On a vibrant and superb morning by the banks of the River Aare, coaching is over for the day and David Wagner is feeling fairly good about life. “I needed this distance from football,” he says of his resolution to take a nine-month break from the sport final season. “Because to be totally honest, it was not my football. I like emotions, I like atmosphere. And during the corona period, it was anything but joy to be in a football stadium. I’m very happy that we are nearly back to normal.”
For Wagner, the supervisor who made miracles occur at Huddersfield, the previous couple of years have been a tricky lesson in the sport’s highs and lows. His subsequent job at Schalke took a bitter flip and he was sacked after a depressing run of 18 video games with no win. Now he’s again, refreshed and reinvigorated, because the supervisor of Bern’s Young Boys, and looking out ahead to his first tilt on the Champions League.
The go to of Manchester United to the Wankdorf Stadium on Tuesday night looks like alternative to meet up with a person who stays fashionable in English soccer, even when he has no present plans to return.
He continues to be in contact with lots of his former colleagues at Huddersfield and speaks to the proprietor, Dean Hoyle, twice a month. But for now his focus is on Young Boys, champions of Switzerland for the previous 4 seasons and in the Champions League group phases for the second time.
“It’s the first time where I joined a football club where everybody expects success, but this was exactly the challenge I wanted to face,” he says. “I’ve met a lot of open-minded people here. They’re open to change a little bit.
“What excites me is that this is a very hungry group. Everybody adapted very quickly to our ideas. And, apart from this, Bern is a wonderful place to be.”
Now, with the good thing about slightly distance, Wagner is ready to mirror on what went mistaken at Schalke: a Bundesliga big affected by years of mismanagement and poor recruitment.
“If I speak about the time at Schalke, you can split it in two different periods,” he says. “The first period was very exciting. I think we only lost three of the first 25 games, we were third in the table. And then we didn’t win for 18 games. Yeah, I was part of this, but the part I was able to deal with was not the biggest one.
“You’ve seen how important it is to work in a stable club, where not everything looks like a mess. There were so many things happening off the pitch: the owner changing, the finance director changing, then came corona and we had no money to spend. The supporters were not happy.
“There were so many things I was not able to influence. And if you have the feeling that whatever you do, you will not change it, it’s a horrible feeling. It doesn’t depend who is on the sideline. You can bring in whoever you like: this club will not stop going down.”
So it proved. The issues at Schalke have been manifold: mounting money owed, the rising disconnect between the membership and its followers, and the hated proprietor, Clemens Tönnies, who was cleared by the board regardless of making racist remarks throughout a speech.
After Wagner’s departure two video games into final season, the decline continued: Schalke have been relegated with 16 factors.
Bruised and disillusioned, Wagner determined to decide on his subsequent transfer with care. There have been rumours of curiosity from West Brom, however as Wagner advised his agent: “The next project doesn’t depend on the size of the league. Everybody thought it would be the Bundesliga or the Premier League again. But I wanted a stable club with good people. People you can trust. And if there’s a possibility to play in Europe or win titles, then I was open to going into a smaller league as well.
“Switzerland is growing in football, as everybody saw at the European Championship. The difference between the top and bottom teams is big. But it’s a very interesting league with a lot of talent.”
Success at Young Boys would naturally generate hypothesis a couple of return to the Premier League, however Wagner has no intention of fuelling it. “What I learned in football is it makes no sense to plan your future,” he says. “I absolutely loved every second in English football. Will I be back in the future? I’ve no idea. If it happens, great. If it will not happen, I will die a lucky man as well.”
Wagner has already loved some success at Young Boys, steering them by three rounds of qualifying. Now United and their all-star solid await. How does he intend to cease them? “If I knew 100%, I would sleep better,” he says, laughing.
“It’s totally clear who is the favourite and who is the underdog. I can’t promise a positive result. But what I can promise everybody is that we will fight for every inch. We play in our home stadium, on our pitch, with a sold out crowd. And for sure, we will try our best.”