Bundesliga great escape artists Mainz add another resurrection to folklore started by Jürgen Klopp


When most football fans think of Mainz, it’s the Jürgen Klopp promotion and the Thomas Tuchel glory years, but for the 05ers' loyalists, their Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 history has often been about epic survival.

Promoted to the top flight for the first time under Klopp in 2004 after two near misses, Mainz would go up again with Tuchel at the helm in 2009, and they’ve been Bundesliga regulars ever since.

That doesn’t tell the full story, though, with the Carnival club regularly flirting with a second tier return, only to stage a number of great escapes, with their latest and perhaps best coming this year under Bo Henriksen.

Mainz are quickly becoming famous for coming back from the dead, and here bundesliga.com looks at their best efforts, with history even dating back to before they made it into Germany’s top flight…

Mainz fans got to witness yet more late season heroics from their team. - IMAGO/Christian Schroedter

Kloppo starts the surivial mayhem

Mainz had found some stability in the second tier in the lead up to the millennium, but it looked like that was all going to come crashing down shortly into 2001. The season started with Belgian Rene Vandereycken in the dugout, but in November he was replaced by the experienced Eckhard Krautzun, seen as a safe pair of hands to drag them away from the relegation zone they were in.

The 05ers managed two brief jumps out of the then-bottom four under Krautzun, but it was clear they were still fighting with fire. On February 27, sporting director Christian Heidel decided to act with Mainz two points adrift of safety. Unlike his pitch for experience with Krautzun, Heidel went in a completely opposite direction and he made the unprecedented decision to replace the veteran in the dugout with goalkeeping coach Stephan Kuhnert and a name you’ll certainly recognise - defender Jürgen Klopp.

Klopp was out injured at the time, but at 33 years old and with a command of the dressing room, he was deemed a risk worth taking, and as history shows, he certainly was. A qualified sports teacher who already had his coaching A licence, Klopp got to work with a 3-1 win over Chemnitz on the most fitting of weekends - carnival - the biggest date on the calendar in Mainz and one that perfectly suited the party-style football Klopp was about to unleash.

Mainz left the relegation zone a week later and wouldn’t return, winning six out of seven and ending up three points clear of danger on the final day. The celebrations began, but fans weren’t aware how good things were about to get under the soon-to-be legendary ‘Kloppo’...

Klopp transformed Mainz from relegation favourites to a winning machine. - imago/EßlingTrainer

Klopp's 05ers stun the Bundesliga

The turnaround under Klopp was staggering, and Mainz went from relegation danger to the brink of promotion, twice finishing one place short - ending the following two seasons in fourth. In 2004, there was pandemonium as they went one further, clinching third and a place in the Bundesliga for the first time ever.

Their debut top-flight campaign saw Klopp’s Bundesliga newbies flirt with the bottom three, but always avoid dipping their toes back in. However, 2005/06 wasn’t so comfortable. Mainz lost their opening five games of the season and were rock bottom. They eventually made up that four-point deficit to emerge from danger, but a 2-0 defeat to Kaiserslautern on Matchday 23 again left them second-bottom and in big trouble. 

Klopp had a plan up his sleeve, though, and switched from his trusted 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 diamond and went on to draw against Borussia Dortmund before the team’s first back-to-back wins of the season against big guns Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen. A five-game winless run would follow, putting Mainz back in the dogfight, but consecutive victories over Schalke and Wolfsburg with three games to go were the perfect solution, with those six points taking them all the way up to 11th.

The Bundesliga tried to put Mainz back in their place, but Klopp wasn't having any of it. - imago/Team 2

Alas, the seemingly inevitable finally caught up with the 05ers in 2006/07 as they finished third from bottom, which at the time meant automatic relegation. Klopp stayed on another year to try and bring them back, but the third fourth-place finish of his coaching career in Bundesliga 2 meant the legendary coach bowed out in 2008.

Bundesliga regulars status at risk

With the Klopp era now history, Mainz were out on the other side of their best-ever league finishes under Thomas Tuchel and confident Bundesliga regulars under Martin Schmidt going into the 2010s. That was put in jeopardy in early 2018 when three straight defeats against Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Hoffenheim sent the 05ers into a relegation zone that they just couldn’t clamber out of.

Sandro Schwarz’s job looked in danger, and despite saving it by beating Hertha Berlin, the Carnival club spent January until April in the bottom three and couldn’t buy a win in six games. Freiburg visited on 16 April and a 2-0 victory was finally recorded, but Mainz were plunged straight back into danger by Augsburg with three to play.

It looked like it was going to be game over considering how tough Mainz’s final three games were in comparison to their rivals, but they sensationally picked up two wins against high-flying RB Leipzig and Dortmund. The teams around them also continued to pick up results and they weren’t expected to get anything from the Signal Iduna Park on Matchday 33. Instead, though, goals in the first 13 minutes from Ridle Baku and Yoshinori Muto were enough for a 2-1 win that secured safety with a game to play.

Watch: Thomas Tuchel Back in Mainz

Covid, four managers and a record finish

A team that was so well run up to this point struggled massively during the Covid-19 period, and began 2020/21 with five straight defeats. Achim Beierlorzer was gone after only two games, and his replacement, Jan-Moritz Lichte, didn’t do much better. 

Mainz ended the first half of the season with eight defeats and one win from 13 games, and spent four weeks bottom of the table, with only a historically bad season from Schalke helping them back up. It looked like this might be the season Mainz finally sunk back down to the second tier again, but on 28 December they had a very welcome late Christmas present. Heidel, the man who discovered Klopp and Tuchel, returned over the winter break and called time on Lichte and put Jan Siewert in interim charge. Having nailed numerous prior coaching appointments, the next one would be one of his most important to date.

Heidel did what worked for him before and went with a former player, getting in touch with ex-defender Bo Svensson, with the Dane knowing the club as well as anyone after seven years as a player and a stint as an assistant. Svensson left Austrian side Liefering and rocked up back on the Rhine for 2021.

However, unlike with Klopp, Svensson wasn’t an instant success, and at the halfway point of the season only four teams in Bundesliga history had collected fewer points than Mainz’s seven. Slowly, though, things began to turn around, and after spending all but two of the previous 25 matchdays in the bottom three, Mainz finally emerged when they recorded their first back-to-back wins of the season against Freiburg and Hoffenheim in March.

In their final 11 matches they would lose just once and record six victories, including huge statement wins over runaway champions Bayern Munich and Champions League side Wolfsburg. Svensson would rack up the record for the Mainz’s best-ever Bundesliga points total in the second half of a season, and despite being in the bottom three all the way up to Matchday 26, they finished the campaign in a stunning 12th, confirming their survival with two games to spare.

Watch: Bo Svensson admits to Mainz struggles

Dead and burried before Henriksen heroics

Following their scary 2020/21 season, Mainz settled into the top half of the table the following two seasons under Svensson and even challenged for Europe. Sadly, in 2023/24, something went wrong again.

The Dane started the campaign without a win in nine, and in November he and the club decided to go their separate ways. Siewert was again called upon and started with a 2-0 victory over Leipzig, but the new manager bounce quickly wore off without a win in 11 and the former Huddersfield Town boss was replaced. Heidel spoke of the need for a reset and someone who had done a similar job before. Enter Bo 2.0 in fellow Dane Bo Henriksen from FC Zürich.

The former striker, who spent a large chunk of his career in England with Kidderminster Harriers and Bristol Rovers, could have been forgiven for using the remainder of the season to prepare for the Bundesliga 2, given that he arrived at a club nine points from safety and massively struggling for goals. Instead, though, the turnaround was phenomenal.

Starting with victory over Augsburg, an 8-1 defeat to Bayern three games later could have been a confidence-destroyer, but it instead seemed to have the opposite effect. Mainz would get their second win under Henriksen against relegation rivals Bochum next time out, and they then went on to score eight against Darmstadt and Hoffenheim. In their next three matches they were unable to finish off Freiburg, Cologne and Heidenheim, recording 1-1 draws despite dominant performances, but everything changed against Dortmund - a team the 05ers have enjoyed some memorable moments against. Mainz thrashed the Champions League finalists 3-0 to finally jump out of the bottom three and then finished the job off on the final day by beating Wolfsburg 3-1 on their own turf.

Watch: Mainz 3-0 Borussia Dortmund - highlights

A finish of 13th may make it look comfortable, but the cushion to the play-off spot was ultimately only two points. Not that they will be bothered about that in Mainz. They're already looking forward to a 16th straight year in the Bundesliga - only this time hopefully without the drama of another remarkable escape act.