Frank Schmidt has taken Heidenheim to the promised land and is now preparing to face record champions Bayern Munich. - © Getty Images
Frank Schmidt has taken Heidenheim to the promised land and is now preparing to face record champions Bayern Munich. - © Getty Images

Frank Schmidt on Heidenheim's fairy-tale top-flight start and facing Bayern Munich


The longest-serving coach in German football history, Heidenheim's Frank Schmidt meets record champions Bayern Munich for the first time in the Bundesliga this weekend. caught up with the 49-year-old ahead of his 600th game at the helm of his beloved hometown club... How did you sleep after the derby win over VfB Stuttgart?

Frank Schmidt: "Good! But I always sleep well, I have to say. I learned to just switch off the light when you get into bed and know that you have to use the time well, because a good sleep is my source of energy. But of course, the difference is when you wake up and you remember you’ve won the game yesterday, then you go and analyse it and there’s so many positives to analyse, so yeah, it was a peaceful sleep, all good!" What's your take on the game?

Schmidt: "I think it was our DNA, it was our aim in the game, we didn’t want to play Stuttgart at their own game because we knew we would have come up short. We wanted to have our own identity on the pitch, be solid and defend as one, find good pressing situations. We didn’t just have set pieces, we had a couple of good moments in transition, we scored at the right time, and then scored the second to finish it off. But we defended with passion - despite that, it’s not as if we played flawlessly, but we were ready to make up for our mistakes and be there for our teammates."

Watch: Heidenheim 2-0 VfB Stuttgart - highlights Why is hard work so important to you?

Schmidt: "That’s enough, at the end of the day. There are games, there have been games, where you have the feeling that you’re right at your limit, and sometimes you have to accept, like in Leverkusen, it’s not enough. Against Frankfurt, the game against Gladbach, in the Bundesliga but certainly in the cup, you could see that it wasn’t enough, and you need a bit more than just DNA. It’s something I said before the season, just because something was good for five years doesn’t mean it’s automatically good for five more years, especially not in the Bundesliga, where the situation is so different - a lot more quality, a lot quicker, a lot less time and space on the ball, so those are things that we have to develop and we’re working on that, but without forgetting what our strengths are, something we showed again at home, the fact we can win Bundesliga games." How did you react to the defeats to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga and DFB Cup?

Schmidt: "Not publicly, but internally, of course I did, perhaps differently but I’m not prepared to talk up a bad game or to talk down a bad game. I think being honest is all part of it. Obviously I protect my team like a wolf protects its pack, but I always need to feel that my players are pushing themselves to the limit, at the very least. I didn’t see that in Gladbach. I learned early on in life that the truth is the truth, and you should be able to speak it openly." It's still quite the fairy-tale for you and Heidenheim...

Schmidt: "Yeah, of course it is. You can call it a fairytale, because it’s 1. FC Heidenheim, perhaps 10, 15, 20 years ago, nobody knew who we were on the footballing map and nobody would have thought we could play in the Bundesliga. But at the end of the day, success came step by step. We were always prepared to try new things, without losing our DNA, that togetherness, the character in and around the team, and the temperament to be professional and to always keep improving. Those things go well together, then of course you throw in, then with the sustainability of it, I know that’s usually said as being down to the coach, but lots of people in various positions at the club have been here for even longer. To put it differently, at Heidenheim it’s not about taking everything on together, it’s about being there for each other, and I think those are life values that are very important but perhaps not known or held by everyone in football, and then you find a niche whereby you’re seen like that from outside. I can understand that."

Watch: Frank Schmidt's Heidenheim fairy-tale What are your first memories of joining the club?

Schmidt: "Yeah, of course. I remember when I started, the club was even smaller. I can remember my first conversation with Holger Sonnenwald, who is CEO nowadays, we were in this room filled with files and documents and you could barely move, something like six or seven metres squared, that was the first conversation, and I thought ‘Yeah, it could be exciting here in Heidenheim’. We were in the Verbandsliga, the sixth division, and then at the home games when I started, I was still playing, in front of 200 or 300 fans, that’s how it started. They’d all congregate by the sausage stand for Bratwurst and beer, and that was normal after the games. That’s how everything started for me, but I noticed pretty quickly that the idea at the this club was always to reach the next step, and then never to be satisfied with just making the next step, and after everything, it’s something that still helps us, remembering where we’ve come from, to remember and to value that time, because you know your worth. You know where you’ve come from, and you appreciate what you’ve achieved even more." Tell us about your first Bundesliga win, against Werder Bremen...

Schmidt: "I sang along afterwards in the dressing room! I still know all the words! But that became a tradition, singing that FCH song after every game we won. But I think I just had to go to the press conference or something!” Is that a club tradition?

Schmidt: "Yeah, there are still moments like that - not as often anymore, but after I’m done and I’m not sat up here looking at the kiosk, because I think that’s pretty unique, the fact you can see it from in the stadium on the other side, and when it’s all died down then perhaps I head over there and pick up a couple of tips. That’s a Heidenheim thing, everyone knows everyone, everyone knows they can talk to anyone, perhaps more so than in other clubs where there just can’t be that same level of closeness, but as I said, just because we’re in the Bundesliga doesn’t mean that the coach can suddenly think he’s something special. I’ve not forgotten where I come from." What was it like growing up in Heidenheim?

Schmidt: "Yeah, I think back to my childhood, I grew up here and it was always VfB against Bayern, never anything else, perhaps a bit of Gladbach, but it was always Stuttgart against Bayern. That’s how we all grew up, there wasn’t another club that was close by that we could think of to play football, and it was definitely pretty special, the first Wurttemberg derby in the Bundesliga for 23 years! The crazy thing is that Heidenheim was a part of that derby, and so yeah, the game special and the result even more so."

Watch: Get to know Heidenheim What were your first experience of Bayern as a kid?

Schmidt: “Yeah, my first stadium visit was the Olympiastadion, I went with my mum, I think I was eight or nine years old. That was my first Bundesliga game and I was fascinated by the Südkurve, my first experience of it at the Olympiastadion, it was a special game, a big win for Bayern, at the end of the 70s and the start of the 80s there, and I’ve had a couple of meetings with Bayern since, first as a player in the cup, then with Heidenheim in the cup, and now this is the third time, and we’re obviously really looking forward to it… With Vestenbergsgreuth, against Bayern? Oh, I don’t know… It was 6-1, but I don’t remember against who. So it was a win, but I don’t know who against.” What was it like to beat Bayern as a player?

Schmidt: “Unbelievable. It was the last game of the first round of the cup, we had moved from the Vestenbergsgreuth ground to the Frankenstadion in Nuremberg, and we won the game 1-0, and I think we deserved to win, because it was one of those cup ties under the lights where we did everything right and Bayern didn’t do much right. I think it was [Giovanni] Trappatoni’s first game in charge, the team was full of world beaters, with [Lothar] Matthäus, there were others too. It just shows that anything can happen in a single game - and then I nearly managed to do the same with my team as a coach!” You were in charge of the first game between these two teams, what are your memories of that incredible DFB Cup match?

Schmidt: “Yeah, we were in it right until the end. We could have won the game. We were behind in the first half but we turned it around, with that Heidenheim DNA again, we didn’t hide, we pressed high, I think we forced a red card for [Niklas] Süle, and then [Robert] Lewandowski and [Kingsley] Coman came on at half time and turned the game back in their favour quite quickly, making it 4-2. But then we brought it back to 4-4, Robert Glatzel got a hat-trick, an amazing day, and then even now I can picture the scene, the chance we had to make it 5-4. We had a man up, and [Sven] Ulreich made an amazing save, and then they go up the other end and win a penalty and Lewandowski makes it 5-4. At the end of the game everyone was talking about this amazing game in Heidenheim, but as a coach I wasn’t, because we lost. We were very close to winning, we could have won. I think we gave a very good showing of ourselves that day, we could at least believe that it was possible.” A lot of time has passed since then but there's still a lot of players still in your squad from that match...

Schmidt: “Yeah, four-and-a-half years ago, to be exact. That’s crazy, but it’s part of the philosophy we have in this team, with players - it’s not just the coach who’s been here a while! Lots of players like Kevin Müller, Patrick Mainka, Norman Theuerkauf, to name just three. And from there you get the advantage of living that philosophy every day, and we achieve things together, and its deep-rooted in so many moments and so many minds for our players. So that helps to integrate new players quickly and show them the direction we want to go in. This team is built around longevity in lots of areas, and staff is part of that. But when the coach is there so long, it is also important to get new blood in.”

Bayern required a dramatic late penalty from Robert Lewandowski to beat Heidenheim 5-4 in the DFB Cup, their only previous meeting. - imago images / MIS What did you make of Bayern's defeat to Saarbrücken in the DFB Cup? Does it give you encouragement that they are beatable?

Schmidt: “Definitely, even if it’s not common to see Bayern get beaten twice in quick succession! So perhaps this game is coming a bit too soon for us, but huge credit to 1. FC Saarbrücken, they had an amazing cup upset, scoring the winning goal so late. I think Bayern reacted so well against Dortmund, it was almost unbelievable how consistent they were from the first to the last minute. They were so dominant, and everyone knows Bayern, they score goals at the right time and they showed how hard it is to play against them. You can’t forget with Bochum and Darmstadt, two teams have played there who have lost 7-0 and 8-0. It shows how unbelievably hard it can be to play in Munich, we just want to play our game, bring our ideas to the game, and not get so down after conceding a goal that the whole thing falls apart. That’ll be the work we do this week: creating that state of mind and that mentality… Me? No, I only played against Saarbrücken. My only ever red card! With Alemania Aachen, you never forget that.” How have your team prepared for the match?

Schmidt: “Yeah, if I remember it correctly, Bayern were always on free-to-air TV in the cup, and I’d never have thought we would provide such an entertaining game. I think if someone had told me there would be nine goals then I would have said ‘OK cool, perhaps Heidenheim got one and Bayern got eight!’ We played so bravely, we attacked them early, and we played brave football. We need moments like that and we need the right attitude. Either you get in their faces, I think Galatasaray in the Champions League showed Bayern in the first half how it can go. Amazing, they went man-to-man, they played with passion and they disrupted Bayern early. But if you can’t do that then you have to dig deep. To combine them both will be the challenge. We’ll prepare for that and we’ll get in the right frame of mind, I’m sure of that, and I’m sure we can walk off the pitch and say that we were the best versions of ourselves.”