Mainz and the Secret of their Success- Christian Heidel

They call it the “Mainz-way” and it works. For the past six seasons, moderately sized 1.FSV Mainz 05 have held their own in the Bundesliga and provided an excellent model as to how to run a football club.

There is a philosophy behind the club and they won’t compromise their principles. But philosophy and principles can only take you so far, you need people to lead the club and put the club’s ethos into practice. In the case of the ‘Carnival Club’ that figure is the oft under-rated sporting director Christian Heidel.

christian heidelHeidel (Mainz born and bred) is the longest-serving manager/ sporting director in the Bundesliga having started his role at Mainz way back in 1992. Back then Mainz were a mid- to lower placed side in Bundesliga II.

The shrewd decision to promote a newly retired player called Jürgen Klopp to the role of trainer in February 2001 though, proved a master-stroke. Three years later and ‘Kloppo’ had led the Null-Fünfer into the Bundesliga.

Equally admirable was the decision to axe Klopp’s successor Jörn Anderson six days before the start of the new Bundesliga season in 2009- this despite the Norwegian having just got them promoted.

“We have at Mainz a job profile to define how a coach should work with the team and the club,” Heidel said at the time.

“Our strengths are teamwork, the togetherness of the team and the internal communication. Our approach and that of Jörn Andersen no longer matched, because the coach has gone in a different direction.”

The then unknown Thomas Tuchel, who had been training the club’s U-19 side, was entrusted with maintaining the “Mainz-way” and history shows that yet again, it was a wise decision.

Shrewd appointments are not Heidel’s only strength. A car salesman by trade, working in the family business made him an extremely skilled negotiator and player in the transfer market. In the discussions over Nicolai Müller’s move to HSV last year, Hamburg’s sporting director Dietmar Beiersdorfer described Heidel as “a tough cookie”.

A look at some of the club’s transfer dealings over the past few seasons shows that Beiersdorfer is correct in his evaluation of Heidel.

Mainz transfers

Shinji Okazaki 07/13 from Stuttgart €1.5 million
07/15 to Leicester €10 million

Johannes Geis 07/13 from Greuther Fürth €900,000
06/15 to Schalke €12 million

Nicolai Müller 07/11 from Greuther Fürth €1.8 million
08/14 to Hamburg €4.5 million

Ádám Szalai 07/10 from Real Madrid Castilla €600,000
07/13 to Schalke €8 million

André Schürrle 07/09 from own academy 0
07/11 to Bayer Leverkusen €8.5 million

It is not just a ‘buy low, sell high’ policy run by Heidel. The scouting network is top-class, as is the club’s own academy designed to produce talent from within (à la André Schürrle).

Heidel is very skilled in the minutiae of the transfer system and the little tricks and loopholes that exist. Schürrle may have been sold to Leverkusen for €8.5 million, but his subsequent sale to Chelsea meant that thanks to Heidel, he probably brought Mainz closer to €15 million in profit.

Since his appointment Heidel has been partly responsible for increasing the annual turnover from around €3 million (1992) to an estimated €78 million (2014). Those figures also take into account overseeing the move from the 20,000 capacity Bruchweg Stadium to the new 34,000 capacity Coface-Arena in 2011.

Stefan Hofmann, the club’s Athletic Director sums up Mainz’s position nicely by saying, “We are a small club that can’t go toe-to-toe with Bayern Munich, Dortmund, Stuttgart and Wolfsburg in terms of budget. The main question is what can we do to improve our chances against clubs that have a lot more resources than we do?”

What they have done is stay true to the club’s philosophy, while also enjoying the footballing management skills of Christian Heidel. Mainz is a good club, run well.

Gonzalo Jara’s foolish behaviour at the Copa America when his fondling!? of Edinson Cavani’s back passage saw the Uruguayan sent off has instantly brought the disdain of the club and Christian Heidel has quickly come out to say the player has no future at Mainz as a result. “He knows that if an offer comes he can go” he told Bild. “We do not tolerate that. More than the prod, however, it is what comes afterwards that makes me angry. I hate theatrics more than anything.”

Who are the architects of the recent Mainz success story? Jürgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel for sure, but sharing in that limelight should be Christian Heidel.

Due to his links to the car sales business, it has often been said that Mainz are like a VW Golf compared to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis that are Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Solid, unspectacular, yet reliable.

Would you buy a car from this man? Judging by his record, you most probably would.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.