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Profis 15.11.2023 - 18:30 Uhr

Leitsch: Finally back in the thick of things

The centre-back spoke about his difficult first year in Mainz and his journey back to the starting XI

Maxim Leitsch has had a turbulent time at FSV since his arrival in summer 2022. The centre-back, who plied his trade at VfL Bochum for many years, was named in the starting XI for Mainz’s past few games after overcoming the “physical and mental exhaustion” that plagued him in autumn last year. The 25-year-old spoke to the media on Wednesday afternoon about that tricky period, but also about his comeback to the side, Bo Svensson’s departure and the appointment of Jan Siewert as head coach.

Leitsch has been named in the starting XI on four occasions this season and the Zerofivers were unbeaten in all four games (vs Frankfurt, Bochum, Leipzig and Darmstadt). This just goes to show that the former Germany U21 player is getting back to his best after a complicated few months and is finally ready to play an important role for Mainz on the pitch. The Zerofivers kept a clean sheet in two of those matches and looked more solid at the back compared to previous outings, which the defender was happy about. “It always feels good to keep a clean sheet when you’re a defender. Considering the situation we’re in, we’ve played really well in our last couple of games and haven’t given many chances away. We’re hoping that things continue in this vein,” said Leitsch, who also acknowledged that there’s still a lot of work to do for him and his teammates. “Of course, we’re focusing on keeping things tighter at the back, but also on getting forward more and creating more chances.”

Even Leitsch couldn’t really explain why the first win of the season came only two days after Bo Svensson’s tenure as Mainz head coach ended. He stressed that the team also had to take some responsibility for the Dane’s departure: “It’s never easy for the players when there’s a change of coach and the news came as a real shock for us after the Hertha game. Sometimes you just can’t explain things that happen in football, because all of a sudden we won against Leipzig. We were acutely aware of our situation and didn’t have much confidence, but we know that we have the quality to win more games.” He went on to emphasise that it doesn’t matter to the team whether Siewert is a long-term solution to the problem or a short-term hire. “He’s our coach now; everything else is beside the point. We want to continue to perform and pick up points so that we can climb the table as quickly as possible.” The centre-back stated that clear communication and addressing mistakes are going to be important factors if the Zerofivers want to keep up their impressive form away from home after the international break, having picked up five points from their last three games on the road.

No alternative to break from football

It was anything but apparent last year that Leitsch would be back playing an important role for Mainz in August 2023. He described how he “lacked strength and energy” as well as how he felt “run-down” at the time to paint a picture of his exhaustion without divulging any very personal details. The centre-back revealed that daily training sessions at the highest level were unthinkable. “I couldn’t put in a performance. It didn’t make sense if I wasn’t giving it my all,” he explained, justifying his decision to take a short-term break, followed by a stay at home and a break from professional football at the end of 2022. 

That period is behind Leitsch now, but it was a valuable experience. “It wasn’t pleasant, but it helped me get back to my best and what I’ve learned can help me in the future,” asserted Leitsch about the long-term benefits of his break. Leitsch was also confident that he’d be able to play an important role in FSV’s relegation battle. He admitted that playing two games in a week had been tough on his body, but also noted that he still felt good after playing 90 minutes and is close to being back to his best. Despite a lot of speculation about a move away from the MEWA-Arena in summer, the defender was adamant that the thought never crossed his mind. Leitsch wanted to stick it out and seems to be closer to where he wants to be after a third of the season, though he wasn’t too concerned about his performances. “I’m just happy to be able to help the team out during this tricky patch.” Leitsch knows all too well that you have to learn from setbacks and come back stronger. This mindset should be one of the key guiding principles for the Zerofivers as they prepare for the rest of the season. The centre-back is finally back in the thick of things instead of watching from the outside.