Through the efforts of Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel, a former Mainz coach has won the UEFA Champions League in two of the last four seasons. And with Bo Svensson leading the 05ers’ 2020/21 renaissance, could he one day follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors?
After all, the trio have already established a natural line of succession between them.
It was Klopp who first landed in Mainz, as a player in 1990 and then coach in 2001. Klopp eventually left in 2008, with Tuchel taking on the job a year later – and Svensson played under both, chalking up 122 appearances for the club at centre-half.
Via successive Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund in 2010/11 and 2011/12, Klopp ended up at Liverpool where he led the Anfield outfit to back-to-back Champions League finals in 2017/18 and 2018/19.
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After defeat to Real Madrid in the former, Klopp’s side got their hands on the trophy the following year – something Tuchel replicated with Chelsea in 2020/21, having lost out to Hansi Flick’s all-conquering Bayern Munich the year before. And Klopp almost made it three out of four for the Mainz old boys, but his Liverpool side came up short in the 2021/22 final.
Klopp spent a decade with the 05ers as a player, making 340 appearances until hanging up his boots in February 2001 in order to take over the reins as head coach.
Mainz ended the 2000/01 season 14th in Bundesliga 2, before back-to-back fourth-place finishes prior to the club’s first-ever promotion to the Bundesliga in 2003/04. It is an achievement that Klopp previously ranked higher than any other across his stellar coaching career.
"Obviously, it's a great thing to win the Champions League, but my greatest success as a coach was promotion to the Bundesliga with Mainz in 2004," he said on the eve of Liverpool’s continental success in 2019. "We had a small squad, strong opponents. What I did with Mainz cannot be topped."
The Carnival Club caught the eye with Klopp’s “heavy-metal” brand of football, but following two terms in 11th, they were relegated back to the second tier in 2006/07 and their history-making coach left his role at the end of 2007/08 – Svensson’s first year at the Opel Arena and sole campaign under Klopp.
Mainz were back in the top flight under Jörn Andersen a year later, but Andersen was removed from his post just days out from their Bundesliga return. Having led their U19s to the German title in his first year at the helm, Mainz turned to Tuchel.
Three games into his tenure – and a week out from his 36th birthday – the Krumbach native had his first major scalp, beating Bayern 2-1 with goals from Andreas Ivanschitz and Aristide Bance. Svensson was moved into central midfield that day against Bayern, and he knew there was something special about Tuchel, even if he doubted his boss’ sanity that day.
“You immediately noticed that he’s a special coach and that he thinks a little differently,” Svensson told DAZN and Goal at the start of the year. “I’d never seen such an appearance in front of a team or such training in this form as a player.
“There were a few games under Thomas that we were very surprised at. We pressed against Bayern very early in Munich. He didn't set us up for Bayern's strengths. I was very surprised. But it worked, we won. I thought for a moment that he'd lost his marbles when I saw that tactic.”
Tuchel’s style of play built on that of Klopp’s, adding possession to the press that was made so famous by his predecessor, and Mainz made their European debut in the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League thanks to a fifth-place finish the year before – to this day still the best in the club’s history.
"There's definitely a style that’s been attributed to me, that we brought to the table at Mainz: pace going forward and attack-minded football,” Tuchel explained to German newspaper Die Zeit. "I prefer certain qualities, an active playing style, bold defending and pacey play in attack."
That philosophy went on to deliver DFB Cup glory in the footsteps of Klopp at Dortmund, as well as the French championship in 2018/19, and a domestic treble the following season that also saw Tuchel take Paris Saint-Germain to their first ever Champions League final.
The immediate impact of Svensson – a former Mainz player like Klopp, who worked his way up from the U19 position like Tuchel into the hotseat that binds all three – has been as remarkable as those of the men he follows.
Mainz were 17th, with one win from 14 when the Dane took charge in January 2021. Jump forward 20 matchdays and Svensson had overseen nine wins, six draws and just five defeats as the 05ers remarkably ended the season in 12th.
Two of those victories have included statement ones over top-two RB Leipzig and Bayern, and Svensson's first full season in charge resulted in an eighth-placed finish - their highest in six years. It’s clear already that the 42-year-old has not only learned from his two illustrious old coaches, but he is also adding his own twist to their much-heralded approaches.
“I remember a lot from both, in technical and human terms: how to deal with people, lead a team. The way Mainz play, I was able to learn from both of them,” he said in March. “I was able to take on board things on all different levels.”
Mainz are a club like no other and it appears they breed coaches like no other, too. And, at this rate, Svensson could be the next to ascend to the very top of the club coaching ladder.
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