The last time Christopher Schindler kicked a ball in the Championship, it was the £170 million (Dh759m) penalty. The German assumed responsibility, he said, because he thought he ought to, as the Huddersfield’s record signing. A £1.8 million buy repaid his transfer fee almost 100 times over by deciding the 2017 play-off final shoot-out against Reading. It was billed, inevitably but brilliantly, “Schindler’s Lift”.
Two years later, Schindler and Huddersfield are back in the second tier. “I am not thinking too much about the penalty at the moment,” the centre-back stated. It is an attitude borne of realism. Huddersfield endured one of the hardest ever Premier League campaigns, procuring just 16 points, but Schindler can testify to the Championship’s demands. “I know that it is a very, very tough league, the toughest I have been in, from the rhythm of the games and the power; you don’t have a lot of time off, so it is football the whole year,” their captain said. “When I came here I didn’t really know what was waiting for me. Now we have played there, most of the players, so it is a big task.”
The context is different now. Huddersfield may have the burden of expectation, a rare status among the favourites, whereas they were tipped for relegation when David Wagner took them up in 2016/17 and again when he kept them up 12 months later. Demotion only belatedly came last season, even if it was rubber-stamped in March.
There were hard-luck stories, matches where they almost took something. That slender points tally felt a little unfair. “Last year we gave a lot of tight games away, that was a little bit concerning,” Schindler said. Before then, they had seemed, to borrow a phrase from Wagner’s best friend Jurgen Klopp, “mentality monsters”; they were the side who held their nerve to take precious points at Manchester City and Chelsea in the final week of 2017/18 to stay up. Yet after a mere three victories last season, Schindler said: “We need to bring this mentality back of winning games. It is the first goal we have. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, it doesn’t matter when we are playing, [or] if we are tired, we want to win the game.”
Pre-season triumphs have boosted morale but the fixture list has been unkind. Huddersfield host play-off finalists Derby on Monday as County begin life with Phillip Cocu and without Frank Lampard. Their first four opponents also include Fulham and Cardiff City, fellow exiles from the Premier League turned promotion possibilities. “This is the key, to start well in this league because last year was difficult,” Schindler said.
That opening is doubly important: Huddersfield began well in Wagner’s first two seasons but never recovered from a slower start last year. Pace matters for Huddersfield: like his predecessor, head coach Jan Siewert is an advocate of pressing football and it may be easier to implement in the Championship. “He also likes to press when it is possible,” Schindler explained. “We don’t want to make it as extreme as we did under David Wagner. In the Premier League, they are going to play around you at times and then you are in trouble. They have the quality to punish you. In the Championship, there is a lot of fighting and chasing opponents.”
The summer break has brought respite from Premier League punishments. Siewert, a January appointee who lost 12 of his first 15 games, has cut a more relaxed figure in pre-season. He has been allowed to oversee a rebuild. The former Bournemouth captain Tommy Elphick, an experienced exception among younger newcomers, should be Schindler’s centre-back partner, Reece Brown, a revelation at Forest Green last season, bolsters the midfield while the Liverpool loanee Kamil Grabara replaces the departed Jonas Lossl in goal. A second Dane, Philip Billing, joined Bournemouth for £15 million this week while the exit beckons for a third, Mathias Jorgensen, who has not been given a squad number.
The temptation was to wonder if Schindler could be joining them. His abilities against elite strikers have been apparent. Fans have voted him their player of the year in the last two seasons. Town only conceded 58 goals in his debut campaign in the top flight. Instead, he looks the cornerstone of a new-look side.
He said: “I want to be part of the team and fulfil my role as club captain. I have a responsibility.” And that sense of responsibility has been a recurring theme of his Huddersfield career.