REPLACING a big fans’ favourite can be tough, as Jonas Lossl discovered last year in the Bundesliga with Mainz 05.
The Dane was signed from French Ligue 1 club outfit Guingamp during the summer of 2016 after Loris Karius, rated second to only Manuel Neuer in the German top flight the previous season, had made a big-money switch to Liverpool.
Things started okay with his opening four games yielding seven points but, soon, Lossl found himself bearing the brunt of supporters’ frustration as Mainz began to struggle.
A handful of individual errors did not help but it was having to fill the gloves of the popular Karius that really counted against Lossl, who, by the season’s end, had been relegated to the bench in favour of the club’s Under-23s goalkeeper, Jannik Huth.
Mainz, the club where David Wagner and Jurgen Klopp first met as team-mates in the early Nineties, did avoid the relegation play-offs on goal difference but for Lossl it was clear a move away would be his best option. Wagner, fresh from being told by Klopp that play-off hero Danny Ward would not be returning to Huddersfield Town in 2017-18, moved quickly.
On the evidence of the Yorkshire club’s opening two league outings, Mainz’s loss has been very much the Terriers’ gain with Lossl having been instrumental in the victories over Crystal Palace and Newcastle United.
“I didn’t fit in any more at Mainz so this was a great opportunity,” Lossl told The Yorkshire Post in typically matter-of-fact fashion when asked about a loan switch that can be made permanent next summer.
“We didn’t have a good season – both the team and me. After I got a small injury that kept me out for one game (in April), they won and continued to do that for the last couple of games.
“They then changed coach (at the start of the summer when Sandro Schwaz replaced Martin Schmidt) and got an opportunity to bring in Rene Adler, the goalkeeper from Hamburg. He has big experience.”
Adler, with 13 seasons and 255 appearances in the Bundesliga to his name, arriving at the Opel Arena was timely for Wagner.
He knew all about the struggles that Lossl had endured in his first year with Mainz. But, as the canny Town head coach has proved countless times with his signings since arriving at the John Smith’s, a blip in form will not put him off a player he believes has untapped potential.
Such an approach had served the German well when bringing in the likes of Elias Kachunga, Town’s top scorer in winning promotion last season but someone who had failed to score at all the previous year with FC Ingolstadt, and Wembley hero Christopher Schindler.
Wagner spent a then record £1.8m on Schindler, who by the Town chief’s admission had been “in relegation trouble for four years at 1860 Munich and his team conceded the most goals in the Bundesliga for four years in a row”. Like Lossl, Schindler has immediately looked at home in the Premier League to underline just what a good eye Wagner has for talent.
Lossl added: “There were other clubs I spoke to but the Premier League was the attraction, at least in the beginning. That has always been the dream. But then, I spoke to David and was sure. I didn’t have any doubts any more because I had an impression of what was happening here.
“How good is he? That is a difficult question. But I am very, very glad to be working here and to play under such a very good coach.
“It is what you dream of in a coach, he does what he says. He said when I signed what would happen (regarding signings) and it has been true.”
Lossl’s young family, he has two children aged four and two, are yet to join him in England but that will be rectified after the international break.
The Town goalkeeper admits this will be an important step in his acclimatisation to life in West Yorkshire, as he looks to build on a start that has included two assured displays featuring saves of the very highest order from Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Christian Benteke, of Crystal Palace.
“My oldest child is four and we will be putting her in school,” said Lossl. “It is an exciting time.”
That last comment extends to Town right now, as Wagner’s men look to join Bolton’s class of 2001-02 as the only newly-promoted side to win their opening three games in the Premier League era.
“We are the underdogs,” said Lossl. “I don’t know how the finances work over here but I imagine we are at the bottom, budget-wise. So, we are the underdogs, a small dog.
“But it is nice that people recognise us for what we are and what we are capable of.”
The ultimate underdog having its day in the Premier League, of course, is Leicester City lifting the title in 2016 with Lossl’s international team-mate Kasper Schmeichel in goal.
“He is a good friend of mine,” said the Town goalkeeper. “I will see him next week (on international duty). We play Leicester next month at home. That is going to be fun. We will mention it (on international duty), for sure.”
Schmeichel, of course, had dad Peter to follow between the posts. In contrast, Lossl’s first dream was about scoring goals and not keeping them out.
“Before becoming a goalkeeper at 11, I was an attacker,” says the 6ft 5in Dane. “I was always bigger than everyone else, and enjoyed being a striker. You should come to the training pitch to watch me sometime, you will see.”