PERFECTION - AT ALL LEVELS
Champions League final with Mainz participation: Christian Heidel remembers the beginnings under Thomas Tuchel
For the fourth time in a row, a former 05 coach will be in the Champions League final on Saturday evening. After Jürgen Klopp (2018 & 2019), Thomas Tuchel will also be fighting for the highest honour in European club football for the second time in a row when he meets Manchester City and Pep Guardiola with Chelsea FC from 9pm CET. On the occasion of this highlight with Mainz participation, Christian Heidel recalled the beginnings of the now 47-year-old, who once came to the Bruchweg as a youth coach.
Much has been written about the Mainz coaching school, created by Christian Heidel, the long-time Mainz manager who returned in January and is now the board member responsible for strategy, sport and communication. That two of his discoveries, Klopp and Tuchel, would today be among the best in the world could not have been foreseen by Heidel himself in 2001, when he transformed the former from player to coach overnight, and in the summer of 2009, when he promoted Tuchel from U19 coach to Bundesliga coach. In both cases, however, he recognised the potential and acted for the good of the Zerofivers. Decisions that became success stories around the Bruchweg and are now being continued at international level.
But back to 2009, which was the main topic of a media roundtable with British journalists in the middle of this week. After all, five days before the start of the season, not every manager promotes a youth coach to head of the first team. After the resignation of promotion coach Jörn Andersen, Heidel had contacted Tuchel on his way back from the U19 training camp in Austria, let him in on his plans and expected a quick agreement.
If you always take this long, you'll never be a coach in the pros.
It turned out differently, as Heidel remembers: "He said he would come to me to discuss it as soon as he was back in Mainz, but then he didn't come until 10pm and demanded two weeks to think it over after our conversation," says the 57-year-old. "If you always take that long, you'll never be a professional coach," he told him. The decision was finally made within a few hours, the interview press conference followed the next day and it quickly became clear that both sides had made the right decision. "With his first appearance in front of the team, Thomas was accepted," recalls Heidel. "Above all, he can impress young players with his incredible expertise. He went into the dressing room for his first address as a youth coach and came out again as a Bundesliga coach. The success story of the following years, the seven opening victories in the 2010/11 season or the Europa League qualification in 2013/2014, is well known."
Ten better players lost to the better team today
Tuchel's talent was already evident in his last year as youth coach, when he defeated Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the final of the German championship with the Mainz U19s - a unique success. Observer in the stands at the time: Jürgen Klopp, who had switched to Borussia in 2007. His analysis was very succinct: "Ten better players lost to the better team today," Klopp said, as reported by Heidel, explaining what distinguishes Tuchel then as well as now: "Thomas is a total perfectionist, every training session has to be perfectly prepared, just like every game. He expects perfect games because they run in his head beforehand. He deals with every opponent beforehand from A to Z," said Heidel, who also has an explanation for the occasional emotional outbursts of the 2020 and 2021 Champions League finalist. "He always has a plan. When a player is one metre off a plan, it hits him. Tactical discipline is the be-all and end-all of what he does. The plan has to be implemented because that's how the game plays out in his head beforehand."
Tuchel & the Greenkeeper
Perfection sometimes even goes beyond the training work. For example, Tuchel once wanted to hire the Austrian greenkeeper after a Mainz training camp because he was enthusiastic about the grass. "Thomas takes care of everything, in Mainz he even measured the grass once," the 05 board member reports with a laugh. Heidel is equally impressed when he talks about how Tuchel once studied the passing sequences of Pep Guardiola's team, today's opponents, with fascination for two hours during a bus ride.
He has a perfectly co-ordinated coaching team, which was also part of the team in Mainz.
It is doubtful whether his studies from that time alone will help him to win the Champions League for the first time. Football and coaches have evolved; with Chelsea and Man City, both coaches are coaching teams of world stature in a match whose outcome is completely open. Last year, the former Mainz head coach was narrowly defeated 1-0 by Bayern Munich with Paris St. Germain. This year, he hopes for a more positive outcome. Heidel believes so and is keeping his fingers crossed for his former companion. "He has a perfectly attuned coaching team, which was also part of it in Mainz. The players in his teams have certainly never received such precise analysis as they did under Thomas. And I would say that defeats almost cause him physical pain."
One can only hope that the former successful 05 coach will be spared such painful experiences in the final on Saturday evening in a duel that promises high tension and football at the highest level. "He, Jürgen and Pep are probably the closest to perfection at the moment," says Heidel, who can take credit for having paved the way for two of them to world careers on the international football stage. The secret of his success, which Heidel also outlined at the beginning of January when he signed Bo Svensson? "In Mainz, you have the chance to develop as a coach because it was clear to me very early on that the coach is the most important person in the club. We let Jürgen become Jürgen and Thomas, Thomas. They were allowed to make mistakes, had confidence and that suited them very well."
By the way, Heidel will be watching the final on holiday in Mallorca with Jürgen, who has remained Jürgen to this day.