David Webb: Hiring a manager to fit the values of your club
Written by Simon Austin — April 28, 2020
WITHIN two weeks of being appointed as Huddersfield's Head of Football Operations last August, David Webb was tasked with finding a new manager for the club.
“I was thrown into that very early on,” he remembers. “At the same time I was taking in as much as I could about the environment - the area, the community, the values of the club - as well as what the owner wanted and how he saw things.”
The Londoner (pictured, above right) quickly set about a three-part process: confirm the values of the club; establish the criteria a new manager must meet; compile a shortlist of suitable candidates.
Huddersfield were certainly at a low ebb when Head Coach Jan Siewert was sacked on August 16th. Having been relegated from the Premier League in record time the previous season, they were now languishing in the relegation places in the Championship.
The Terriers had one point from their first three games and the German’s personal record read one win from 19.
“The club had got up to the Premier League with certain values, but I think the way they recruited in the second season (2018/19) meant they lost that,” Webb said.
"The backroom staff were still very much like that, wanting to improve, but with the playing staff you probably had half who did and half who were using Huddersfield as a stepping stone to go onto other clubs.
“When they went down, they weren’t going to adhere to the same values or have the same motivation that they did in the Premier League.”
Before his move to Yorkshire, Webb held senior recruitment roles at Southampton and Tottenham and was Technical Director of Swedish side Ostersunds. He described the values of Huddersfield as both a club and town as “working class, rooted in a work ethic and humility.”
In tandem with owner and chairman Phil Hodgkinson, Webb set about finding an “up-and-coming young British manager" who could fit these values by engaging with the wider community, instilling a strong work ethic and bringing through homegrown players.
The club’s analysis team were put on the case, going over records, playing styles and preferences of potential candidates, while Webb spoke to coaches and players to get an additional layer of information. They looked at social media and old news stories to find out about the work, if any, that different managers had done within their local communities.
Eventually they came up with a shortlist headed by Lincoln manager Danny Cowley and his assistant, and brother, Nicky.
“After a process of elimination, in terms of getting CVs in and speaking to people on the phone, we established a list of four candidates we wanted to speak to face-to-face,” Webb revealed.
“The Cowley brothers ticked a lot of boxes for us, but you never really know about someone until you speak to them face-to-face. We were able to speak freely to a couple of the other candidates because they weren’t at clubs, but the Cowleys had a release clause in their contracts, meaning we had to agree a compensation package with Lincoln before we could even speak to them.
“We had to go through the front door, otherwise we could have been in trouble.”
The interview process reinforced the Cowleys as the club's number one choice and after fending off competition from Sheffield Wednesday for their signatures, the duo were appointed by the Terriers on September 9th. What was it that made them such a good fit?
“They are up-and-coming young British managers with the potential to progress,” Webb explained. “Their work ethic is very good. They came up through the Essex Senior League to the Conference South with Concord Rangers, while still working full time as teachers. They took Lincoln up from the Conference to League One and an FA Cup quarter-final (in 2017).
“They’re very detailed in the way they work and are up-to-date with modern trends in terms of data, analysis, sports science. Huddersfield have a good set-up that allows them to get expertise in those areas.
"At Lincoln and their other clubs, they did a lot of work with the local schools and communities - reaching out, developing a real affiliation - which was very important to us.
“They also had a winning mentality - five promotions, winning leagues, winning the EFL Trophy (in 2018) - and that was important because it was something we’d lost as a club. We knew they’d still be learning, because they hadn’t worked in the Championship before, but that they’d give it their all.
“We analysed the number of players they’d brought through and developed between the ages of 16 and 21, because another part of our remit was to bring young players through. With everything, they fitted what we were after.
“They’re also strong characters which, having come down from the Premier League and having players with strong personalities and character traits, was vital as well.”
So far, things have worked out. When the Cowley brothers arrived at the club, Huddersfield were second bottom of the Championship with just one point. After a tricky start, Danny Cowley was named October's Manager of the Month and the club are now 18th in the table.
“It’s going to take a year or two to really get to where the club wants to be,” said Webb, who in February announced he would be leaving the Terriers at the end of this campaign (whenever that might be).
“It’s a good club with good people - and with Danny and Nicky at the helm I believe they’re headed in the right direction.”