It might not be one of the Bundesliga’s star summer signings but Mainz may have pulled off a small coup by adding Florian Niederlechner to their squad. The former Heidenheim man made the move to 1. FSV Mainz for an undisclosed sum on a four-year contract, the next step in the journey of a player who was playing 6th tier football just five seasons ago.
So, who is Florian Niederlechner? The soon-to-be Mainz man was born in Ebersberg, Baviaria, back in 1990. He was part of the 1860 München academy until the age of 17, when he was released and his football career seemed in tatters. He joined Landesliga-Süd (6th division) side FC Falke Markt Schwaben and moved a year later to Bayernliga (4th division) side FC Ismaning, where he made an impact by scoring 19 goals and winning the title, despite Ismaning not being granted a license to join the Regionalliga. However, Niederlechner had already moved on because his excellent performances had alerted the scouts of fellow Bavarian club SpVgg Unterhaching, who swiftly signed him up for 20,000€.
Life in the 3. Liga
At the age of 21, in the summer of 2011, Niederlechner made his debut in the 3. Liga with ‘Haching and became an integral part of their side, playing 35 matches in the league and adding 8 goals to the cause, finishing in 15th position just 5 points above the relegation zone. The following season was more of the same, with Niederlechner netting 8 goals before the Winterpause, a feat which caught the eye of young 1. FC Heidenheim manager Frank Schmidt.
After missing out on promotion by a single point the previous season, Schmidt saw in Niederlechner the extra push they needed to get into the top 3 positions and duly forked out 300,000€ for ‘Haching’s star striker. However, despite Niederlechner’s contribution of 5 goals in 15 matches, history repeated itself yet again and FCH finished one point off third position. Schmidt revolutionised the squad in the summer and brought in many new, young and exciting faces to the Voith-Arena, and his gamble paid off as Heidenheim won the 3. Liga in the 2013/2014 season. However, it wasn’t Niederlechner’s best season, as he finished as the team’s third top scorer behind Marc Schnatterer and Smail Morabit and saw himself out of the first XI and coming off the bench more often than not in the final months of the season.
2. Bundesliga, the road to Mainz
Schmidt stuck with his man after promotion and Niederlechner repaid that faith by becoming a key part of the side. He only missed a single match in the whole season and played all but one as a starter, finishing the season with 15 goals, third best in the whole league and just two behind league top scorer, Karlsruhe’s Rouwen Hennings. Heidenheim finished last season in a very respectable 8th position and it seems that this has been good enough to impress Mainz’s scouts. According to Mainz Coach Martin Schmidt
Florian Niederlechner will be a superb fit for Mainz 05. We have been watching him closely for a long time now. The fact that he was so keen to get going after our conversations shows how thirsty he is for success. It’s great that Florian wants to take the next step in his career with us
With only Shinji Okazaki as the club’s main centre forward, Niederlechner should compete straight away for a place in the first team. Despite Okazaki’s impressive 12 goals and 6 assists last season, Niederlechner will add something different to Mainz’s attack. He is 1.88 m. in height, something which Mainz were found wanting last year in central attack, an improvement on Okazaki’s 1.74 m. Since Okazaki can drop to either flank, manager Martin Schmidt can have both men on the pitch at the same time, and everything indicates they could complement each other really well. Niederlechner doesn’t have any particular strength but is rather very good at many skills, such as finishing inside the box and heading, and can either play with his back to goal bringing other teammates into play or running onto balls in space.
For what is probably a relatively small fee, Niederlechner is a snip for Mainz after his excellent 2. Bundesliga season, a similar profile (not player) to Max Kruse, after he moved from St. Pauli to Freiburg and became a success. It is important for German football to still find these players in the lower leagues who can develop into good Bundesliga players. Niederlechner may be the latest in a long line but hopefully not the last. As Mainz Sporting Director Christian Heidel remarked
It is our philosophy to bring players with a lot of potential to Mainz, and develop them here into good Bundesliga players. And Florian Niederlechner has all the requirements for that, I’m sure