Pros 28.07.2022 — 16:49 Uhr

Kayhanfar: “There is something to play for again”

Kayhanfar: “There is something to play for again”

The coach in good spirits ahead of the start of the new season

Since 2018, Babak Keyhanfa has worked as an assistant coach with Bo Svensson. He initially worked with the Mainz U19s in the youth academy, and then he moved to FC Liefering in Austria. He was been with the FSV first team since January 2021. We spoke to Keyhanfa ahead of Sunday’s clash with AUE in the first round of the DFB-Pokal (18:00 CEST).

In the interview, the 37-year-old speaks about the preparations, the excitement ahead of the new season and his role as assistant coach.

Hallo Babak, the new season starts this week! How focussed are you as a coaching team, and how focussed are the players?

“First of all, at the end of our preparation, after lots of appointments and after the late entry of the national players, it’s important for us to calm down and to focus on the basics. At the end of the day, we’re all competitive animals and the whole point of the pre-season is to be ready for the start of the campaign and to fight for points or to fight to progress in the cup. There is certainly a sense of anticipation both in the team and amongst the coaching staff. The excitement and the focus are a tad higher, because the season starts at the end of the week and there is something to play for once again.”

How is that expressed in the team?

“Some players are into their fifth week of pre-season, the international players are into their third. But that is the case with all teams. It is important to recognise the differences and to deal with them tactically, at both the individual and team levels. Everyone has to work towards getting to the level that we were at least season. We made that clear after the game against Bilbao. In the best case scenario, all the players who take part against Aue will be 100%.”

There is certainly a sense of anticipation both in the team and amongst the coaching staff

Will last season’s first round game against SV Elversberg be in the players’ minds?

“I have got the impression in training this week that the players are approaching it like a Bundesliga game. We have enough experienced players who have been knocked out by teams in the third division before. Everyone knows what to expect and how difficult it can be. Of course we are the favourites and want to progress into the next round. What awaits us, however, is an unpredictable opponent, with a new squad and they will have their home support behind them.”

What are the main things you have been working on ahead of the start of the new season?

“We have brought our own principles into focus. The basis has been our game without the ball, especially pressing. We have worked on that a lot over the past few weeks. This week we have focussed on our game with the ball a bit more. We can’t demand what we want as a coaching staff without setting clear principles and repeating them again and again. We want to take the next steps and to develop in the right direction. You can tell that the lads are up for it and want to implement what we are asking of them.”

Keyhanfar on the sideline during a match

It’s been a good year and a half since you took up the role. How would you look back on your time so far and how significant is it to acknowledge the challenge you’ve had?

“The last one and a half years have given us confidence and a good foundation. But in professional football you often talk about the day-to-day business; you are tested on a weekly basis. Of course, there is an element of pride, however, you can’t look back and give yourself a pat on the back. That’s why you always have to maintain those foundations that made you successful, develop yourself further and learn from your experiences in every area, so that you are able to take the next substantial step. That’s what we try to instil in the team.”

Last season we had a great record at home. How do you want to get the team’s strengths to show on the pitch away as often as at home?

“It’s particularly special playing at home. The pandemic has given us a clear sense of the drive that our fans can give us. Playing in front of a great crowd with such a positive atmosphere naturally gives you confidence. It was great that we were able to give something back to our fans last season. Although our away record left a lot to be desired, we aren’t scared going into away games. It’s more about performing differently. But differently doesn’t mean that everything was bad last season. We all need to learn from our mistakes and take that experience with us into this season to perform better away from home.”

It’s particularly special playing at home

We have gone through a little bit of an upheaval with some key players leaving and new players signing. How far has the team-building process progressed?

“Especially with the departures of Moussa Niakhaté, Jeremiah St. Juste and Adam Syalai, we have lost some leaders. At the same time, this is opportunity for new hierarchies to develop and for players, who have so far played an important role, to take on even more responsibility. Although there are rather flat hierarchies in football nowadays, characters, who set the example on the pitch and in the dressing room, will emerge. We are still in the process, but we’re on the right track. We have lots of personalities in the team who take responsibility.”

As an assistant manager, you play an important role in personal exchanges with the players. Has this component always been one of your strengths?

“I think that personal contact works really well for me because I enjoy working with people, communicating and having fun, but also then addressing serious things. That suits an assistant coach, but I also had very close contact with the players as when I was head coach in the Oberliga. In terms of our roles as a pair, Bo is also a sociable guy, but in my role I am a bit closer to the team.”

As a coaching team, you have often been the focus of some referees. Do you feel you have to adapt to that?

“I think that we’re a loud and emotional bench. So we might have built up something of a reputation and may have to be careful in the future. But that’s not a big issue for us. In the end it’s about not damaging the team through your behavior. If Bo feels like we’re going in this direction, then it can take care of itself.”

As assistant coach you are active and present on the bench. How do you define your role during a match?

“That is a question of personality. I’m lively, and always in close communication with Bo and assistant coach Patrick Kaniuth, who is connected to our video analyst Tijan Njie. My role consists of passing on elements of analysis if I believe they fit the situation. Primarily, it’s about me being a second eye on the game, and discussing with Bo what we can change to help the team.”

Primarily, it’s about me being a second eye on the game

You’ve been working with Bo in the coaching staff since 2018. Has your co-operation evolved further over this time period?

“Year by year. You understand better and better what one wants from the other and we increasingly complement each other. During our time in Salzburg a real friendship developed as we, as a pair, came to a new environment without our families and therefore spent more time with each other. In sporting terms, we’ve picked up so many different things along the way. After matches we often discuss what we can learn for the future. The value of the experience that you get by playing in the Bundesliga makes you better for next time.”

When did it become clear to you that you wanted to continue in the football business after your active time in the Oberliga?

“It was never a business for me. Many people say that, but I can prove it too. I worked as a youth coach for years alongside my own football commitments and already had a massive passion for the sport. I approached it with the zeal of a professional back then, even though I worked fairly normally. This joy and enthusiasm brought me, along with a bit of luck, to where I am today. At the same time, my joy from football has always remained the same.  Already in terms of leadership, I could bring so much from the amateur sphere, though there are of course big differences in terms of content.”

At the same time, my joy from football has always remained the same

What did you do full-time in the past?

“It was very diverse. I had worked for a Japanese sports management agency that gave young talents from Japan incredible opportunities to come to Europe and play football here. Before that I helped my father in landscaping and gardening and also worked in a flower shop.”

You were born and raised in Mainz, and have deep roots here. How proud are you to be able to work for the club from your city?

“It feels amazing. When I look back on this later on, I will perhaps be even prouder. The first six months were a dream. When your team is where it is, and you then manage to turn around as coaching staff, it is an incredible feeling. But it’s also great to be at home, to be near to family and to be able to work at this level. Therefore I enjoy it and hope that it stays that way for some time.”