FLORENT HADERGJONAJ has bitter experience of how a second season among the elite can turn sour.
The Huddersfield Town full-back was signed by FC Ingolstadt in the summer of 2016, as the Bavarian minnows looked to build on an encouraging first 12 months in the Bundesliga.
Ingolstadt had finished 11th in their debut campaign as a top-flight club but that second year went horribly wrong from the start.
It was November 19 before Ingolstadt won a game at the 11th time of asking. Results gradually improved after finally breaking that duck with a 1-0 win at Darmstadt 98 but even a stirring finish that saw just two of the final nine games lost could not save the club from the drop.
Hadergjonaj moved on later that summer to Huddersfield but, as Yorkshire’s sole representative looks to avoid a similar bout of ‘second season syndrome’ under David Wagner, he admits that sorry experience with Ingolstadt offers a timely reminder of the potential pitfalls.
“The second year is hard,” said the 24-year-old Swiss-born full back to The Yorkshire Post. “I have had this problem in the past (with Ingolstadt).
“Maybe someone expects more from you and there is a little bit more pressure for the team. It is not easy.
“Every player can take it differently. Some see it as more pressure, others less. But it is about the team.
“You have to work well as a team and keep everyone positive. Everyone has to feel they can do something for the team and how you work as a team.
“We proved that last year. Everyone was expecting us to go down with ten points or something like that.
It was not easy to miss out on the World Cup. But I had to deal with it. I am a young player and, hopefully, I have time to make it to another World Cup.Florent Hadergjonaj
“As a team, though, we stuck together. We believed in what the manager told us. For sure, the second year will be harder.
“The teams have spent a lot of money but we have also spent money on some good, young players. Plus, what matters is how you work as a team.”
It is a little under a year since Hadergjonaj became newly promoted Town’s 12th and final signing of the summer.
Little was known in Huddersfield about the baby-faced full-back, other than he was a Switzerland international and clearly familiar to Wagner from his time in Germany with Ingolstadt.
The man himself knew even less about West Yorkshire. His only two previous visits to England had been to Brighton for a youth football tournament and then London with friends.
Getting his head around the Yorkshire accent wasn’t easy at first. “I had to get people to tell me things five times before I understood,” laughs Hadergjonaj at the memory.
But, on the pitch, he looked immediately at home and, by Christmas, had become the club’s first-choice right-back. Wagner also utilised him as a central midfielder at times, most notably in the visits to Manchester to tackle United and then City.
Hadergjonaj and his team-mates will tomorrow make that return trip across the Pennines to the Etihad looking for a repeat of that goalless draw in May. It won’t, though, be easy.
“In the Premier League, every game is hard,” he added. “This time it is Manchester City. But we had some big chances against them last year, we want to do the same again this time.”
That hard-earned point at the Etihad, of course, paved the way for another draw at Chelsea four days later that secured Huddersfield’s top-flight status.
Hadergjonaj added: “For us, staying in the Premier league was like Manchester City winning the title. A really, really big thing.
“Every player dreamed of having another year in the Premier League. We knew how good the feeling is in this competition and we wanted that again.
“The Chelsea game was crazy afterwards. We want that feeling again. The night out (in London) was one we enjoyed.
“We had stayed in the league and I can remember all the night, it was good. We had put so much effort in and stuck together as a team.
“Everyone said we could not do it. We deserved to have that fun.”
Hadergjonaj’s joy at securing top-flight status for another 12 months gave way, a few weeks later, to frustration at missing out on the World Cup after to failing to make the cut for Switzerland’s 23-man squad.
“It was not easy to miss out on the World Cup,” said Hadergjonaj. “But I had to deal with it. I am a young player and, hopefully, I have time to make it to another World Cup.
“I was happy to get some free time, some holidays. Last season was the first time I had not had a winter break, so I enjoyed the holidays with my family. This will help me a lot, as last season I arrived here really late.
“I did watch all the games in the World Cup. Well, all but two or three I think. I watched every game of my team-mates here at Huddersfield. It was an amazing thing to watch.
“It was hard not to be involved but maybe in another four years you can see me in the World Cup.”
Hadergjonaj, on the back of that impressive first season at the John Smith’s Stadium, joined Town in a £3.5m permanent deal in the summer.
“It was an easy decision to stay,” he added. “A dream for me. I came here on loan and you never know what will happen in terms of getting time to play.
“But I felt very good and I had good conversations with the manager. It was clear he believed in me, same with the players. I could not have achieved a permanent contract without them.”