In the Rhineland, the carnival months – November to February – are regarded as a fifth season, but as 1. FSV Mainz 05 prepare for their first campaign in Europe, they are in the UEFA Europa League for more than just a party.
The Karnevalverein (Carnival club) owe their nickname to Mainz's festive reputation, but that moniker has often been a back-handed insult, with the suggestion that they could never quite be taken seriously. All of that changed last season when, under Thomas Tuchel, they finished fifth in Germany, kicking off their campaign with a seven-game winning streak to match a Bundesliga record.
Mainz fans' penchant for fancy dress has often drawn attention, but when they met FC Bayern München on 25 September last year, it was the home side who ended up looking silly. Mainz's 2-1 win capped a performance of surgical precision against opponents who would normally have expected to steamroller them. It was perhaps then that even the most hardened cynics had to admit that Mainz were on to something.
Most of the credit for that and subsequent successes has gone to Tuchel, who at 37 is regarded as perhaps the most exciting young coach in Germany. While his career as a defender amounted to little, he shone as a youth coach; he had just led Mainz's youngsters to the national Under-19 title when he was handed the senior job on 3 August 2009, charged with maintaining the progress that began with promotion in 2004.
Mainz finished tenth in his first season, but – despite a modest budget – improved on that dramatically last time out, with Tuchel's match dossiers becoming the stuff of legend. His analysis of upcoming opponents is famously exhaustive; Mainz general manager Christian Heidel noted that Tuchel "often goes without sleep because he plans everything in so much detail" but it has been alarmingly effective.
He micro-manages games brilliantly, tweaking his squad selections to challenge every opponent's perceived weaknesses. No fewer than 20 of his players made ten or more appearances in the Bundesliga last season, with this constant rotation keeping opponents guessing and showcasing his players' flexibility, with his young side clearly subscribing to Tuchel's belief that progress can only come with a united group.
It is a philosophy which Tuchel believes the clubs' supporters are right behind too. "The Mainz 05 fans are not coming to the stadium because of any extraordinary events, they are coming because of the way we play," he maintained. "
We are playing living, breathing football." His next challenge is to make sure CS Gaz Metan Mediaş, their third qualifying round opponents on Thursday, do not rain on the Carnival club's parade.
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