HAVING already played under David Wagner in Germany, Chris Lowe knew exactly what to expect when leaving the dressing room ahead of his first appearance in Huddersfield Town colours.
Sure enough, as the players made their way through the door leading to the tunnel, the Terriers’ head coach delivered a fierce whack to the back of each passing neck as a way of ensuring his troops were ready for battle.
Lowe, having first experienced Wagner’s unusual pre-match ritual when a member of his reserve team at Borussia Dortmund, admits the blow can sting. Which is why the left-back has developed a cunning defence mechanism.
“You have to be clever sometimes,” says the 28-year-old to The Yorkshire Post with a cheeky smile. “He says it wakes the players up, but it can hurt.
“It was the same at Dortmund. So now I make sure when I go past the manager that I don’t get a big hit by doing this.”
With that, Lowe, still grinning, lifts both his shoulder blades and pulls the back of his head down – in the process, effectively reducing any potential target area for Wagner to strike.
Simple, effective and practical. Pretty much all the traits that have helped Huddersfield enjoy a relatively smooth return to the big time.
Some clubs new to the elite flounder quickly, almost as if dazzled by their new surrounds. Town, even allowing for a couple of heavy defeats to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, are more than holding their own.
Three victories and a dozen points from the opening 10 games is the sort of foundation on which a successful survival push can be built.
Wagner, as he was when masterminding arguably the most unexpected promotion of the Premier League era last season, has been the key.
His enthusiasm is infectious. So, too, is his belief with Lowe readily admitting when he arrived on a free transfer from Kaiserslautern during the summer of 2016 that the prospect of reaching the Premier League seemed fanciful at best.
The German left-back says: “I did not think this would be possible for the club to win promotion when I joined, that is obvious. Huddersfield had been fighting relegation for a lot of years and not been near the top of the Championship at all in that time.
“The Premier League was not even mentioned when I first spoke to the manager about me possibly coming here. No one could have expected this to happen. But we did it and our success was well deserved.”
Last May’s play-off final success against Reading was the second time Lowe had won promotion under Wagner.
The manager is why I came here from Germany. The only reason, if am honest. I knew how he wanted to play football, how he is as a manager and a person.Huddersfield Town’s Chris Lowe
As a 22-year-old fresh from three years with Saxony-based Chemnitzer in the semi-professional leagues, the full-back was part of the Dortmund second string who beat Wuppertaler SV on the final day of the 2011-12 campaign to clinch the Regionalliga West title and a place in the third tier of German football.
Lowe, who also played 11 times for Jurgen Klopp’s senior side during two years at Dortmund, recalls: “The manager has not changed at all since we were together in Germany.
“He is the same manager as he was in Dortmund, trying to bring his ideas to the team here just as he did over there. It has worked brilliantly at Huddersfield, the club is totally changed under him.
“The manager is why I came here from Germany. The only reason, if am honest. I knew how he wanted to play football, how he is as a manager and a person. That was why I wanted to come to England and play for him.
“What I really like about him is his honesty. As a player, I always like an honest manager. Today in football, that is not a normal thing. Not every manager is like that. But our manager has that most important quality of honesty.”
This level of honesty, of course, can lead to harsh truths being spoken. Lowe was recently dropped to the bench by Wagner, who felt the left-back’s performance levels had dipped from the high standards he had set in the Championship. There was no quibble on Lowe’s part with either that assessment or the straight-talking manner in which it was delivered.
“I am honest with myself and my performances,” adds Lowe.
“I had not played well before I came out of the team. I deserved to be on the bench against Swansea.
“I had made a few mistakes and they had cost the team. I did not like that. Tottenham was an easy mistake (for the first goal), Leicester with the penalty was also (down to) me.
“The manager had enough reasons to leave me out.
“I accepted that. He was honest about why I was not playing, there was no problem for me with him saying that. But I felt my reaction was good and what he wanted to see.
“After being on the bench at Swansea, I tried everything in training to prove to the manager I should get another chance. I wanted him to feel it was a mistake to leave me out.”
Lowe’s absence lasted just one game, Scott Malone making way ahead of the stunning victory over Manchester United that continued what has been a remarkable rise since Wagner took charge two years ago tomorrow.
“The manager is very good at making us feel calm,” says Lowe when asked what sets the Town chief apart. “Even in the pressure games when we were going for promotion, he made us appreciate these games were why we wanted to play football. He was right.”