Pros 07.04.2020 — 13:48 Uhr

18 years of the Mainz mentality

Klopp; from dependable second-tier player to coaching legend.

May 2000: thanks to Klopp's goal in a 2-1 win over TeBe Berlin, the Zerofivers celebrate survival in the second tier.

Mainz are staying at home. This pause in regular league football presents us with an opportunity to reminisce about some of the important events, developments and faces in the history of the club. For example Jürgen Klopp, who dedicated himself wholeheartedly to FSV Mainz 05, both as a player and head coach. The man who led the club to Bundesliga glory and a historic promotion, after two failed attempts.


It all began with two matches against Rot-Weiß Frankfurt in June 1990, as the Zerofivers defeated the Frankfurt club to gain promotion to Bundesliga 2. For Mainz’ red-and-white promotion rivals, a familiar face was playing up top. A striker high on the wish list of then Mainz head coach Robert Jung. His name? Jürgen Klopp. “I need a big forward,” Jung said at the time. Klopp later said that had played poorly in both matches, but because he measured Jung’s required 1.90m tall, the Swabian striker was given a professional contract to play at Bruchweg shortly after his 23rd birthday. It was the beginning of an era that would last for 18 years.

Heidel’s Rose Monday epiphany

In interviews, the current Liverpool boss constantly flirts with the idea of his “limitations” as a football. And yes, by modern standards it is probably the truth that he wasn’t fantastic on the ball. However, Kloppo, as he has named from the beginning of his time with the Zerofivers, developed into a decent player in German’s second tier. He was physical, fast and had great stamina. His irrepressible desire made him a constant driving force, even in the toughest of situations. In addition, he had a useful shot in him and was great in the air.

His coaching career began in 2001, when, on rose Monday, club executive Christian Heidel had an epiphany at home. The day before, Mainz had slumped to a rather disappointing 3-1 loss away to Greuther Fürth, and languished lust one spot off bottom of the table. After the departure of Wolfgang Frank, all head coaches had failed at the club. Then Mainz-boss Eckard Krautzun fired no differently.

Heidel surmised that the team had been successful using Frank’s established 4-4-2 formation, complete with zonal marking and a rigid back four. And if the market had no available 4-4-2 experts, then Heidel decided he would have to find inspiration from within the playing staff. “A leader, somebody, who had Frank’s teaching well memorised. An intelligent player, an acknowledged gifted speaker, who would not be missed on the pitch,” as stated in the book ‘Carnival on Bruchweg’.

There was only one choice. Heidel called Klopp to the hotel at the Bad Kreuznach training camp. Klopp, who had since moved from striker to right back, wasted no time. “I’ll do it”, said the then 33-year-old. On Shrove Tuesday 2001, Kloppo lead his first ever training session as Mainz 05 head coach. “I had no real feeling for the task, but I had a plan. I knew what we had to do.” A switch back to Frank’s 4-4-2, tactics and movement. “The boys, who’d been there since Frank’s time at the club, were on my side. When I first addressed the squad, I spoke a lot about Wolfgang Frank and his two stints at the club. Our approach was to play in exactly the same way, no matter who the opponent was, and about that final, decisive five per cent. I said that every player was prepared to give it 95 per cent, but I was asking for that extra five per cent, which could make all the difference. That was the key point to my very first speech,” Klopp said later.

Bravery as a teacher

On Ash Wednesday, beat MSV Duisburg by one goal to nil, thanks to a legendary Christoph Babatz goal. Mainz then went on to defeat Chemnitzer FC 3-1, after which Heidel prophesised; “for us, there is no player named Jürgen anymore.” Klopp the manager stayed at Mainz 05 for seven years, drawing plaudits and sympathisers to the club from all over Germany. He brought the club a national recognition, the likes of which it had never experienced before. Mainz fans were camping outside the club box office in order to secure their tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Tactically, Klopp – supported by a brilliant assistant in Zeljko Buvac – began is reign at Bruchweg by religiously following Wolfgang Frank’s teachings. “But, from the beginning, the student was braver, more innovative, and gave his players more freedom within the 4-4-2 formation,” so it says in ‘Carnival on Bruchweg’. In Frank’s system, players were given specific, rigid roles and tasks, which were to be slavishly followed. This resulted in defensive solidity, but the team remained rather static going forward. Klopp interpreted organised, aggressive defending as a basis to win the ball back, and quickly turn defence into attack through offensive-minded players. 

From heartbreak to glory

The team started the 2000/01 season as candidates for relegation, but Klopp had them storming past opposition and up the table. Promotion was on the cards. It all came down to a final showdown with Union Berlin in Köpenick. 20,000 people watched on the big screen at the Mainz state theatre, and they will never forget the suffering of that defeat. The Zerofivers returned home thoroughly demoralised, but were met with an outburst of overwhelming positive reactions from fans at home. They were celebrated as “promotion candidates of the heart.”

Klopp returned to the drawing board and kept working. One year later, Mainz again stood just 90 minutes from promotion. Eintracht Frankfurt were in third, playing at home against Reutlingen. Fourth-placed Mainz went to Braunschweig level on points with Eintracht. Both needed to win, goal difference would decide it. In the end, it was Eintracht who prevailed, thanks to a goal from Alex Schur, a friend of Klopp’s from their days at Rot-Weiß.

Mainz returned home, and Klopp made a speech that would go down in legend. A speech that would define the Mainz 05 mentality for years to come. “Tell me a city, tell me a club, tell me a fanbase, which in this position, after such heartbreak, after last year, after this season, after all the pain of yesterday, would be able to play again next year. There is no club like Mainz 05. Us and our fans, that’s the most sincere form of togetherness.” Klopp struck a chord in the hearts of people in the city, he revived hope and desire after deep disappointment, and laid down a statement. A statement that would become a dream, a dream that would become reality. The third time would prove to be the charm, and Klopp finally guided FSV Mainz 05 to the promised land of Bundesliga football.