Barnsley’s last two managers had a couple of things in common.
Daniel Stendel and Gerhard Struber both enjoyed successful spells coaching at youth level in Europe, and they each knew how to inspire a fanbase.
The German-American began his coaching career at 1899 Hoffenheim U17s, moved up to the U19s, then spent four years in charge of Borussia Dortmund’s U23 side, during which he won promotion into the German third-tier, then finished 14th in the division - the club’s highest ever position.
After leaving Dortmund he was linked with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool (as a coach to his best mate) but while he did voyage over to England, it was as a manager in his own right at Huddersfield Town, who at the time were struggling down in 18th in the Championship.
“The first phone call [from Huddersfield] I received was from Stuart [Webber] and at the end of our conversation he said the club had to find a new way, that everybody wanted to go in a new direction, and were excited about what we did in Dortmund and how we tried to play,” Wagner said shortly after his appointment.
“He asked me: ‘Is it possible to do this in England?’ I said: ‘Why not?’ It is possible to play this way everywhere in the world if you have open-minded players and an open-minded club, and you have enough patience. It can be at different levels of the game, it can be a different type but it is possible everywhere.”
It didn’t take long for Wagner to adapt to his new surroundings, and come the end of the season he’d swatted away the threat of relegation. On a shoestring budget, he then conjured up a sensational push for promotion in 2016/17; which was sealed after a penalty shoot-out victory over Reading. History was made.
Wager worked wonders at Huddersfield, and was most recently at Schalke
Huddersfield were instantly installed as the favourites to be relegated in their first ever Premier League campaign, yet they defied the odds again, finishing four points clear of the relegation zone. A 2-1 victory at home to Man Utd was the obvious highlight, while they carded draws at Chelsea and Man City.
"It's a bigger achievement than the promotion - last season we were predicted to get relegated and we won promotion," Wagner said after keeping his troops up.
"Some predicted this season that we would be relegated by miles. I understand that totally. We work under circumstances that are maybe not even Championship circumstances - but part of our DNA is to try and have passion and desire. It doesn't matter how big you are - you have to try everything. Togetherness is a big part."
Wagner left half-way through the following campaign, citing burnout, then returned to Germany as the new head coach of Schalke; where a very bright start saw him transform the club into top-four contenders, until things turned bleak and he was sacked two games into the current campaign.
While he’ll be wounded by Schalke’s collapse, the out-of-work Wagner has worked wonders in the Championship once before, where he embraced a club culture, revved up a fanbase that had been starved of success, and created history.
He has a personal touch that capitaves those around him, a history of developing youngsters, and is open-minded and innovative.
It’s difficult to guess what the Barnsley managers are thinking at the moment. The last three appointments have all come as a surprise, but if they want to go down a similar continental route as before, except with the added bonus of a Championship promotion on his CV, then there’s an outside chance Wagner could return to Yorkshire.