Coach Bo Svensson talks Mainz, Thomas Tuchel and the visit of Bayern Munich
Bo Svensson's in-form Mainz are all set for a showdown with Bayern Munich on Saturday and as he prepares his side for the return of Thomas Tuchel and the division leaders, the 05ers coach sat down to chat with bundesliga.com.
bundesliga.com: What are your thoughts on the ‘homecoming’ of Thomas Tuchel next weekend when Mainz welcome Bayern Munich?
Bo Svensson: “It’s a special moment, I think, for Thomas. He [already came back] came here a couple of times as a coach with [Borussia] Dortmund. I think it’s a special occasion for Mainz [too]. Of course, a big personality is coming home. Since he’s been away, he has won the Champions League and he has been in [another] Champions League final. He has been the coach of some of the biggest clubs in the world. He has a great history here at Mainz.
"He won the youth championship [and] was head coach here for five years. Along with [board member for sports and communication] Christian Heidel and Jürgen [Klopp], these three guys are the most important people in Mainz’s history. Personally, I [played] here under [Tuchel] for five years. It was a very interesting period. It was not like we hugged each other every day. We also had our moments, but I learned so much from him.
"Just how he is and how he coached the team was an influence and it inspired me to go and pursue my own coaching career. I wouldn’t be sitting here and coaching – and I certainly wouldn’t be the coach of Mainz – had it not been for Thomas and his influence.”
From Klopp and Tuchel to Svensson - the Mainz coaching cradle
bundesliga.com How did you experience Tuchel as a coach?
Svensson: “A very enthusiastic, charismatic person with very high ambitions in terms of what he wanted to see from his players and himself. I have a lot of examples: I can remember he started here [just] days before the first [Bundesliga] game of the season. Jörn Andersen was fired four days before the first Bundesliga match.
"We were just promoted and then a guy who never coached senior players came to us. Everybody was looking at what this young guy had to offer. He was the same age as some of our oldest players. I think, in those four days, he convinced everybody that he was something special.
"We had a small training camp with him. [I remember] the ideas, the way he went about things with the team and the players and how we trained and prepared for that first game – at the time I was 28 or 29. I had been a professional player for 10 years [and] I had never experienced anything like this. It opened our eyes. In four days, without playing a game, I think every player was convinced that we were getting ready for something special.”
bundesliga.com: How special were games against Bayern when Tuchel was in charge at Mainz?
“Under Thomas, I think we won three games against them. It was a high number. We played them 10 times so we also lost a lot of the games. That was normal. Thomas was very motivated for every game but in particular when we played against Bayern Munich. It was a couple notches higher, but of course, that is what you always take into games against Bayern. It's the possibility to measure yourself against the best players in the world. You know that if you are not at your absolute top level, you will have problems.
"That's why it’s nice to play in the Bundesliga. You can play against the best players. You can see your own limitations and perhaps, you can surprise yourself that you sometimes have the quality to [match the best], so it's special.”
Watch: When Svensson's Mainz beat the mighty Bayern
bundesliga.com: What are Mainz hoping for this weekend against a Bayern side not currently in full flow?
Svensson: “Well, first of all, I have been asked and I will continue to be asked whether this is a good time to meet Bayern. I have my experience with them over many years and sometimes, or a lot of the time, when they are wounded and people are questioning them and asking, “Is this a crisis?”, that is when they provide the best answer. So, I imagine that we will have a very difficult game on Saturday.
"We have been performing well since the winter break. We had 15 games and three losses. The only game where we were absolutely without a chance was the [4-0 DFB Cup] loss against Bayern. We were outplayed that day. We didn’t perform well but their level of play was just so high. That can happen. That could happen on Saturday.
"If you focus too much on their every quality and everything they can do, you stand no chance. You have to play to your own strengths and be brave and positive and try to tackle the game head on. It’s difficult. We had two games against them this season. We conceded 10 and scored two goals. Now we have a third chance. Our position in the table is good so we are going to try everything but we know that it’s going to be extremely difficult.”
Watch: Mainz in five-star form earlier this season
bundesliga.com: If memory serves, you once scored an own goal against Bayern, right?
Svensson: “Yes, I remember it and if I forget it, I am reminded 10 times a year. People ask me about it and sometimes they forget that we actually won that game! That was more important for me but it was a crazy own goal, a bit slapstick. I don’t even know how many years it’s been now; I think it was thirteen years ago but people still remember and still talk to me about it so there is no chance of forgetting it. That’s too bad, but it is what it is.”
bundesliga.com: What’s the main reason for Mainz's superb performances in the second half of the season?
Bo Svensson: “I think the reasons are many; you can’t just put it down to one central reason. I think the winter break came at a good moment for us. We weren’t playing that well and we had some problems with the team and with our style of play. It was convenient for us in November that this break was approaching.
"I think we used the time off well. We got a couple of new players with [Ludovic] Ajorque and Andreas Hanche-Olsen. Both players fitted well into the group and made us better from day one. We made a lot of changes from the first half of the season. We’ve now found stability in our backline; that helped us a lot. I think the team also responded. They sat down together and worked some things out.
"I think this combination of things – as opposed to just one factor – have led to us being able to play in a more stable fashion. It hasn’t been great every game but even when we played average, we were able to pick up points.”
Svensson outstripping Klopp and Tuchel at Mainz
bundesliga.com: For Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, Mainz was the starting point for two incredible careers. Could it be the same for you too?
“No. For me it’s still not very realistic that I should be compared to these coaches. I had them [and] I put them on a pedestal because I believe they are [two of] the best coaches in the world. I don’t see myself anywhere near them and what they have achieved.
The only thing we have in common is Mainz and that we all had this job but when you talk about the quality and the prospects and all that, I cannot compare myself to those guys in any way. I am not going to do it. People can believe me or not, but I am not thinking that way. I am just happy to be here at Mainz and happy that we are doing well and happy that the mission that we are on seems to be going the right way and I am playing my part.
Maybe someday it will be time for me to move on as well. I don’t think it’s possible for me to have the same career. Like I said, right now, I am very happy to be at Mainz. Perhaps I will think about the next step at some point but only when I feel I am finished here and I don’t think that I am finished at Mainz yet.”
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