Danny Ward next season, but right now he’s all about one thing: the party.

“I haven’t thought about my personal standing or [that of] individual players,” Wagner said. “All that’s in my head is celebration. My only focus was this final, so I was not involved in planning [celebrations] but there are a lot of smart, intelligent and very happy people in Huddersfield who have been thinking about that – and after 45 years it is sure to be one of the better celebrations.”

There’s no doubt Wagner will be leading those celebrations and he will be a hero forever in Huddersfield.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Fulham vs. Aston Villa

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Imagine playing in one game where your performance over 90 minutes means the difference between over $300 million for your club or another year in the lower leagues.

That’s what is estimated to be on the line as Fulham and Aston Villa meet at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship playoff final at 12 p.m. ET hoping to earn the final spot in next year’s Premier League campaign.

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will be searching for an unprecedented fifth Championship promotion after previously guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to the top flight on multiple occasions. He is 2-0 in the playoff final, having won it previously once with each former club, taking Birmingham City to the Premier League in 2002 after defeating Norwich City in a penalty shootout, and earning the victory with Hull City in 2016 via a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Players Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass have both won playoff finals before as well.

Fulham, meanwhile, has experience of its own on the touchline, as boss Slavisa Jokanovic has taken Watford to the top flight previously, finishing second in the Championship in 2015, but he has never experienced a playoff final before.

The Whites appear to be in the better form, having nearly ended the season in historic form with 24 straight unbeaten, but lost on the final day of the campaign, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. They play a possession-based style under Jokanovic, and while it’s taken a while for the team to grasp the tactics, they look as deadly as ever. However, the last few games have exposed the team yet again, with the loss to lowly Birmingham on the final day before a 1-0 loss to Derby County in the first leg of their playoff semifinal, a scoreline which they turned around in the second leg at home.

The Fulham midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen has a claim to be the best pairing in the Championship over the past two seasons, and they anchor Jokanovic’s setup behind playmaker Tom Cairney. The club brought embattled Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mitrovic to London in January, and he’s brought a cutting edge to an attack that was just missing a target man up front. Young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who just turned 18 years old on Friday, has been the club’s most heralded player, and could move to a top Premier League side this summer, especially if the Whites fall at Wembley this weekend. Finally, USMNT defender Tim Ream has led the defensive improvement of a club that conceded 83 goals three seasons ago to halve that this campaign.

They’ll take that attacking prowess up against one of the league’s most pragmatic opponents, as Villa finished the regular season with the third-fewest goals allowed and shut out Middlesbrough across both legs in the semifinals. They feature former Chelsea defender John Terry anchoring the back line, and he partners with experienced 29-year-old James Chester who has played under Bruce before at Hull. Terry himself has won five separate trophies at Wembley Stadium, experience he will surely share with the squad.

Villa’s most dangerous player this season has been Albert Adomah whose blistering pace down the right has been something for opponents to deal with. However, he’s hit a cold streak, without a goal since scoring in a 4-1 win over champions Wolves back on March 10th.

Villa is looking to go back to the Premier League after relegation two years ago, while Fulham has spent four years in the second tier after being sent down back in 2014.

Transfer rumors: Fred to Man United; Icardi to Chelsea

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Brazilian midfielder Fred seems to be edging closer to a move to Manchester United after being chased by Manchester City for much of the last 12 months.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s

The Shakhtar Donetsk star, 25, is a central midfielder who was supposed to be a long-term replacement for Fernandinho at City, but it appears Jose Mourinho has now swooped in to snap up the combative midfielder after Pep Guardiola‘s interest went cold.

Speaking in a press conference while away with the Brazilian national team, Fred believes that United have a bid in place for him with the midfielder previously valued at around $55 million.

“The talks had been in progress since January with City. Soon after, City and United talked to Shakhtar and my agents,” Fred said, via Globo Esporte. “And now, if I’m not mistaken, there was news of a very strong bid from United.”

Do United need Fred?

With Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay all at the club, the Brazilian’s arrival may well see Herrera, and maybe even Pogba, surplus to requirements.

Following Michael Carrick‘s retirement at the end of the 2017/18 season and Marouane Fellaini‘s contract soon to run out, Mourinho needs reinforcements in central midfield and Fred fits the bill as a two-way midfielder not scared to dig in and do his work defensively.


Chelsea have been linked with a move for Inter Milan’s star striker Mauro Icardi.

According to reports from Cadena Ser in Spain and Italian outlet Il Messaggero, Morata could head to Inter if Icardi ends up at Stamford Bridge.

Icardi, 25, was the joint-top goalscorer in Serie A in 2017/18 with 29 goals but the Argentine forward failed to make the final World Cup squad for La Albiceleste.

As for Morata, the Spanish forward also didn’t make the World Cup squad for his native Spain after a stop-start season at Chelsea under Antonio Conte. Morata, 25, was spotted meeting with the Juventus hierarchy earlier this week as the Real Madrid product spent two seasons at Juve from 2014-16 before heading back to Real en-route to Chelsea.

Would this be a good move for Chelsea?

Such has been Morata’s poor form in his debut season in the Premier League (yes, 15 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions is a decent return, but it’s not remarkable), they would no doubt have to send Morata and plenty of cash to Inter in exchange for their captain. Chelsea paid Real Madrid $80 million for Morata last summer and the reports claim they would have to send Morata plus $40 million to Inter to bring Icardi to the Bridge.

The latter has had plenty of temperament issues over the years but his status as a poacher is undoubted as his goals fired Inter back into the UEFA Champions League this season following their dramatic final day win at Lazio. Yet it’s tough to see Inter letting their skipper leave the San Siro this summer as he’s the key reason why they’re back in the Champions League.

UCL final preview: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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  • Real Madrid aiming to win a third-straight UCL trophy
  • Liverpool hope to win sixth Champions League trophy
  • Real win would extend their record of most European titles to 13
  • Klopp has lost all five major finals as a manager

Real Madrid and Liverpool square off in Kiev, Ukraine on Saturday in the final of the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s ]

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Mohamed Salah. Spain vs. England. Zinedine Zidane vs. Jurgen Klopp.

It promises to be an open, entertaining game with attacking stars littered throughout both teams, but we all know how often finals fail to deliver goals and excitement with so much on the line.

[ MORE: Klopp praises Real Madrid

In team news Real have a fully fit squad as Gareth Bale has returned from injury and has been among the goals with four in his last three appearances. Liverpool are without Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the likes of James Milner and Adam Lallana are fit to feature for the Reds.


What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on preparing for the final: “Nothing special in this week. We only have an agreement that I am responsible for the defeats, so they have nothing to lose. I think most of the players will be a bit nervous before the game, that is normal but in the game shoot, strike, cross, make headers, bicycle kicks if you want. Do all the things you want in a football game because it is only a football game, a big one for sure, but only a football game.”

Zinedine Zidane on the threat of Liverpool: “It may be the toughest final we’ve had. We’ll certainly not be thinking that Liverpool is weaker than other teams, because they’re not. They’ve earned their right to be in the final thanks to their performances. They’ve played well and knocked out top teams. It’s been a while since they reached their last final, but it’s a club with great history and knows how to play in these matches. We’ll have to be at our best on every level, not just physically. They’re an English team, so will never give up. But they not only rely on their physical attributes, but they are also good technically, with lots of speed and great players.”


Prediction

This promises to be an absolutely stunning game with so many wonderful attacking talents on the pitch at the same time. Liverpool are the slight underdogs and Real Madrid have plenty of experience after winning back-to-back UCL trophies, but you get the sense of an upset in the air. That said, I think it’s going to be another success for Ronaldo and Co. 3-2 to Real Madrid.

Germany’s ‘golden generation’ primed for World Cup defense

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BERLIN (AP) Germany coach Joachim Loew is brimming with confidence just over three weeks before what he calls the country’s “golden generation” begins its World Cup defense against Mexico.

“I have a very good feeling,” Loew said at the team’s training camp in South Tyrol, Italy. “I don’t know what will happen with this golden generation after the tournament. It’s possible there will be a break-up. But all the players are on fire for the World Cup.”

Germany is one of the favorites in Russia despite the retirements of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose since winning the tournament in Brazil four years ago.

Players like Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels and Thomas Mueller have grown into leading figures with the side, which wrapped up qualification with 10 wins from 10 games and 43 goals, a record number of goals for a European team in qualifying.

Now they are charged with attempting to make Germany the first team to retain the title since Brazil in 1962.

“I don’t have to coax new craving or new enthusiasm from the players,” Loew said in comments reported by news agency dpa. “The craving and ambition are still there, even among those who became world champions.”

Germany’s only worries concern the fitness of captain Manuel Neuer, defender Jerome Boateng and midfielder Mesut Ozil. Neuer hasn’t played since September with a hairline fracture in his left foot after being injured in training. Boateng is still recovering from a thigh injury sustained in the Champions League semifinals. Ozil missed Arsenal’s last few games of the season with back problems.

Team doctor Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt gave Ozil the green light to start training with the team and he was to decide Friday if Boateng should stay in Munich for further treatment or join the squad.

“We don’t want to make any mistakes,” Loew said of Boateng. “I think he’ll be able to at least take part in some team training next week.”

Neuer, too, is being given every chance to prove his fitness. Loew named four goalkeepers in his 27-man preliminary squad and is hoping that the 32-year-old Neuer won’t be the one sent home before FIFA’s June 4 deadline for final squads to be submitted.

“He can tolerate all the strains, even the most strenuous strains like jumping,” Loew said. “If he has the feeling he can perform at 100 percent he can be at the World Cup.”

Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen will keep the No. 1 spot if Neuer doesn’t recover fully.

Ter Stegen was to join the rest of the squad on Friday, along with Bayern’s Hummels, Mueller, Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Suele, as well as Chelsea defender Antonio Ruediger.

“It’s clear to everyone that the training camp is to get the required strength and power for the tournament. The fuel has to be there,” said Loew, who also hopes it boosts team spirit. “Everyone has to know that he is just a puzzle piece for success. Nobody can be world champion on their own.”

Loew recently signed a contract extension through the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022. The 58-year-old former assistant coach took over after the 2006 World Cup and has led Germany to the semifinal stage or further in every major tournament since.

Germany has two warmup matches, against Austria in Klagenfurt on June 2 and Saudi Arabia six days later in Leverkusen, to iron out any pre-tournament issues.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup