Pros 01.04.2022 — 15:31 Uhr

Heidel: “That was the starting point”

30 years ago, Christian Heidel stepped into the leadership ranks at Mainz 05. The sporting director spoke in an interview about his start at FSV and the current situation

A stand-out emotional moment among so many at Mainz: Just after confirming promotion to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2004, Heidel celebrated on the Bruchwegstadion pitch with his son.

The announcement that was printed on March 18th 1992 in the Mainzer Tageszeitungen newspaper was just twelve lines long, and gave a short and to-the-point update on the conclusions the members of our club board had come to in their meeting two days previously: “A new arrival onto the board of second-division football club 1. FSV Mainz 05 is Christian Heidel, currently a CEO of a car showroom in Mainz. He will be confirmed by the other members at the elections in September.”

The rest is now Zerofiver history. Heidel, now aged 58 and having returned to his hometown club in December 2020 as director of strategy, sport and communication, joined the leadership ranks of the Bruchweg club 30 years ago. Initially on a temporary basis, he became a full and honorary member of the board after the club’s annual general meeting in the autumn. For his 20th anniversary of working for Mainz, the club decided to put on a big celebration for Heidel at the stadium, the longest-serving executive at a Bundesliga club at the time. It was an unforgettable celebration, thanks to the kind words and speeches from former players, executives and coaches, including the star coaches Heidel discovered, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel.

What are things looking like this time Christian – will there be a celebration of your 30th anniversary?

Heidel: “No, nothing is planned this time. I would have to say that’s fair, because I wasn’t here for four and a half years. I wouldn’t say I’ve been here for 30 years – probably 25 and a half. I don’t even know if it works like that!”

Nevertheless, let’s look back to the year 1992. The minutes of the meeting made clear that “Harald Strutz proposed for Christian Heidel to be the successor to the departed Hans-Günter Mann on the Mainz 05 board. The decision was unanimous.”

Heidel: “I can’t even remember that anymore! (laughs)”

The minutes also mentioned that you would be responsible for the reserve team, the U23s. The board proposed that the U23s and U19s would be handled in one area and the rest of the youth teams would be split off into a different department.

Heidel: “That never ended up happening, though.”

That would have become a kind of precursor to our current academy.

Heidel: “That came later, after our disaster in EURO 2000 in Belgium and Holland. The idea, as far as I remember, was to improve our second team. At that time, they were mid-table in the seventh or eighth tier of German football; nobody had really cared for the team properly. Bernhard Schwank was the coach at the time and his main concern was to make sure the players all had the same jersey on. I watched some of their games, and back then the players had different coloured shorts on – one had a blue pair, another had a red pair. Because I felt at home in amateur football, the board trusted me to care for the team properly. That was the starting point.”

I watched some of their games, and back then the players had different coloured shorts on.

Did things get a lot better very quickly after that?

Heidel: “I can still remember my first meeting with the team. I had them all in the little house behind the main stand at Bruchweg where the dressing room used to be and gathered them together for a chat. Lots of them came into the meeting believing that I would be talking about bonuses – in the eighth tier! I actually told them that they would all have to find new clubs, because we were going to completely restart the team.”

And then?

Heidel: “Then the plan with Manni Lorenz came, who isn’t just a good friend of mine – I also always knew that he was a good coach, even if he was working a couple of leagues higher with Fontana Finthen. He still came to us, and then we went shopping! Inside three months we had put a completely new squad together, filled with youth talent who all came from the Mainz area. We tried to bring the best that we could to the club, which did cost a fair whack. We had a sponsor who paid for it, luckily – I won’t say who they were, though (laughs)! We then got promoted into the tier we were in but immediately ran into a problem.”

What was it?

Heidel: “It was TSV Wackernheim, who had a big sponsor from the city and who had a team that were much higher quality than that division. If I remember correctly, we ended up with five points dropped and they dropped four points. We lost the decisive game against them 2-1 in front of 800 spectators at Bruchweg, It was a tough one – Wackernheim got promoted, and we had to put our plan on hold for a year.

Things really got started then though, right?

Heidel: “Yes, the next season we won the league without dropping a single point, and got promoted six times in less than seven years.”

They quickly recognised me as someone who was well acquainted with the first team.

There are newspaper reports that say you were to become the team manager of the Mainz first team on April 1st 1992.

Heidel: “That isn’t the case. I joined the club and took part in their weekly board meetings, in which around 80% of the time was spent talking about the first team. They quickly recognised me as someone who was well acquainted with the first team, but it was a pretty fluid situation where I initially worked with Peter Arens. I didn’t have any kind of job title though; the term ‘team manager’ wasn’t really used. I was called the boss of transfers, head of the department, whatever you want.  The fact is that I worked together with Peter Arens for around a year until I was given the job at some point and took over the first team department on my own.”

The new dawn in the nineties: Heidel with the then president, Harald Strutz (re.)

The newspaper then called you manager?

Heidel: “You have to look at the time in which it was written. People hardly knew the term “manager.” When I started there were only three managers in the Bundesliga: Hoeneß, Lemke and Calmund. It only came with time that specific people became responsible for the things relating to the first team. The term “manager” came from the media as opposed to from us printing it on our business cards. I was still a volunteer until 2005 but at some point people starting calling me manager. That was just how it was. You have to also add that at one point I was responsible for a lot of things at the club, from marketing to planning the construction of the stadium. That’s why the term “manager” may have been relevant but our club was just structured differently. Everyone at board level was responsible for something but I was kind of what held all the different strands together. In contrast to other managers back then, I was only part time and I was still involved in the car dealership.”

Everything operated from that office on Saarstraße. For many years.

Heidel: “That wasn’t because I wanted it like that. There was no office space at Mainz. The office was in a container at the Bruchweg, where the media department is today. If you tried to sign a player in a container I don’t think we would have signed too many! That’s why everything took place in my car dealership office. All the coaches and players were processed there.”

That’s why everything took place in my car dealership office. All the coaches and players were processed there.

Let’s go back right to the start when you were a 26-year-old car dealer who “bought out” the Oberliga match against FSV Saarwellingen…

Heidel: “There were over 5,000 free tickets and good 4,400 paying fans there. I paid 15,000 marks to buy all the tickets and in return I was able to advertise the car dealership at the game. It was of course a very commercial event in order to make the car dealership more well-known, but it was also an opportunity to present something to the fans. That is how we got to know each other. I’d only briefly met Harald Strutz and Peter Arens beforehand. They actually called me a day later to ask if I was interested in becoming active in the club, but I was actually playing football myself at FV Budenheim so I turned them down. I only accepted in 1992 to stop them nagging me!”

And what about the car that was on offer at the game?

Heidel: “The contestant had to score from the half-way line but the ball couldn’t hit the floor before it went in the goal. Footballs were fired into the crowd and whoever caught one was allowed to participate. Six people came forward and the very first contestant scored without the ball bouncing! The head of the Mainz police was the judge and he confirmed that it had gone straight in. The young lad, who was a player in the second team at Moguntia Mainz, won a new BMW worth 30,000 marks!”

A little bit of a loss for you though, right?

Heidel: “This eventuality was covered by insurance in England and that’s why the head of the police was the judge. The insurance took care of things.”

A successful event?

 “It was. Not just for the car dealership but also for Mainz 05. There were ten times the normal amount of fans in the ground and we won 4-1. It all worked really well.”

Who would of thought in the 80’s and 90’s that we would become an established Bundesliga team

You could write books about what happened in the years afterwards but we have to come to the present…

Heidel: “Of course. The coaches, the promotions, the new stadium- they are all milestones. Who would have thought in the 80s and 90s that we would become an established Bundesliga team? It’s incredible to think that we played in that league with that stadium and we trained at the local sports facility. If you had told someone back then that Mainz would be in the Bundesliga in 2022 then you would have had to have called an ambulance. All I used to hear back in the day from people is that “Mainz is not a football town,” but when I campaigned for the new stadium I used to say that every city is a football city because there are football lovers everywhere. It’s all about getting people excited about a club. Our job is, and always has been, to whip up feelings of excitement.”

Bo Svensson recently said, "football has the ability to shape a city and capture it for the club. That fits to what you said, doesn't it?

Heidel: “I've also always said that the club of Mainz 05 and the city Mainz have to become one. Not everyone comes to the game, but the people who don't go to the stadium have to be interested in knowing how Mainz 05 played right after full time. That’s how you get the feeling of ‘we’. That feeling got a bit lost but I think we’re on a good way to getting it back. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to come. Enough people should come to fill the stands and the rest should follow along. We had that especially in the first few years after promotion or with the move from Bruchweg to the Arena. Those are things you don't forget.”

That feeling seemed to come back in the games against Dortmund and Bielefeld...

Heidel: “That is the point. We are on the right path but we are still quite a way off being able to say that we have achieved our goal. It’s satisfying that at the moment people can once again identify with this team. Something is starting to happen but there is still lots of hard work to do. You can’t get that back after just one good year. We are now into our second good year and people are starting to have faith in the team once more. That is what made us so strong in the past, even after defeats but that “feeling” is something that develops slowly.

We are on the right path but we are still quite a way off being able to say that we have achieved our goal. 

 That brings us back to the coach. Is it the case that the bigger picture at Mainz always needs to be connected to the coach?

Heidel: “We are not one of the big clubs in the Bundesliga. We will continue to live off the fact that we always have exceptionally good coaches, because you need good coaches – they are the most important people in a football club. Why are Freiburg where they are? Because they have a brilliant coach. We were lucky to have had two coaches back-to-back in the space of twelve years who are now among the best three in the world. And now we have another element of luck and maybe a bit of sense too, to have given a young and inexperienced coach the opportunity in Bo Svensson. It wasn't that we were trying to do Bo a favour, but rather benefit ourselves. The way things are looking at the moment, everything is a good fit. That's why we're successful again.”

 How do you see Bo as a coach?

Heidel: “He embodies Mainz 05. When I called him on Christmas Eve in 2020 and told him what our plans were, he said we have to take Mainz 05 back to where we used to be and what he had experienced as a player, and get the whole city get behind the team. That was the approach that he wanted to take and that’s how we went about it. We were on board with each other on the route that we would take because there were some things at the club that weren’t working, even if they had been done with the best intentions. We wanted to go ‘back to the roots’ with a modern twist and adapt to the present. We were all very aware that couldn’t just turn back the clock.”

That was the approach that he wanted to take and that’s how we went about it.

 Will that be the approach for the coming years?

Heidel: “I don’t know. Neither Martin nor Bo and I are thinking about contract lengths. I’m certain of this: As long as Bo has the feeling that we’re heading towards our goals on the same path, we don’t have to talk to him about that. He may move to a bigger club at some points, but at the moment he is delighted here because he notices that we’re developing together. He can develop here himself, and he enjoys that. He’s the king in the dressing room; that’s his territory. I think he’ll stay at Mainz 05 as long as he has the feeling that he can live his life and do his thing here.”