Jaap Stam has insisted on Reading not to freeze on the big stage when his side take on Huddersfield Town at Wembley on Monday, and the search for a passage to the Premier League and the biggest financial prize in football. According to Deloitte, the promotion is worth a guaranteed prize pool of Â£170 million, a figure which could rise to Â£290m if the club retain their top-flight status.
Stam has previously dismissed the importance of his own big-game experience, saying that there is not much that can be done from the touch line, and he believes that their players have been hardened from prevailing in the important matches this season. “I think they have learned throughout the season, progress has been made during the season and we’ve had several games where we had to do and needed to win and they have done it,” Stam said. “The last two games against Fulham [in the playâ€‘offs, for example, the game at home to Leeds [1-0] or away at Sheffield wednesday [2-0].
“We have learned from the experience at Old Trafford: a great game [a 4-0 FA Cup defeat], great occasion, a great deal of intensity and a different environment. The first half we did not play how we could play, some players froze a little, but I think that the players learn from that. The players learn from that, having the belief that they are allowed to make mistakes”.
Stam believes that he has grown as a coach in the last 12 months, by having learned to take advantage of their emotions. “You can’t expect young players straight away you’ll see,” he said. “As a manager it is difficult as you can see what is happening on the pitch and I want to warn the players. That is why I am always outside, always involved and speak with the players about what the opposition could do. Sometimes, when it is not operating can be difficult.
“We are hard at times if we think it is necessary. But from years ago, that always had managers who gave the players a bollocking if you don’t. I like to do that if the player is still doing the same error, sometimes you need to be more rough and difficult. But it is better if you tell the players what they have to do, it’s easy to say that you have done something wrong, but what can you do to make it better and improve? When you give that advice which makes it easier for a player to do it the next time.”
For Stam, the last obstacle of a “throughout the first season” at work, is to navigate a way beyond a vibrant Huddersfield, the other side that have exceeded expectations this year. Stam believes that he and David Wagner, both in their first management jobs, they are reaping the rewards of being given the freedom to implement a clear philosophy.
“In Holland, we have a philosophy of how we want to be and what we want to do,” Stam said. “The Huddersfield manager, as well as in Germany, the football has not changed much in the last couple of years. The last couple of years in Germany, which still has the appearance of not giving up and working hard until the end, but he implemented the style of play and a way of football. If you are going to a certain team or you can go to a certain league and put in practice your philosophy of play, his mentality as well, you can go a long way.”
David Wagner, for his part, has acknowledged that his future will almost certainly be based on the outcome of the Monday of the final.
Huddersfield’s manager is widely coveted, with Middlesbrough and Southampton understood to be interested in, and not be short of suitors should his side lose. “I think that this game can decide the future of all of us,” said the 45-year-old former Borussia Dortmund reserve-team manager.
“But it makes no sense to think about that now. I haven’t really thought about my future, because it is a waste of energy. Makes total sense to think only about the Reading.”
Should Huddersfield return to the top category for the first time since 1972, Dean Hoyle, the club’s owner, is prepared to offer Wagner and radically improved, Â£2.5 m-a-year contract, but could still face a fight to retain him.
Whatever happens, Wagner and Huddersfield have done wonders for getting to Wembley. “I feel we’re 18 or 19 in the Championship of the budget table,” said the German. “I think the difference between us and Newcastle is bigger than the gap between Leicester and Chelsea when Leicester won the title last seasonâ€“ if you like to compare our two fairy tales.
“We are a small club, but even if you are a small dog, this does not mean that you are not able to be fast, have endurance, be mobile. I think we have found a way, we have shown our weapons.”
Wagner feels that his players were well prepared for their semi-final victory against Sheffield wednesday, with the second leg that has taken place â€“ and won in the penalty shoot-out â€“ at Hillsborough.
“There is a big difference between Hillsborough and Wembley,” said a manager who has had Huddersfield training grounds adjusted to the last of the dimensions, and often leads to the 3 afternoon sessions of practice to reflect the end of the kick-off time. “The players have shown they are capable of.”
The only time that Wagner has been the national stadium was to attend a Football Association disciplinary hearing, but has not asked his great friend JÃ¼rgen Klopp for the advice about playing there. “It is because he took his team to Wembley last season [to the final of the League Cup], and he was not a success!”, said Wagner. “But I know that JÃ¼rgen support us.”
Should Huddersfield win, then Hoyle is expected that in honor of the promise made in the purchase of the club in 2009. The Card Factory founder committed to that, if the Terriers came to the Premier League, who had held a season ticket throughout his tenure would be guaranteed a high level of season pass for Â£100. He expects to be cheered by 40,000-plus fans at Wembley stadium.