There are some Town players who leave and get nothing more than a thank you for their service and best wishes for the future.
With Michael Hefele, it seems more like when a parent says goodbye to their child moving out for the first time; you can’t bear to see them go but in the end, you know it’s the best decision for everybody involved.
Unfortunately, this analogy has come to represent the situation for ‘The Hef’ right now.
After carrying an Achilles injury all the way through the play-off final, the repercussions meant he barely played in the dream Premier League season. This must have been gut-wrenching for him as he played such a massive part in our journey getting there.
With the permanent signing of Terrence Kongolo and Jon Stankovic returning to full fitness after what seems like an eternity out with an ACL related injury, Hef has found opportunities limited and has subsequently slid down the pecking order.
Head Coach David Wagner informed Hef before the pre-season trip to Austria that he would not be travelling and that if the right offer came in for him, he wouldn’t stand in his way of leaving the club and so, that has come to pass.
Many Town fans have a revisionist perspective when analysing the impact some of our players have had on the club. Jordan Rhodes, Izzy Brown spring to mind immediately.
However, Hef’s contribution to our promotion season two years ago can be elucidated in the simple fact that his name was in the motto that defined it: ‘It’s a Heffing Dream’.
In the run-up to that infamous moment, Hef had done more as one player to rejuvenate the mood of our fan-base than almost any other player before him, before a ball had even been kicked.
The Hef created an instant connection with the Town fans by video-bombing an interview with then Town goalkeeper Danny Ward in nothing but a dressing-gown and a pair of shades.
However, a brilliant start to the season meant Hef had to bide his time before making his mark on the team, with Mark Hudson partnering Chris Schindler at the heart of the Town defence.
In now typical Michael Hefele fashion, he picked an outrageously bizarre but brilliant moment to announce himself to the fans in a playing capacity.
In a hard-fought game against Aston Villa at Villa Park, with the score at 1-0, Wagner threw on Hefele as an auxiliary centre-forward to try and make something happen in the penalty area from a set-piece or long-ball. It was the latter which provided the moment of magic.
Seemingly chasing a lost-cause, Hefele charged down the Villa goalkeeper Pierliugi Gollini’s clearance. The ball ricocheted off the big German’s backside and into the net, sending the traveling Town fans into delirium and shock.
This moment was but one of many brilliant examples of Hef’s contribution to the team and encapsulated his warrior-spirit, never-say-die attitude on the pitch.
Along with many other gaffes, pranks, and contributions he made on and off the pitch, the other zeitgeist that encapsulated Hefele’s embodiment of his relationship with the fans and the club was the infamous ‘Heffing Dream’ moment.
After scoring the winner against local rivals Leeds at the John Smith’s in the last minute, Hef was being interviewed by Sky Sports when he inadvertently demonstrated his joy at scoring such an important goal by proclaiming: “It’s a FUCKING dream”. Not realising (if we are to believe his story) that profanity wasn’t permitted on British television before 9 o’clock, Hef had to immediately apologise for his colourful language.
However, what had started off an iconic moment now became ingrained into Town folklore forever.
The Freudian slip became the tag-line for the rest of the season, an ironic chorus that illustrated the unfathomability of this dream season and the incredulity that just maybe, it could lead to something previously thought of as unthinkable.
Hef’s antics at the start of the season were the perfect antidote to the minority of nay-sayers who had murmured on DATM and social media about whether Wagner would be able to conjure up something special, especially after the way Town players seemingly gave up after securing survival at the end of the previous season.
What I most loved about Hef and why he will remain one of my all-time favourite Town players is the way he was unashamedly himself.
An extrovert to the nth degree, like myself, he never made excuses for being himself, being loud, friendly, supportive, passionate and always willing to put the team above himself. I saw many character traits in Hef that I see in myself. Hef helped me feel more comfortable being me.
That was consciously and subconsciously probably as big a reason why I loved him as a player than his actual performances.
I don’t think there’s been another Town player in my lifetime whose departure has affected me as much as Hef’s.
Sure, Danny Schofield’s release stung massively as we never got the best out of him and he returned in Millwall colours to break our hearts in 2010. David Mirfin’s departure also annoyed me massively as did Gary Taylor-Fletcher’s (thank you Stan Ternent).
Despite this, there’s never been a player whose effervescent personality, charm and flat-out bombastic personality has rivalled Michael Hefele’s and I’m not sure there ever will be, in my generation anyway.
Hef is one of a kind and I’m 100 percent sure that Nottingham Forest will love him just as much as we did.
Thanks for the memories Hef, you made this Town fan proud to have your name and number on the back of his shirt.