Huddersfield: Reasons for Cowley sacking and what the future holds
Written by Simon Austin — July 22, 2020
HAVING gone through five Sporting Directors (each with a slightly different title and remit) in three years, Huddersfield Town are about to appoint their fifth manager (or Head Coach) in little more than 18 months.
In his latest choices, chairman Phil Hodgkinson has made clear the direction he wants to go in. It will be based largely on young players, bolstered by a recruitment process that he himself oversees.
Former Academy Manager Leigh Bromby was appointed Director of Football Operations in February, while Leeds United Under-23 boss and assistant Carlos Corberan is about to become the Terriers' Head Coach.
As Leeds Sporting Director Victor Orta told us last October, Corberan provided a crucial link between the first team and Academy during his three years at Elland Road.
"We have a situation here which is really special in English football - one of Marcelo’s assistants, Carlos Corberan, is manager of the U23s," Orta explained. "So Marcelo has a daily knowledge (of the young players), not only one game per week. It’s a daily knowledge about all the Academy.
"To be honest, Carlos never rests. Being the assistant of Marcelo and manager of the U23s is tough, but it means the information and evaluation about the young players is hourly."
The man Corberan is replacing, Danny Cowley, left on Sunday after just 10 months at the club. Two days earlier, he had secured the club's Championship future with an impressive 2-1 win against West Brom that, ironically, sent Leeds up to the Premier League.
The timing of the sacking may have seemed strange to some outsiders, but tensions between Cowley and Hodgkinson had been simmering for months.
The conflict was about control and who would have the ultimate say over transfers. As usual, it was the owner who prevailed and in the club's statement on Sunday Hodgkinson said: “We have a different vision for the way we operate the club, and how our ambitions can be achieved."
There were also differences over the type of player the club should be recruiting. Cowley wanted players who would fit the hard-working DNA of the club and town and slot straight into the Championship; Hodgkinson wanted a pathway for homegrown players into the first team blended with smart buys from abroad.
It is telling that Corberan's title at the club will be Head Coach and not manager, like Cowley.
Having spoken to people who have worked with Hodgkinson, a common theme is that his “heart is in the right place” and "he wants the best for Huddersfield", but that good intentions can sometimes spill over into interference.
The former Southport owner was once an agent and is also a qualified youth coach, meaning he wants a daily input into football as well as business matters.
In outlining his vision for the future of the club, Hodgkinson sometimes uses the example of promotion-chasing Brentford, another unfashionable club that closed their Academy to run a B team.
There are significant differences between the two clubs, however. Brentford have a sister side in FC Midtylland, with whom they share knowledge and resources; a highly-developed European scouting network; and a tradition of world-class analysis and data science, driven by owner Matthew Benham.
Huddersfield don't enjoy these advantages. Not yet, anyway.
Bromby has excellent knowledge of the club's youth set-up, having previously been Academy Manager, but does not have a recruitment background, meaning Hodgkinson, who owns 75% of the club, will take a leading role.
Cowley and former Director of Football Operations David Webb led recruitment in January, bringing in Emile Smith Rowe, who scored the winner against West Brom, in on loan from Arsenal. Now Hodgkinson has taken back control.
Creating a pathway for players from the U19s to the Championship will also be tough. The club has a Category Four Academy and recruits from the age of 16, by which time a lot of the best young players are already well established at other Academies.
Midfielder Lewis O’Brien is a player who has moved impressively from the youth ranks to the first team, but he had a loan spell at Bradford City to help him get battle-hardened for senior football.
Chief executive Mark Devlin, who arrived at the club in January, did hold the same role at Brentford for seven-and-a-half years and tweeted, in response to this article: "We have a defined & agreed recruitment policy and process, led by Head of Football Ops & recruitment team. The Chairman takes part in recruitment meetings (why wouldn't he?) but doesn't lead them. We are really excited by the future."
However, the backdrop to next season - at Huddersfield and across the league - will be a post-Covid world of financial hardship for many, with Hodgkinson having himself warned during lockdown of the possibility that “at least 50 or 60 clubs will cease to exist”.
The club’s accounts to the end of June 2019 revealed £76m of loan debt, including £35m to former chairman Dean Hoyle, although the new owner explained that a significant portion of the debt had already been paid and that it was manageable. You can read about that in a lot more detail here.
Long-standing Head of Performance John Iga (above) and first-team coach Mark Hudson have also both departed along with the Cowley brothers.
Iga had been with the club since April 2016 and is highly-respected within the game, having previously been Head of Sports Science at the Football Association and for Wolves. Hudson is a club legend, having captained the Terriers and coached the U18s and U23s before becoming first-team coach.
All in all, the club will be a very different place from this summer. Only time will tell whether it's better or not.