Michael Hefele interview: How promotion hero found his way back to Huddersfield Town

WARM, gregarious and one of life’s extroverts, it is probably not the biggest surprise to discover that Michael Hefele took up acting lessons a couple of years back.

Huddersfield Town's Michael Hefele celebrates after winning the Sky Bet Championship play-off final at Wembley Stadium, London. (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire)

It is certainly no shock to see him embrace his multifaceted role at the club closest to his heart in Huddersfield Town, either.

If anyone can do it, he can.

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In his playing days, it was all about mastering one ball. Now, it is about juggling several.

Huddersfield Town's Michael Hefele scores the winning goal for Town against Leeds in February 2017 (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Hefele is taking his coaching badges and mentoring Town’s young players. He also recently began a two-year sporting director course which sees him sit in on board meetings to get up to speed with the internal runnings of a football club.

The hugely-popular German, a cult hero in that feted ‘No Limits’ Huddersfield squad who were the talk of football after reaching the Premier League in 2016-17, is also a visible presence in the community with the Town Foundation, as well as working with the club’s commercial team.

He is part communicator, mentor, tactician and ambassador. Acting’s loss is Huddersfield’s gain.

Hefele, 31, who retired from playing in July, told The Yorkshire Post: “There was a bit of a thing where I thought about going into acting. There were some little bits and bats.

Huddersfield Town players Michael Hefele and Elias Kachunga celebrate being promoted. (Picture: Simon Hulme)

“I did actually have some acting lessons. But due to Coronavirus, it was not possible to go a little bit further.

“This job now takes up my full time and I will keep the acting in the back of my head, and I have other goals.”

Part of Hefele’s job sees him serve as a bit of an unofficial cheer-leader on matchdays. In his previous role, this outgoing individual had little to cheer about after leaving his beloved Huddersfield for Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2018.

The defender’s most famous on-pitch moments in a Town jersey arrived against Leeds United in February 2017 when he grabbed a dramatic late winner in the club’s derby victory.

Huddersfield Town's Michael Hefele on stage during the promotion parade in Huddersfield. (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire)

It was the prelude to a manic touchline sprint from ecstatic Terriers head coach David Wagner, a set-to with Leeds counterpart Garry Monk and a mass brawl among players.

Hefele’s post-match interview when he spoke of his time at the club being a ‘f***ing dream’ was just as memorable.

By contrast, his time in Nottingham was a nightmare. Leeds, ironically, were the opposition when he ruptured his Achilles tendon, for a second time, in a game at the City Ground on New Year’s Day, 2019. It was his last professional game.

After a year of rehabilitation, Hefele broke his foot and was later forced to train with Forest’s under-23s and then told he could find a new club.

Terriers goal scorers Isaiah Brown and Michael Hefele celebrate the win at the end of the February 2017 game with Leeds (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Almost two years after his fateful Achilles injury, Hefele damaged his knee and ended up calling time on his playing days in the summer, with his body in bits.

Understandably, it was a mentally challenging time as well, even for someone with such a sunny disposition.

Hefele added: “Mentally, it was so, so tough when your body is more or less falling apart.

“Even when you are doing all the things right in terms of sleep, no alcohol and no smoking. It just did not work out.

“There were some different aspects where I didn’t have the feeling like here. It made me think about how you should be treated by all people.

“There’s lot of things I learned from my spell in Nottingham. It is a big part in my toolkit from seeing good and bad things.

Dark times, the finals days of his career at Nottingham Forest (Picture: PA)

“It was the toughest period in my life and now I am back in the sunshine. My family gave me power, belief and strength. Sometimes, it is not about when it is going well, but about the rain and after the rain, the sun is coming. I have never had it nice and easy and it is good for my strength of character.”

On his injury descent, he recalls: “We were sitting in the top six and it was ok and then I had problems with my Achilles and played maybe too long with no rest. Unfortunately, I had a year out and then after one thing, came another. It was not nice.

“When you are a broken toy, you are a broken toy and you buy a new toy...Even when it is fixed. It’s part of the game. I accept it.

“It is about caring about human beings and I want to bring that into this job. For the kids when they are injured and having a tough time.”

During those lows by the Trent, his old club – from the place he now considers to be home – admirably kept in touch to try and keep his spirits up.

When it was obvious that his career was over, at the age of just 30, Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson sounded him out about returning to the club in a newly-created role. It is something that the former Dinamo Dresden player will forever be grateful for.

Hefele continued: “I told Phil the naked truth that I was retiring. I had to be honest with myself and my body and my body took my decision for me.

“I’m very hungry and thankful I got to live my dream and said it would be fantastic if I could come home in another role.

“It is my second career and fantastic to be back here with all these good people. I had such a successful time and all the good memories are back. The smile and joy is at being back.

“It is quite a broad role and I need to find a good work-life balance. I like to work, but on the other hand my girlfriend says: ‘Michael, where have you been all day!’

“I am humble and lucky to be in this position and will give everything off the pitch Town. On the pitch, I left pretty much everything on it, so it is not a big change in mentality for me.

“You cannot switch this off. Even with my girlfriend, I am thinking: ‘What happened with this player and that player.’ We can discuss it for a while and then we have to wait for dinner!”

Given that he only recently turned 31, Hefele admits that not being able to don his boots again when he watches Town’s players train can still be difficult. But his new role is perhaps the next best thing and he is determined to look forwards and not back.

He acknowledged: “I could cry every day, especially when I see the lads every day and still think: ‘I would smoke you guys!’

“But I cannot do it now, no problem. It is still hard and I love the game so much, but physically, I cannot do it and it is gone.

“I was lucky to live my dream playing but I have to move on. I don’t want to be a guy who is always talking about the past.

“People who don’t want to look forward and reach the next level and have more goals in life, talk about the past. I want to achieve something different and be successful in my next chapter.

“I am German and I feel like I am on a proper adventure.

“I am still living the dream and writing the next chapter and I will give everything to be successful and the rest will come along with it.”

Huddersfield is home for boy from Germany

THE BROAD ACRES is where Michael Hefele feels at home these days, so much so that he did not pursue a return to his native Germany last summer.

Having hung up his boots, a new working position with former club Dinamo Dresden was a potential option.

But the Huddersfield Town icon followed his heart and took up his new challenge.

Hefele, who joined Town as a player from Dresden in July, 2016, said: “I wanted to stay in England. Dinamo Dresden could have been an offer, but I was more or less saying: ‘I am now a Yorkshireman and want to stay here!’

“I like the English culture and mentality and I have applied for my British passport as I have spent so much time here now. I truly enjoy it and it is fantastic for me.

“I will never forget my first impressions. I was never a big traveller and when we went from Manchester and drove down to Huddersfield, I saw the hills and it was like a book.

“I remember at first, we took the wrong way out of the airport. I also remember taking a picture of the pitch and with the different stands; it was English football. I couldn’t get it out of my head.

“I saw how friendly the people were here and it is something I will take to my grave. I come from a small village in Germany where there is nice countryside, but Huddersfield now feels like home.”