Bell: “finish the season showing energy and power”
Veteran Zerofiver in an interview
Stefan Bell didn’t hide his frustration after the 3-2 defeat to FC Köln at the weekend. The 30-year-old made it clear that Mainz didn’t pick up enough points from their busy schedule, in which they had three away games in six days to contend with. However, the defender still believes that Mainz can be proud of where his team are with just five games left in the season.
“We’ve earned our current position in the midfield this season, and to be honest we’ve dreamed of a campaign like this in the last few years. We need to finish it off in the right way,” said the homegrown Zerofiver. In the interview, Bell also spoke about the challenges that lie ahead, his contract, which is due to expire next summer and his relationship with Bo Svensson.
There was lots of frustration after the defeat in Köln. How does it feel now a few days have passed?
Bell: It was a very frustrating week because we didn’t pick up enough points and it took away some of our momentum in our hunt to stay up the table. A few days have now passed and we can now put things into perspective. We had some good moments in all three of the games and with a bit of luck and some better defending, we could have had at least six points.
It was a mixture of not being rewarded and being punished for our small mistakes. Do you think this is a fair analysis?
Bell: You rarely dominate a team for the full 90 minutes at Mainz and that’s just how it is. There will also be periods in the game where the opponents are on top and we saw that against Gladbach and Köln. Mistakes from set-pieces are what annoy us the most and we defended them poorly last week. These are the moments that can decide games even if you do a lot of good things, like we did against Köln. We hardly allowed them to do anything from open play all game. It came down to the small things and at another point in the season we would have dealt with them more successfully. We are struggling to win tight games away from home at the moment.
The weak defending from set-pieces at the moment seems unusual...
Bell: That is correct. Tactically speaking, we are doing the same things as we did in the first half of the season when we hardly conceded any goals. In the last few games, we have seen spaces emerge from set-pieces into which the ball can be played. In these situations, you have to assert yourself in the one-on-ones and not let your opponents find the space. This is something you can resolve quite quickly and it’s not something you have to work on for a long time. However, good headers of the ball will always score goals.
Tactically speaking, we are doing the same things as we did in the first half of the season when we hardly conceded any goals.
Did we maybe take our foot off the gas against Köln before they got back into the game?
Bell: I am not too sure, but you had the feeling that the game was starting to get a bit turgid in midfield. The triple substitution gave Köln a lot of momentum and maybe we ran out of steam after having played three difficult away games inside six days. Tiredness can lead to lapses in concentration. The way we conceded the equaliser was also a bit unlucky.
Could we have reacted to the Köln substitutions a little earlier?
Bell: We took it into consideration but we looked pretty solid when they pulled it back to 2-1 so we decided to stay as we were. It’s hard to change something if it is working well. That’s maybe why the coaching team decided to keep it as it was and Köln didn’t look especially dangerous.
How can you turn what is already a decent season into a very good one in the last few games?
Bell: We’ll need to finish the season showing the same energy and power that we have done all season, and want to continue picking up points at home as we have done, of course. Almost every home game this season has been a sight to behold, with some great entertainment – we want to keep giving that to our fans. We can’t just let this season fade away; we have an obligation to do as well as possible. No matter where we are in the table, it’s all about keeping our style of play. That’s the main challenge, because we have a way of playing which requires you to be right at the limit of your performance both mentally and physically and give your all. That’ll be our task in our final few games, but it’s also a real incentive as well as a test. We’ve earned our current position in the midfield this season, and to be honest we’ve dreamed of a campaign like this in the last few years. We need to finish it off in the right way.
We can’t just let this season fade away; we have an obligation to do as well as possible.
We’ve created the foundations to go into next season solidly and with a secure plan. How valuable is this new situation?
Bell: Planning securely is definitely highly important. That already starts when new signings get spoken to; everyone knows what to expect here. We won’t have to wait until the summer break and then bed a whole new squad in, which is very important. We’re going about our business in the way a Mainz 05 squad should, and our home games have made us want more.
The fans have returned to the stadiums all around Germany and Easter Saturday will see a full house at the MEWA ARENA against VfB Stuttgart, in a crucial game for them. It’s the perfect script for a spectacular game, right?
Bell: It looks like that, yeah. Stuttgart are in a relegation battle and have to get something. They’re a good ball-playing side and I’m interested to see if they carry that style of play into the rest of their relegation battle. For us, the challenge will be to make it difficult for them to find ways through our defence with intricate play. It might mean that we win the ball back quite often in the opposition half.
Let’s have a word on Jonny and Karim: What makes them work so well as an attacking duo, and how do they fit so well into the style of play you described?
Bell: Good question. The thing I find good is that both of them really get stuck into every game and work hard off the ball. Nobody has the feeling that they’d have to do another player’s work. They can depend on one another. It’s a very honest basis to build our play together on, and the two of them really compliment each other’s playing styles: Jonny is a guy who runs into the channels a bit more, whilst Karim is more of a tackler and a guy who gets to the bye-line. It’s a really tough combination to defend against.
Back to you, now: Following a long injury layoff, you’ve played nearly every single game since January 2021 for us. Is your body still at 100%?
Bell: This season has been really good for me physically, even if the three-game weeks were tough. There are a couple of aches and pains in one or two places, but they’ll go away soon. I’m super happy that everything is going so well and that I’m still able be a part of the defence, despite all the personnel changes. Everyone knows their tasks and our principles very well.
Your contract expires in the summer of 2023. Given you’re in your early thirties now, is the situation different to what’s happened in years gone by?
Bell: I do think it’s very different already. You often see with younger players that when they get into the last year or two of their contracts, everyone gets a bit nervous because there’s a decision to make about renewing the deal or moving on. My situation is a bit different, because there aren’t really any questions coming at the moment. The older you get, the later contract discussions start. We’ll start talking about them at some point next season, because you never know how things might develop. There are a lot of different factors which come into play: How is the competition for places in the squad developing? How have my own performances been? Is my body still up for it? You can’t look five years into the future.
The older you get, the later contract discussions start.
Bo Svensson has spoken about how much he appreciates discussing things with you, and imagines you having a role here at Mainz after you hang your boots up. How do you see your relationship with Bo?
Bell: It’s great that the coach puts me in such a high regard. We’ve had a long past here together, so it’s great to see him back here in his current role. The trusting relationship we have is definitely different than with players that he has had to get to know. We’ve both known Mainz for many years and from different perspectives, so we can discuss certain things in very close detail. We both know the academy well, for example: we’ve got pretty similar mindsets about lots of things, and if we disagree on something that’s no problem either (laughs)!