Jürgen Klopp (l.) and Julian Nagelsmann (r.) are famous graduates of the Mainz and Hoffenheim coaching goldmines respectively, with Bo Svensson (2nd l.) and Sebastian Hoeneß (2nd r.) the current incumbents. - © 2022 DFL
Jürgen Klopp (l.) and Julian Nagelsmann (r.) are famous graduates of the Mainz and Hoffenheim coaching goldmines respectively, with Bo Svensson (2nd l.) and Sebastian Hoeneß (2nd r.) the current incumbents. - © 2022 DFL

Mainz vs. Hoffenheim: meeting of the coaching goldmines


Many clubs have forged reputations for producing talented footballers, but what about those who have a particular knack of developing top tacticians? Mainz and Hoffenheim are two such clubs, having introduced the likes of Jürgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann and Thomas Tuchel to the world.

Hansi Flick, Domenico Tedesco, Pellegrino Matarazzo – the list goes on of coaches who cut their teeth either in Mainz or Hoffenheim, two clubs who meet this weekend boating proud records of producing some of the best coaches in the business – and their present dugout incumbents are no exception.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say Bo Svensson performed a miracle in saving the 05ers from relegation when he took charge little over a year ago.

Never before had a side with their record at the halfway stage of a season – just seven points from 17 games – succeeded in surviving the drop. In fact, when he was appointed as part of an overhaul which saw Christian Heidel and Martin Schmidt return to guide the sporting matters, they made it clear from day one that they were already planning for 2021/22 in Bundesliga 2.

"In our heads, relegation was much more likely than staying up," Heidel told Sport Bild recently. "We were dealing with how we should plan for Bundesliga 2."

Watch: The Svensson effect

They had just six points from 13 games at the time and after picking up just one point from their first four fixtures, nobody would have thought any differently. At least not publicly. Svensson used the January transfer window to adjust his playing squad to meet his requirements and the rest, as they say, is history.

"We were not focusing on points, and we certainly were not thinking at all about staying up," Svensson said on reflection. "All we were focusing on fully was how we wanted to play football."

With 57 points in the 2021 calendar year, only six Bundesliga clubs fared better; Svensson succeeded in one of the greatest of Bundesliga escapes and has put Mainz in a position where they can dream of European football next season. Sound familiar?

When Klopp took charge of a beleaguered Mainz side in February 2001, becoming their sixth new coach in the space of a year, he started with six wins from his first seven games in charge and led them to safety.

The current Liverpool manager built upon that early success and, given the space and freedom to develop his own ideas and find the right chemistry with his players, he led Mainz to what at the time was their greatest ever success: qualification for the UEFA Cup, after having led them into Germany's top flight. Heidel was his general manager and, like with Svensson, he took a back seat role and observed, with patience, how his coach constructed a successful team.

Christian Heidel (l.) introduced Thomas Tuchel (3.l.) and Bo Svensson (4.l.) to the coaching fraternity. - imago sportfotodienst via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Team 2

Then came the turn of Tuchel, who benefitted from the same kind of liberty to develop a unique coaching style which launched his coaching career, which has since included clubs of the calibre of Borussia Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. Incidentally, both Klopp and Tuchel have since lifted the UEFA Champions League and picked up the prize of The Best FIFA Men's Coach of the Year - in Klopp's case, twice.

The same goes for Flick, who led Bayern Munich to a Bundesliga, DFB Cup and Champions League treble in 2021 before becoming head coach of the German national team. His first steps in coaching? They came at Hoffenheim, who were in the Oberliga (fourth division) at the time and gained promotion to the Regionalliga Süd under his guidance, laying the foundations for their rise to the top table of German football and giving Flick his first experience in a remarkable career.

Watch: Flick's sensational sextuple

Hoffenheim had already reached the Bundesliga by the time Nagelsmann was thrust into a situation which shares similarities with that of Svensson at Mainz, with relegation seeming inevitable when he became the youngest ever coach of a Bundesliga club in February 2016, aged 28.

A draw in his first game was followed by a win over Mainz, and like with Svensson, he achieved the seemingly impossible by rescuing the Sinsheimers from relegation, losing just five times with two of those defeats coming after survival had already been secured on Matchday 32.

Like with Svensson, Klopp and Tuchel, Nagelsmann was allowed to work without any pressure and no unrealistic expectations. Both Mainz and Hoffenheim provided ideal working environments for their young coaches to develop their own ideas and philosophies, supporting them along the way and giving them one of the most important elements: time.

The very same approach is no doubt also behind the outstanding work being produced by Sebastian Hoeneß this season, with Hoffenheim again in the hunt for European  zone with a relative rookie in the saddle. When he took charge in 2020/21, he was given the freedom to work on refreshing the squad to suit his own philosophy, and pressure was taboo as they finished a comfortable 11th.

Sebastian Hoeneß, son of Dieter and nephew of Uli, has been a hit with Hoffenheim. - Michael Weber IMAGEPOWER via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Michael Weber

Still without any burdening expectations – and this is what really sets Mainz and Hoffenheim apart – Hoeneß is on course to deliver an even better finish this term, with his development as a coach coming on leaps and bounds. "You're seeing now how good a coach he is," said former Bayern Munich president and Sebastian's uncle Uli Hoeneß, who added that finishing inside the top four would be "comparable to Bayern winning the league by ten points" in relative terms.

The Mainz and Hoffenheim ways have also had positive impacts on the careers of Stuttgart coach Matarazzo, who was Nagelsmann's assistant at Hoffenheim in 2018/19 after having coached the team's U17s; current RB Leipzig boss Tedesco, who also led the Sinsheim club's U17s and U19s; current Denmark national team coach Kasper Hjulmand, who coached Mainz in the 2014/15 campaign; and Arminia Bielefeld's Frank Kramer, who has a past with Hoffenheim's reserves.

All have benefitted from the patience and family-like atmosphere at two Bundesliga clubs who have given their coaches ideal conditions to work with, and who in turn have reaped the rewards.