Pros 28.06.2022 — 20:45 Uhr

Maxim Leitsch: From front to back

Maxim Leitsch left his native Ruhrgebiet in order to further his development and to get regular first-team football elsewhere, in a position that the former attacker has only played in for a few years.

Leitsch making his first appearance against Kiedrch

At VfL Bochum, Maxim Leitsch was a regular starter, a top performer and a leader at the back and many were surprised when the 24-year-old left for Bundesliga rivals FSV Mainz. “Everyone used to say that I would never leave Bochum because all of my family are from that neck of the woods,” explained the new centre-back in a press conference after Mainz’s training session on Tuesday.

Maxim Leitsch was born and raised in Essen and has lived there his whole life. He has played for VfL Bochum since he was ten years old, a club just a quarter of an hour down the road. The defender is a child of the Ruhrgebiet, an area which prides itself on being stable and down-to-earth. He has five siblings, all of which live in Essen, and according to Leitsch: “My entire family lives in Essen. From my Grandma to my cousins, from my relatives to my friends, they all live in Essen.

England not the place for Leitsch

This is perhaps the precise reason why Leitsch decided to join FSV. It may be a new club for the proud Ruhrpotter, but it is a club that is just as down-to-earth just as and orientated towards stability in all areas. It could perhaps be said that his former defensive partner at VfL Bochum, Armel Bella-Kotchap, made a bigger leap by joining Premier League side Southampton, but such a culture shock wasn’t on Leitsch’s radar: “A move like that didn’t really interest me. I think the German style suits me more,” explained the 24-year-old, who exercised his exit clause ahead of time.

I think the German style suits me more.

“I didn't put any pressure on myself. As the talks were going well straight away, I told myself that I wanted to have clarity early on, get things sorted and not wait and have half of pre-season in Bochum before moving. I wanted to be involved from the start and take part in everything.” Therefore, the defender has been part of of Bo Svensson's group since training began on Tuesday.

Leitsch after the first training session of the pre-season

Room for improvement

Leitsch said that even before the summer, he had been thinking of taking a chance on something different, which is why he decided to take the next step. “Whether others see it that way or not, this is the next step for me in my career. Mainz have been a consistent part of the Bundesliga for many years, even if there isn’t an eighth-placed finish every season. I think there is a lot of quality in the team we have now and we can have a good campaign.”

On a personal level, Leitsch said the focus on development. “Of course I can do a lot of things better. First and foremost, I think I perhaps need to be more robust. There are a lot of things I could list, such as my build-up play. I think when it comes to my speed, there isn’t much to work on, but I have potential to improve in other areas. My passing game, cleverness in tackles, positional play, having an eye for the game. Recognising situations well; knowing when to go in or stay back. I'm a player who likes to play out from the back, but building up the play wasn’t something I had to focus on at Bochum. For me, it's interesting now to be in a team that puts more emphasis on playing with the ball.”

I liked the togetherness

The defender had always perceived Mainz as a club with a real element of collectivity, and that you’d need a really good day if you wanted to put goals past them. “I liked the togetherness. I always think it’s a good thing when the whole team is defined by teamwork and there are not two or three people up front who aren’t doing anything. That's not for me. I think it's important to play as a team, so that's why I think it's a good fit with the club and me,” said Leitsch.

There’s not a preferred position within the defense for the new signing, who says he just wants to give his all and play wherever Svensson needs him. A five-man backline, however, is largely new territory for him. “I haven't really played in a back five before. We tried it in Bochum a few times but mainly just in training. There are a lot of things that are new for me here, but I think I will be able to adapt well. It’s also no hard when you have some versatility and you’re able to play in a back four and a back five," he said.

The main difference, according to Leitsch, is that when playing as a part of a three-centre back system, he is also responsible for defending the sidelines as the left-hand defender. “The main feature is that everything is pushed a bit further out wide and there are more people on one defensive line. When it comes to defending, it might actually be a little bit easier.”

Growth spurt at 17

Leitsch knows that the coach has a lot of demands, including and especially on his centre-backs. “He told me that he looks at this position more uniquely because he himself was a central defender too,” said the 24-year-old. “It's clear that I’m being challenged here, but I didn't come here just to see what it's like and whether I can do it or not.”

Leitsch started out as a left-winger before moving further and further back, first becoming a left-back, before switching to centre-back between the U17 and U19 levels. The reason behind that was his height. “I grew late,” he says. “I used to be the shortest, but had another growth spurt when I was around 16 or 17.” Today, he stands 189 centimetres tall and despite his height, he’s hardly slow, either, he says. “I've reached the 35 km/h mark. I hope I can settle in here quickly and grow into the role.” The goal, he says, is to nail down a regular spot in the team.

Off the pitch, a main concern for the defender at the moment is the search for a flat. One viewing as already taken place, with a second lined up in the next few days. “I'm just finding out how difficult it is to find a flat in Mainz. I hope it will happen quickly, because living in a hotel is not my thing.”