Pros 21.06.2022 — 15:24 Uhr

Svensson: "Our goals aren't easily defined"

15 years ago, Bo Svensson was unveiled as a player for the Zerofivers. In an interview, he looks back on his playing days under Jürgen Klopp and talks about his deep understanding of Mainz 05.

Alongside Neven Subotic, Svensson made his competitive debut for the Zerofivers in a 3-0 win against 1860 München.

“Bo is definitely a leader for us, based on his style of play and his intelligence,” read a quote from Christian Heidel in the 20th June 2007 edition of the Mainzer Rhein-Zeitung. The previous day, Svensson had been officially unveiled at the Bruchweg as a veteran defender set to join the team following their relegation to Bundesliga 2. Ahead of the 2022/23 season, we sat down to speak to our current head coach about his playing days, as well as looking ahead to the future. 

Svensson, who retired from professional football in 2014, made a total of 122 competitive appearances for Mainz 05 (including 90 in the Bundesliga). He was brought in to help stabilise the team’s backline as the sought to win promotion back to the Bundesliga, but needed patience. “I joined and was injured. Having been signed with the intention of being a regular starter, I missed three, four months at the start,” he said. Fifteen years later, the Dane is remembered as having played a large role in Mainz’s sporting success that season. In an interview, he spoke about Klopp’s persuasiveness and his understanding of Mainz 05, and revealed whether he is more excited for pre-season now as a coach than he was as a player. 

Bo, how well do you remember the days surrounding your signing in 2007? 

Svensson: “That’s a long time ago! (laughs) I had to decide between Mainz and a club in Denmark back then, from whom I had also received a strong offer. It would have been easier to go there, especially with two young children. Denmark would have been the safer move, which is why it was a close decision. I remember bits of a phone call with Kloppo during my summer holiday in Denmark that year. After that call, I thought long and hard and knew that I wanted to prove that I could play in the Bundesliga. That’s what pushed me to choose Mainz 05. It was the right decision for both my family and myself to go down that path.”

I knew that I wanted to prove that I could play in the Bundesliga.

Bo (l.) with Kloppo & the other new signings from summer 2007.

What set Kloppo apart?

Svensson: “You can say that every player enjoyed playing and training under him, even though he was also tough with high expectations. That’s an important component. However, it’s impossible to learn how to be like Kloppo. He also needed 55 years to become the person that he is. His demeanour, his coolness, cannot be learned from a book. That’s all personality, and you can’t imitate that.” 

His demeanour, his coolness, cannot be learned from a book.

You didn’t see much playing time under him in your first season with the team…

Svensson: “Not in my first two seasons at Mainz 05, unfortunately. I came here and was injured. Looking back on it now, I know now that my Achilles heel was already giving me issues before I came here. I took part in pre-season, but at some point it got worse during training. I had been signed with the intention of being a regular starter, but then went on to miss three, four months. Even after I returned to the pitch, my Achilles tendon wasn’t completely healed, which is why I then had surgery a couple of months later. Unfortunately, we failed to win promotion immediately, and then Kloppo went to Dortmund. The fact that I am still at the club today wouldn’t have been imaginable back then.” 

Would Bo Svensson the football player have a chance of making it into your squad today? 

Svensson: “I don’t think so (laughs). I wasn’t the most athletic player, but rather got by with my enthusiasm, vision and winning mentality. That’s still possible today, but the pace of the game hasn’t slowed down. Pace and speed have become even more important for a centre-back to have.” 

Bo & his wife Ulla in 2007 in the stands at the Bruchwegstadion with the oldest of their three children.

Following your retirement, you took on a job as assistant to Kaspar Hjulmand at Mainz where you were responsible for the U16s, U17s and U19s. Then, you spent a year and a half as head coach of FC Liefering. How important was it for you to take this gradual development? 

Svensson: “Very important. Four years ago, I wouldn’t have been in a position where I could have taken charge of a Bundesliga team. Today, I’m also definitely a better coach than I was 18 months ago. I’m someone who reflects a lot, and will hopefully learn a lot still. That’s the nice thing about life and about being a coach. I have to make decisions under pressure and in extreme situations; ones that I question immediately afterwards because they aren’t always rational decisions. That’s very important in order to learn things about yourself and to continue to work on becoming a better coach. Overall, the path I’ve taken has been exactly the right one for me.” 

During the next couple of weeks, what will be needed in order to prepare the team for the new season?

Svensson: “First and foremost, it’s about results, but also about making sure that everyone enjoys being here, playing together and playing for this club. I’m fully convinced that that’s when you play to your best. My job is to create a culture in which everything improves. You only improve when you enjoy what you’re doing. I understand that lots of people want an answer about what our goals are. I find it hard to do that, however, because our goal doesn’t have an easily defined title. That’s how I experienced it back in my playing days, where I focused only on the here and now. It’s always about achieving the maximum possible. That can depend on a lot of different factors: injuries, luck, better opponents. I can say that we are very much looking forward to the new season and that we trust in our strengths. We’re ready to get started.” 

You only improve when you enjoy what you’re doing.

Mainz 05 last played in the Europa League in 2016. Many fans were likely hoping for a better finish than eighth place this season. 

Svensson: “I think it’s totally okay to set ambitious goals and to dream big. However, I won’t say those things out loud. Everyone is also free to criticise us. The important thing is that you remain a fan, despite being critical. To me, a fan is someone who comes to the stadium on Saturday and supports the team that they have chosen to support.” 

Svensson speaking to the fans in May 2022.

Is the upcoming period also about creating new stimuli and being open to new things?

Svensson: “That is definitely one approach. But what do we call new stimuli? They can be tactical, training work or just general work as a team. But I am definitely someone who doesn't want to keep copying everything that was there before. You should try to develop things even more. With a clear image of what was good, but at the same time be open to changes with a good feel for the group and the coaching team. The question is always: How can I be the best coach for Mainz 05? ‘Copy and paste’ does not work over the long term.”

‘Copy and paste’ does not work over the long term.

What can that mean in concrete terms?

 “We are at a different place now than we were 18 months ago, when it was mainly about stability and continuity in what was a fragile situation. To stay at the top, we have to remain variable and flexible. That is the evolution of football and it’s also an opportunity to create advantages for ourselves in the league. But there are different approaches: Union Berlin, for example, have been using a 5-3-2 for two years and are successful doing so. Freiburg have been changing frequently and are also doing really well. My assessment always has to be based on whether we can create a benefit for ourselves. It should never just be about me making changes just for the sake of it. It has to suit the players and not lead to uncertainty. We want to get better and find the best way for us.”

The aim of guaranteeing a certain standard of performance rather than a certain result has been largely successful over the past year and a half. How can you continue this approach in the long term?

 “I live by what I believe in. We have to deliver for the fans, but also for our teammates, because they are all trying to do exactly the same thing. It's like me on the sidelines; I also have to deliver and try to perform to the best of my ability. Otherwise, we’d go to work, receive our salary and go home, but in the end we’d spend a lot of time being average doing so. I don’t think that’s great; it's better if you like going to work, have priorities and clear goals. That’s the way I am, how I understand Mainz 05, but also in general the business of football, working life and life in general. That might sound very philosophical, but it's much better when you stand for something. Once I've said that, of course I have to live by it, no matter what. There are a lot of great philosophers, but the question is whether the words are sustainable or just sayings. It’s useless if there is no substance or authenticity behind it. If our stadium is just there empty and we don’t fill it with life, then it’s just concrete. We create the value through our actions, otherwise it's just a game of eleven against eleven. Our conviction must be reflected in everyday life. In seven years as a player, I have had coaches who have formulated very clearly what is important here. I am influenced by that. I have an idea of how a Mainz team should play, and that also corresponds to my own personal ideas of football.”

That might sound very philosophical, but it's much better when you stand for something. 

One last question before the start of training on Tuesday evening: Is your anticipation for the upcoming weeks greater now than before?

 “Without a doubt, I'm definitely more excited now than I was then; it's a very exciting time! As a player, you want to pull through and be involved. As a coach, you can try things out and test different approaches. It's about creating a basis for the whole season – it’s brilliant.”