MICHAEL HEFELE has always provided a neat turn of phrase or a mimed action to sum up his adventures with Huddersfield Town.
After keeping his cool to send Sheffield Wednesday’s Kieren Westwood the wrong way during the penalty shoot-out that sent the Terriers to Wembley last May, the German turned to his team-mates on the halfway line and mimicked firing a bow and arrow.
“I did a little Robin Hood,” the defender later explained. “Robin Hood takes from the rich and gives to the poor. When you see Sheffield Wednesday, they are a huge club. Compared to them, we are small.”
As with anything done by Hefele, the Town fans lapped up his act of symbolism at Hillsborough. Just as they had done his ‘claw’ celebration after scoring on debut at Aston Villa eight months earlier, chosen to symbolise the lion that is regarded in his native Bavaria as strong and reliable.
Then there was his infamous post-match interview after scoring a late winner against Leeds United, when Hefele turned the air blue in living rooms across the country when trying to articulate his joy. T-shirts featuring the cleaned up phrase ‘It’s a Heffing Dream’ quickly became a best seller in the club shop.
Sadly for those Huddersfield supporters who so revere the 27-year-old, precious little has been seen of the defender this season due to an Achilles injury.
Two months had to be spent back in Germany, undergoing rehab under the watchful eye of Professor Floran Farb. It meant Huddersfield’s impressive return to the top flight has largely had to be watched from afar with a mixture of emotions that peaked with October’s momentous 2-1 victory over Manchester United.
“I had one smiling eye and one eye that was crying,” Hefele told The Yorkshire Post ahead of his likely return to the starting line-up today at Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup.
“Every time we got three points, like against Manchester United, I was so happy. Same if we got a point. But, on the other side, I was also sad not to be part of the team.”
Hefele’s deep regret at missing out on Town’s Premier League adventure is understandable. Few epitomised better the ‘no limits’ philosophy that powered the Terriers to promotion.
Much of his career before moving to England during the summer of 2016 had been played in the third tier of German football or below. Rarely during those formative years did the defender seem capable of going any higher.
Then, though, came a lifestyle change that saw pork, any wheat-based products and milk ditched in favour of a healthier diet.
Finally, Hefele’s career started to take off as a couple of decent years with Dynamo Dresden alerted David Wagner, Huddersfield’s head coach.
After taking time to adapt to the physical nature of English football in the early weeks of last season, the German defender established a partnership with Christopher Schindler that helped take Huddersfield up.
Schindler, in Hefele’s absence, has gone on to establish himself as a proven Premier League player alongside Mathias ‘Zanka’ Schindler. Both are expected to sit out today’s Cup tie at the Macron Stadium, opening up the possibility of Hefele being paired with new signing Terence Kongolo following the latter’s arrival on loan from Monaco.
For Hefele, it will be only his second appearance in the FA Cup after being rested for much of last season’s run to the fifth round and a replay with Manchester City.
His only previous outing came a year ago today at Rochdale in rather unfamiliar – if ultimately successful – circumstances.
“We played Rochdale, won 4-0 and I scored two goals as a striker,” he says with a huge smile. “The manager said to me (before the game) I was playing up front as a striker and I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, good joke’. But then I really was the striker.
“For me, I always wanted to play as a striker in a normal game so I was very happy. Maybe I have to improve my defensive runs a little bit because when I am a striker I just want to be in the box and score.”
Hefele will be employed in a more conventional role today against Championship side Bolton as all those months of frustration come to an end with a long overdue return to action.
“Not being involved has been very hard to take,” he added. “I was back in Germany for two months. I had a doctor that was recommended and he helped me with this injury.
“The first time I went to see Professor Florian Farb, straight away I felt better. I had a good feeling and wanted to do the treatment with him.
“But it was strange to be so far from Huddersfield, very tough at times if I am honest.
“I kept in touch with the guys through WhatsApp, or by speaking on the phone. But it wasn’t the same.
“Not being there with the guys, with the crowd and not playing in the Premier League, it has not been easy. It made me very sad, though I knew I had to do this because I had the injury problems.”
Being back home meant keeping tabs on how Huddersfield were faring in the Premier League via TV. “I watched all the games and seeing the team do well was great,” added the German.
“I was on my couch, having a heart attack in some games like Manchester United. That was the crazy one.
“For the last 10 minutes I was walking round my living room. I said to everyone, ‘Live ticker (vidiprinter) out’ because it (the TV coverage) was a little bit later (than live). I wanted to see the final whistle blow to win us the three points.”