Known as the 'Carnival Club' due to the city's famous annual festivities, 1. FSV Mainz 05 may have some unscheduled celebrations this season given the side's form in the Bundesliga.
Despite a modest budget, Mainz lie seventh in Germany, with European football a realistic prospect for Thomas Tuchel's men. They lost 2-0 to all-conquering FC Bayern Munchen at the weekend, but tellingly gave the Bundesliga leaders one of their toughest games of the campaign; where other teams have rested players against the champions-elect, Tuchel set his charges up to get a result, pressing and harrying well before conceding two late goals.
It was a positive attitude befitting the club where Borussia Dortmund boss Jürgen Klopp made his name. Mainz were a perennial second-tier side during the striker-cum-defender's playing career, yet after moving from pitch to dugout in 2001, Klopp led the team into the Bundesliga for the first time in 2004, where they held their own until 2007. Klopp stayed in charge for another season yet joined Dortmund in 2008 after failing to gain promotion back to the elite. (Mainz had played the equivalent of top-flight football prior to the Bundesliga's formation in 1963.).
Klopp casts a long shadow at Mainz, as does general manager Christian Heidel. The owner of a local car dealership, he worked unpaid at Mainz for many years and remains an outspoken force to be reckoned with. Famously, after Mainz were promoted again in 2009, he dismissed coach Jørn Andersen just a week before the start of the Bundesliga campaign, replacing him with the unknown Tuchel who had been training the side's Under-19s.
That was an example of what Heidel called the "Mainzer Weg" (the Mainz way). "After winning promotion, Andersen wanted to abandon the Mainz way. That worked out for him, but he had to leave the club," Heidel said at the time, adding years later: "The club has to define its philosophy and look for staff accordingly – not the other way around. Back then, we were seen as a chaotic club. No one understood. Today we are being praised for it."
Now 40, Tuchel has thrived doing things the Mainz way. A keen tactician who initially specialised in creating bespoke plans to counter the strengths of each opponent, he steered Mainz to a best-ever fifth-placed finish in 2011 and a shot at the UEFA Europa League. Heidel is always eager to mention the "Tuchel table" in reference to his protege: "If you count together all Bundesliga games since Tuchel started with us in 2009, only four clubs [Bayern, Dortmund, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Schalke 04] rank above us. That is an accolade for the team, the coach and the club."
Klopp is impressed by Tuchel too. "It is not easy to produce this level of quality they have at Mainz over and over again. Thomas Tuchel has good ideas all the time and puts them into place fiercely." Heidel has conceded he will not be able to keep the coach forever, and Tuchel himself said: "I am absolutely certain I'm capable of coaching Bayern München or any other big clubs, but taking such a job at the right time is important."
For now, he is looking to once more follow the Mainz way all the way into Europe.
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